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"Meet the Press" meets the future

Photo: William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images

Over the past 5 years, the 72-year-old "Meet the Press" brand has evolved from an hour-long Sunday broadcast into a political franchise that touches everything from daily podcasts to newsletters and even films.

The big picture: The mission of NBC News' flagship Sunday program has never been clearer, but the transformation of the media industry around it has forced American's longest-running TV program to rethink its strategy for a new generation.

Photos: Getty, Meet The Press; Graphic: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Driving the news: "Meet the Press" and its 12th moderator, Chuck Todd, hosted its annual Meet The Press Film Festival in Washington this weekend. In its third year, the festival has become a critical stop on the publicity tour for Hollywood giants looking to make an impact on Washington policymakers.

  • "We can’t do everything on 'Meet the Press' in an hour," Todd said at the Festival Sunday night. "There are a lot of issues that matter to people’s live and this festival has been a way to expand our aperture."
  • The festival has played host to some of the most popular streaming documentaries to date, including Oscar-nominated films "Knife Skills," "Edith + Eddie" and "Heroin(e)." 
  • Sunday's event served as the American premiere of the feature length documentary "Toxic Beauty," a film about health and safety risks in the cosmetic industry.
  • "Now, Netflix and HBO are positioning themselves as a part of this," says Todd. "We've become one of the first film festivals for short-form documentaries."

Between the lines: For Todd, documentaries provide the "Meet the Press" brand with an opportunity to engage millennials where they are, on streaming services.

  • "Documentaries are consumed by millennials the way my generation consumed books," Todd said in an interview with Axios. "What ESPN did for sports with its '30 for 30' series is where my head was at when I was thinking about this."'

Why it matters: "I think some of our friends are overly reliant on one way of delivering news," says Todd. "We're better franchised at Comcast/NBCUniversal than any other media entity to ride the next waves of technological changes."

QuoteWe kind of have an idea about what's coming in the next few years, but who the hell saw TikTok coming?
Chuck Todd

The evolution of "Meet the Press" comes as traditional TV continues to lose viewers to digital alternatives, although "Meet the Press" has led its Sunday shows competitors year-to-date in total viewers and in the key 25-54 demo.

  • "The minute I got to 'Meet the Press,' it was clear to me that if it remained a Sunday-only brand or concept, it wasn't going to survive in this media era. It wasn't going to be relevant enough, or relevant enough when it counted," Todd said.

Todd has been behind the launch of several new "Meet the Press" franchises, including:

  • A daily cable show, "Meet the Press Daily" on MSNBC.
  • A daily podcast, "Meet the Press The Lid."
  • A weekly podcast, "The Chuck ToddCast."
  • An annual film festival with the American Film Institute.
  • A 24/7 political blog, "Meet the Press Blog."

From a business perspective, Todd sees a world in which media companies will need to build strong, trustworthy franchises that marketers will want to personally align with, driving a shift from impression-based advertising to more streaming-style sponsorships and brand partnerships.

The bottom line: "One thing I was determined to make sure of was that 'Meet the Press' became an idea, not a day of the week," says Todd. "Making sure it survives the 21st century media environment is a big deal."

Our thought bubble: Chuck Todd's personal commitment to expanding the show's franchise plays a key part in its success, but he's not the only one.

  • Univision's Jorge Ramos has invested hundreds of hours in his Facebook show, "Real America with Jorge Ramos."
  • CNN's Anderson Cooper records a daily live show exclusively for CNN's digital properties, "Anderson Cooper Full Circle."
  • CNN's "State of the Union" anchor Jake Tapper illustrates a weekly animated cartoon series as a part of his show franchise, "State of the Cartoonion."

What's next: NBC News is going all-in on the franchise ahead of the 2020 election. The show will move from its historic studio in Northwest Washington to a brand new studio and bureau near Capitol Hill.

  • NBC News will begin broadcasting from the new studio on Super Tuesday — March 3, 2020.

Editor’s note: NBC is an investor in Axios and Andy Lack, chairman of NBC News and MSNBC, is a member of the Axios board. MSNBC & Axios engage in a weekday sponsored television appearance at 5:55am ET.