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As investors waited in anticipation for Netflix’s third-quarter financials on Wednesday, chief content officer Ted Sarandos on Tuesday gave industry executives at MIPCOM a peek into the company’s plans to shake up the movie business.
Netflix’s recent theatrical deals — its plans to release the sequel to Ang Lee‘s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon day-and-date online and in Imax theaters, and its exclusive four-picture deal with Adam Sandler — have enraged many in the business.
Exhibition giants Regal, AMC Theatres and Cinemark have already threatened to boycott the Crouching Tiger release, saying they wouldn’t show the film on their own Imax screens.
But speaking at a keynote in Cannes Tuesday, Sarandos insisted the company was only looking to modernize a theatrical distribution model that “is pretty antiquated for the on-demand audiences we are looking to serve.” Netflix, he said, is not looking to kill windowing but rather to “restore choice and options” for viewers by moving to day-and-date releases.
“The current model we have has been the same almost since the beginning of movies on television in the early ’70s,” he said. “The world has moved on from then.”
On the Sandler deal, Sarandos said the first film in the agreement is expected to deliver in late 2015 or early 2016.
In addition to the announced deals, Sarandos said Netflix would be expanding into more niche genres, including the financing of documentaries and art-house films. “[These films] used only be available to elite audiences, and we are looking to bring that content out to the rest of the world,” he said. “What we are looking for is unique voices that are looking for a larger platform.”
Speaking broadly about the impact Netflix has had on traditional television, Sarandos predicted that broadcast television would soon copy his company’s approach of releasing full seasons of their new shows.
“Releasing one episode at a time will increasingly be a thing of the past,” he said. “I think releasing a full season will soon become a common thing. Even as early as next year.”
Sarandos declined to give details on early results from the company’s launch, last month, in six new European territories, including Germany and France, Netflix’s biggest-ever international expansion. He would only say that viewer behavior in German and France was “on par with our successful launches elsewhere in the world” and that Netflix prison dramedy Orange Is the New Black was the most watched show on the SVOD service in all of the new territories. Sarandos added that the viewing mix in Europe — about 70 percent television series and 30 percent feature films — was also similar to that on Netflix services around the world.
Sarandos would not go into specifics about the company’s future expansion plans, except to note that Asia “was about the only place left” where the company wasn’t operating. Many have hinted that Netflix is looking to launch in Japan as the first step in a pan-Asian rollout.
Speaking to criticisms that the company launched in its new European territories with a relatively small programming library, Sarandos said Netflix planned to more than double its catalog in France and Germany within the year. “Every single day we are in a territory we are learning more about what viewers want, and we will license more based on what people want to see,” he said.
How much of that will be original Netflix programming remains to be seen. Netflix has commissioned Marseilles, its first French-language drama, which Sarandos said would likely deliver in 2016 or 2017, but so far has not greenlit any other European series. Instead, Sarandos talked up the launch of big-budget period drama Marco Polo, which will premiere Dec. 12 “at exactly the same moment” on all Netflix channels in the 50 countries in which it operates, he said.
In terms of future programming, Sarandos confirmed Netflix would be doing more documentaries, animation and stand-up comedy shows but would not venture into news or live sports — at least not yet.
He dropped a few hints about Chelsea Handler‘s new late-night talk show for Netflix, saying it would be “very different” from her E! program Chelsea Lately and will “hopefully reflect her deep skills…as a comedian and storyteller.” The show will “move away from the gossip” and focus on material “with a longer shelf life than one hour, hopefully more than one week and maybe more than one month.”
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