Netflix’s Ted Sarandos Rejects Disruptor Label: "We Are Trying to Preserve and Grow Storytelling"

Ted Sarandos - Getty - H 2018
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"It's never been our initiative to export Hollywood to the world," said the tech giant's chief content officer at France's Series Mania.

Netflix has upended the television and film business, but the tech giant's chief content officer Ted Sarandos doesn't believe the streamer is a disruptor, he revealed while taking part in a playful main stage chat with Black Mirror creators Annabel Jones and Charlie Brooker at France's Series Mania.

Sarandos said he is “not a fan” of the word because it has negative connotations. “It gets hung on my head a lot, but I feel like it's more 'burning things down and seeing what happens' and that's not really what we are up to. I feel like what we are trying to do is preserve and improve on the formats, and improve and grow storytelling,” he said.

“Disruption is often for disruption's sake and we never want to do that,” he added. “It's never been our initiative to export Hollywood to the world. That's never what we stepped into this for. Our goal was always to find the great storytelling from anywhere in the world and take it to the rest of the world.”

Sarandos maintained that Netflix is preserving filmic traditions, while giving creatives new opportunities to tell stories. He noted that the California-based company is investing $1 billion in local content production across Europe, including 15 series currently at various stages of production in France.

He cited the French rom-com original The Hookup Plan, saying it was a global hit for the streamer, though in Netflix tradition didn't reveal any viewing numbers.

“There's a lot of conventional wisdom in television about what does and doesn't travel. In almost every case it all turns out to be untrue,” he said.

While it remains to be seen if the Cannes Film Festival will continue to bar Netflix films this May as French producers and exhibitors vow to keep its creations out of competition, Sarandos demurred on the question. It was a far cry from a year ago when Netflix CEO Reed Hastings took to the same stage and offered up a mea culpa for how the company had handled the French festival. 

“I think [TV series and films] are distinctly different art forms but they tend to be increasingly consumed in similar ways by people, and they don't make the distinction between a really great series that to them may be like a 13-hour film," he said. "And the creative form is becoming more and more [similar], cinema is infused into television in ways we've never seen before. I'm please that I don't have to choose between the two and I'm a big lover of both and so I punt on that."

Apple's big TV+ launch Monday and windowing rules in France were not asked about by the creatives. Sarandos also added that the streamer will continue to take risks on development.

"As a commissioner you have to have a pretty good appetite for risk," he said. "You need to be willing to step into that thing that hasn't been done before because the things that can come out of that are magic and sometimes they require a financial risk or betting on a new storyteller or a new voice."

Brooker and Jones discussed the Bandersnatch editing process, and Brooker did reveal there is an undisclosed piece of footage between scenes that has not been seen by the public. “There's even a chunk in there that you can't get to because we changed something, so there is a little section in the middle that will never be seen. So I was saying we should have dubbed The Beatles onto it because then we would have had a great piece of music that we didn't have to pay for and it would be the ultimate Easter egg.”