Netflix Content Chief Ted Sarandos Takes Shot at Amazon Studios: They Aren't "Gaining Much Traction"

Ted Sarandos - H - 2016

Netflix plans to release more than 1,000 hours of original programming in 2017.

Amazon Studios has upped its spending on original programming, but the release of ambitious shows like The Grand Tour doesn't have Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos worried. 

Netflix is the reigning leader of the streaming television world, and when it comes to creating buzzy programs Sarandos doesn't believe he has much competition among other online players like Amazon. "It doesn't appear they're gaining much traction against all that spending," he told investors Monday at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York. "Maybe it sells Prime memberships or other things I'm not privy to, but right now it just looks like they're spending a lot of money." 

Netflix, which has nearly 87 million subscribers worldwide, is spending a lot of money, too. The streamer has said it would spend $6 billion on programming next year. According to Sarandos, that means more than 1,000 hours of original programming, including upping its production of unscripted fare to 20 shows. 

Sarandos sounds especially high on a new series called Ultimate Beastmaster, an international competition series that when it premieres next year will be released with local versions in six countries. "It's a new model for us," he said, later noting that he wants to elevate the competition format "by bringing the global scale and global production to it." 

Inevitably, the conversation turned to Netflix's interest in live sports programming. But Sarandos reiterated that Netflix is unlikely to bid for live sports rights. "At the risk of being repetitive, to the extent that the live-ness is the selling point, we're really not a great solution," he said. But he wouldn't go so far as to rule out spots programming entirely, teasing that "league creation might be interesting" in addition to noting that the concept of near-live could change the landscape of sports coverage in the future. 

Netflix, which is frequently the subject of acquisition speculation, saw its stock shoot up in October after talk of a tie-up with Disney, although a deal seemed unlikely. When asked about whether Netflix would thrive inside a larger company, Sarandos avoided speaking directly about whether the company would sell. Instead, he noted that Netflix is focused on one product, its streaming video service, and thus avoids the conflicts that can occur inside larger conglomerates, including many media companies that both buy and sell content. Those conflicts, he said, "would make it difficult to stay as disciplined as we have." 

During the wide-ranging interview, Sarandos also spoke about Netflix's recent Gilmore Girls revival ("In Germany, Gilmore Girls was hugely popular"); the move to allow offline viewing ("We developed it for our entry into markets with slower broadband"); and whether Netflix will move more aggressively into the merchandise business ("We don't look at it as a revenue source as much as a marketing driver").

Netflix shares, which closed Friday at $120.81, are currently down nearly 2 percent during midday trading.