TCA: Netflix's Chief Talks 'The Interview' Streaming Plans, "Tragic" Cosby Situation

"It’s been a great example of what could happen with a big-budget movie if you give people distribution choices," says Ted Sarandos
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Ted Sarandos

Ted Sarandos kicked off the TV's industry's semi-annual press tour with a turn in the hot seat.

Netflix's chief content officer fielded questions about Netflix's ratings policy for what will be 320 hours of original programming this year, viewer habits among his 53 million-plus global users and his plans to — or not to — stream Sony's The Interview. But the nearly half-hour of grilling by members of the Television Critics Association came after Sarandos' flurry of announcements from the stage, which included a renewal announcement for its pricey epic drama, Marco Polo, and premiere dates for such upcoming series as Kyle Chandler's Bloodlines (March 20) and Marvel's Daredevil (April 10).

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Below are the highlights from his time before the press.

The Interview: Will They or Won't They?

Despite a published report from Dec. 24 that Netflix was in talks to stream Sony's The Interview, Sarandos stayed mum on his service's plans. "There's nothing to talk about," he noted, a response that warranted pushback from the press. What he did say of the $31 million the controversial movie earning on video-on-demand platforms other than his: "Even though it's an incredible outlier, it's been a great example of what could happen with a big-budget movie if you give people distribution choices — even limited distribution choices. … You can actually create a lot of revenue," he said, adding: "It was actually eye-opening for the industry what happened with The Interview." (During a post-panel scrum, he acknowledged that "of course" the service would want the movie.)

Move Along, People

Sarandos' mind wasn't changed over the holidays. He remains committed to the strategy of not releasing ratings for his growing platter of original programming, which he's said will likely grow to roughly 20 new series per year. "There's no real business reasons for us to release them," he said, noting once again that he doesn't need those figures to justify ad rates or carriage fees the way his traditional rivals do. What's more, he argued, it's an apples-to-oranges comparison: "Primetime viewing is no more valuable to us than 3 a.m. viewing," he said, adding that the ratings arms race that's been created elsewhere in the landscape has had a negative creative impact on the industry.

How They Watch

How many are watching his programming is off-limits, but how people are watching it is a query Sarandos was eager to tackle. He told the roomful of reporters that Netflix users very rarely sit down and watch just one episode of a series; much more common is for his users to sit back on an average night and devour two to three episodes at a time. "And there's a very high rate of completion," he added, noting that it's typical for a Netflix user to watch one show at a time, as opposed to skipping around as network viewers do.

So, Is It a Hit?

Sarandos urged the press to look to his subscriber growth for an indication of the company's success, a marker that he argued is far more accurate than the often-murky ratings that are used to quantify success for his competitors. As for what he's assessing when it comes to deeming a show a success or failure: "Shows have got to be watched."

Cosby's "Tragic" Situation

Post-panel, Sarandos was asked about the service's decision to scrap its Bill Cosby stand-up special in the wake of the comic's rape allegations. Netflix's move was not at all surprising, and came at around the same time that NBC opted to pull the plug on its Cosby comedy project. "It wasn't the right time," he told a smaller group of reporters, calling the situation involving the one-time sitcom legend "tragic."

Will We See ... ?

Sarandos had no new news to share on the status of Arrested Development, noting only that he's "optimistic" about doing another season. The hold-up has been the cast's schedule, of course, and they've yet to figure out a time that works for each of the series' in-demand stars. Sarandos was similarly vague on his plans for a Wet Hot American Summer prequel, suggesting post-panel that there could be news soon. As for becoming a destination for resurrecting series, as Netflix is doing for Longmire and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis when there are programming holes to be filled — or demographics to be nurtured.

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