Netflix's Ted Sarandos Talks Originals Output, Disney's Streaming Efforts

Ted Sarandos - H - 2016

"What Disney going direct to consumer means, I don't really know, and I'm not positive that they do, either," said Netflix's content chief.

Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos didn't appear too concerned about Disney's forthcoming competitor when speaking to investors Monday at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York. 

"It'll be an interesting couple of years," he said of the increasingly competitive streaming landscape. "What Disney going direct to consumer means, I don't really know, and I'm not positive that they do, either." 

The executive, who presides over a slate that includes hundreds of originals and a still-robust library of licensed content, acknowledged that Disney has been successful selling content directly to consumers in the past.

Disney's service, which is expected to launch in 2019, will feature movies and TV shows featuring IP from Star Wars, Pixar and Marvel, causing some analysts to suggest that it could be competitive to Netflix. Further, Disney announced that it would pull its titles from the streaming giant ahead of the launch. 

"They've created some really killer brands," said Sarandos, but he also pointed out that Disney does not control all of the Marvel IP. "It's not that exclusive ... Netflix has The Defenders."

Netflix, of course, has plenty of content outside of the films and TV shows that it licenses from Disney. Next year, the company, which currently licenses more titles than it produces but plans to reach a 50-50 split by 2019, will release 60 kids' shows and 20 anime originals. It also is planning 60 global series next year and 30 local-language series, Sarandos revealed.

The exec downplayed concerns over Netflix's spending, which could reach $8 billion by the end of next year. The Crown, he noted, is one of the streamer's most expensive shows but also "one of our most efficient shows" because of how popular it is on the platform. 

But Netflix has started to signal that it will be more conservative about its spending with a series of cancelations, including Sense8 and The Get Down. Another show that will be ending its run is House of Cards. Production on the series' final season had been suspended for the last several weeks following sexual assault allegations against its star, Kevin Spacey. Sarandos revealed Monday during his talk that Netflix and producers Media Rights Capital had reached an agreement for an eight-episode sixth season without Spacey. 

On the film front, the company is still ramping up production. It will release its first big-budget title, Will Smith starrer Bright, later this month. Though Netflix will show some of its movies in theaters — at least the independent ones that don't have issues with its day-and-date release strategy — Sarandos says that, for now, the company has no interest in compromising exclusivity to bring its titles to airplanes or other distribution platforms. "More and more, you can watch Netflix on the plane," he pointed out. 

And though the exec acknowledged that some people may question whether a film on Netflix can be defined as a film, Sarandos also pointed to the upcoming Martin Scorsese gangster project — The Irishman, starring Al Pacino, Bobby Cannavale and Harvey Keitel — and asked, "Whose going to have the nerve to say that's not a movie?"

One area that Netflix appears content not to disrupt is the live sports rights business. The exec reiterated the company's position that live sports doesn't make sense for the platform because eventually the leagues will take the games directly to fans. Said Sarandos: "I think the leagues have almost uncheckable pricing power."