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In a wide-ranging conversation Wednesday, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings acknowledged that he got advertising “wrong” and that streaming competition has intensified. He admitted Netflix left “lots” of money on the table with its Glass Onion release strategy, while also heaping praise on Bob Iger, Elon Musk and Dave Chappelle.
“It’s become a brawl now in the streaming of premium content,” Hastings said, when asked about the increased competition in the space.
“Four years ago when I was here, nobody was in streaming,” Hastings said. “Bob Iger, to his credit, saw back in 2017 or so that Disney’s future was going to be in streaming.”
“Because of their [Disney’s] enormous success, everyone else jumped in,” he added.
In an interview with Andrew Ross Sorkin at the New York Times Dealbook Summit in Manhattan, Hastings said that he was “wrong” about advertising, noting that he was worried Netflix would have to “steal” ad revenue from linear TV, but the shifting consumer demographics meant that connected TV was already becoming a more important place for marketers to spend their money.
“I have two religions: customer satisfaction and operating income. Everything else is a tactic,” he said, when asked about the pivot. “It’s a good tactic, because we get to offer consumers lower prices.”
He also discussed the return of Bob Iger to Disney, noting that he was as surprised as anyone by the former and now current CEO’s surprise comeback.
“Chapek, from our point of view, was very disciplined. It’s not like we saw any cracks,” Hastings said, adding that he wished Iger would run for president. “I was willing to be a fundraiser for him.”
Indeed, Hastings was bullish on Disney as a whole.
“[Disney is] pretty strong, but it was pretty strong before,” Hastings said. “It will be at least the two of us duking it out for a long time.”
And he also heaped praise on Elon Musk, calling the Tesla CEO and Twitter owner “the bravest, most creative person on the planet.”
While admitting “his style is different” than his own (“I’m trying to be a respectable leader, he’s just out there”), Hastings said that “I am 100 percent convinced that he is trying to help the world in all his endeavors,” and that the Twitter deal was driven by his desire to enhance free speech online.
And he also lauded comedian Dave Chappelle, whose last Netflix special sparked outrage inside and outside the company over his comments on trans people. Hastings said that the special was among the most entertaining and widely-viewed specials on the service, and told Sorkin “we would do it again and again.”
And with regard to the Knives Out sequel Glass Onion, Hastings said that the company left “lots” of money on the table by not giving it a wider theatrical release.
“It’s a promotional tactic like film festivals, and if it works well we will do more of it,” he said. “We are not trying to build a theatrical business, we are trying to break through the noise.”
Netflix released the film in some 700 theaters for one week only around Thanksgiving. Typical theatrical releases for blockbuster sequels would see a release in 3,500 theaters for at least 45 days.
And with regard to live TV, Hastings says that in addition to comedy specials they are also developing competition shows and other programming that could utilize the format.
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