Ted Sarandos Talks Disney+ Launch and a Netflix Future Focused on Original Content

Ted Sarandos - Getty - H 2019
Ore Huiying/Getty Images for Netflix

Sarandos, who spoke at the Paley Center for Media's International Council Summit in New York, also clarified that "all entertainment is truth to power."

Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos clarified comments made earlier this month by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings in which he said the streaming service is not in the "truth to power" business after being asked about a decision to pull an episode of the comedy show Patriot Act from Saudi Arabia.

Sarandos, speaking at the Paley Center for Media's International Council Summit in New York on Thursday, said of Hastings' comments, "I don't know if it was not a great choice of words or if he misspoke."

"I think all entertainment is truth to power, all creative expression is truth to power," Sarandos told the interviewer, actor and comedian Chris Redd, citing stand-up comedy and other types of content that reflect the real world. "I think what he was getting at is we are not really in the breaking news business. … We are an entertainment company primarily."

Sarandos also downplayed Netflix's concerns about Disney+'s launch. "For us, nothing really changes," he said of the launch. "They are great at what they do; they're great storytellers. It is great to have competition."

Disney on Wednesday revealed that Disney+ had garnered more than 10 million sign-ups since its launch the day before, instantly making it one of the biggest subscription streaming services in the U.S.

Netflix executives, including Sarandos and Hastings, have long downplayed the threat of Disney+, arguing that a rising tide of streaming services will lift all boats. At a conference earlier this month, Hastings said that he planned to subscribe to Disney+, calling it an "amazing company." 

Sarandos on Thursday also addressed the service's shift from library content to originals, acknowledging that acquired shows make up a sizable portion of Netflix viewership.

"There is a lot of viewing that comes from licensed content from other people, because there is a lot of it, and for a while it was all we had," he said, adding that shows like Friends and The Office also have hundreds of episodes. Ultimately, however, the company is planning for a future where almost all the content on the service is originals. "I think one way or the other, we end up there."

In a post-interview question-and-answer session with the audience, former BET CEO Debra Lee asked Sarandos whether he had seen a Saturday Night Live sketch making fun of Netflix's programming decisions. Sarandos said he was a huge fan of the comedy show and thought the sketch was "hilarious."

"When you are spoofed on SNL, you have arrived," he said. "I just wish they used my name."