Netflix' Ted Sarandos Teases Interest in Launching Sports League

Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Netflix/AP Images
Ted Sarandos

At the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York, the chief content officer also says Netflix should get credit for having the most-watched television show.

Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos reiterated Monday at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York that Netflix won't be getting into live sports or live news, but did draw murmurs with the suggestion of starting a new sports league.

Sarandos said he's not interested in acquiring rights to big sports leagues or competing with broadcast news because he doesn't see Netflix' bread-and-butter — on-demand offerings — as adding anything of value to customers.

"This comes up because Netflix is seen as a substitute for cable," he says. "People are frustrated. But making it on demand doesn't add anything for the viewer. The other problem is that leagues have all the pricing power."

Pausing a beat, Sarandos then added, "If there was a model where we create our own sports league, that would be interesting."

At the investor conference, Sarandos touched on other topics — throwing shade at studios by perhaps suggesting no more output deals with them ("When we have Paramount films, it means nothing to people"), defending Adam Sandler ("He is a global superstar just emerging in Latin America") and speaking most passionately about the company's global ambitions.

The streaming video giant has said it wants to have a presence in 200 countries around the world by the end of 2016, including in China, where it has been exploring its options. It has said it would launch in South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong early in 2016. The company is also believed to be targeting a launch in India. This year, it launched in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Spain and Portugal.

Sarandos said that Netflix has become much more efficient in launching in new countries, but did talk about some of the frustration in getting television licensing partners to where he wants them to be.

"I don't know if it's more difficult than I expected, but it has not been an easy road," he said. "The studios are situated regionally in licensing. We are now a global buyer of rights for a show. There is some resistance to this, mostly from the regional sellers, who don't want their jobs marginalized. We are navigating the politics. It's a big change."

Sarandos pointed to the success of Narcos, its series about drug kingpin Pablo Escobar as the future.

"Eighty-five percent [of dialogue] is in Spanish," he noted. "It's produced by a French company, shot in Colombia with Brazilian stars and hugely popular in Germany. This is the first flavor of what global television can be."

The moderator asked whether he was pleased with a recent survey that indicating Netflix would have the second biggest show on cable if measured traditionally, behind only HBO's Game of Thrones. As usual, Sarandos declined to go into specific numbers about how many people are watching any given show on the Netflix platform, but does believe  that even this doesn't give the company enough credit.

"We're pleased to take the number two spot, but think it's number one because they don't measure all the devices," he said.

The big year-end UBS investor conference features the CEOs and other top executives from big industry players. It is widely seen as the final event of the year where big-name executives provide an outlook for the new year and sound off on hot-button issues.

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