Netflix's Ted Sarandos Defends Movie Theater Comments, Wants Longevity From Originals

Ted Sarandos

Following controversial statements slamming film distribution, the exec says he's not calling for a mandate on day-and-date VOD, details original-movies plan and expresses interest in longevity for "House of Cards," "Orange Is the New Black" and "Arrested Development."

Ted Sarandos had a lot of bases to cover Monday morning when he appeared at the Bloomberg and Tribeca Film Festival Business of Entertainment breakfast. Netflix's chief content officer has been making the rounds of late, grabbing headlines with comments on a recent earnings call and saying theater owners "try to strangle innovation" at last week's Film Independent Forum.

"The speech was to a group of independent filmmakers and it was in praise of TV," said Sarandos, insisting he did not intend to offend. "Part of the really innovative distribution models [in TV] is that some of the most talent people in film [are going there]. Television is displacing movies in culture in a way."

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He was quick to point out that while he thinks there still should be a great deal of reform in film distribution, it's a complicated scenario that will have to be approached differently with different kinds of films.

"Our business is hard enough. I wouldn't want to try to run a theater, too," he said. "It should be noted that I love going to the movies and the theater, and I wasn't calling for a day-and-date video on demand."

Sarandos pointed to Gravity as an example of a film that would not work immediately on VOD. He said the film was best viewed in 3D and that sort of event would not work for a Netflix: "Certain films have a built-in theatrical component you can't do at home … [but] there's no reason these things have to happen three months apart."

One thing he seemed quite sure of is Netflix's eventual move into film. It seems to be more of a when than an if -- and Sarandos noted that the company is looking at multiple projects at the moment.

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"Yes, we've been fielding a lot projects." He said. "I would say we are not at a shortlist yet, but we're completely open-minded about the size and scope of what they could be. … The question is if you can get all of the benefits of original programming, sans the 13 hours [of a TV season]."

Sports and reality programming are two directions he insisted they likely won't travel. And while so much of the Netflix conversation is focused on originals these days, Sarandos says acquisitions and partnerships remain just as important. The recent pact with CBS to air all eight seasons of Dexter and a deal with Disney to gain access to its library are two examples he seemed most excited about.

As for those originals that attendees at the breakfast were so interested to hear about, Sarandos said that future seasons of House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black and Arrested Development -- beyond their current orders -- were on the table.

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"I think if you look at the original House of Cards, there was a natural third season, and we could go well beyond that," he said. "[Orange Is the New Black] is a world that could be very, very transient. That has exciting long-term potential. And Mitch Hurwitz has a great idea [for more Arrested Development.] It's a matter of cast availability. We would like to do it at a time when we could get more of the cast together at one time than we did with season four -- and we're looking of ways to doing that right now."

As a global business, Sarandos said many less exotic locales will see the service introduced before they make the complicated move into China. And the industry can expect more acquisitions similar to documentary The Square, which he teased had Oscar potential.

When the conversation ultimately turned to the obligatory question of ratings secrecy, Sarandos, who noted "tens of millions" had seen House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black, disclosed that some of his closest partners didn't know the exact numbers.

"It's a very small town," he said. "The fewer people [that] know, the better. Even David Fincher doesn't know."