Ted Sarandos' Dream: To Have Someone on the Oscar Stage "Thank Netflix"

Robyn Twomey
Ted Sarandos

The chief content officer talks the streaming service's international expansion, how he'll spend $5 billion on content this year and the biggest misconception about him.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Where he was Ask Netflix's chief content officer what has changed the most in the past five years, and his response is immediate and emphatic: "Everything!" he says, recalling a time in which his streaming service simply licensed other people's programming. In fact, the company only began streaming content in 2007. "Five years ago, we were barely international, and there was no original programming," he adds. "Now, my entire focus is international and original films and television."

Where he is: Since debuting its first original series, House of Cards, in 2013, Netflix has become a first stop for producers and stars, including Jenji Kohan (Orange Is the New Black), Aziz Ansari (Master of None) and Judd Apatow (Love). And why not? The famously hands-off service boasts more than 69 million global members and already has agreed to pour a jaw-dropping $5 billion into its 2016 programming budget. With his clout in the TV market firmly established, Sarandos, 51, has begun pushing aggressively into documentaries and feature films, too. His team has mounted an ambitious Oscar campaign for its first drama, Cary Fukunaga's Beasts of No Nation, just as it did for 2013 doc The Square and 2014 doc Virunga, both of which scored noms. He also has other film projects lined up with Adam Sandler, Angelina Jolie Pitt and Christopher Guest.

Biggest misconception people in Hollywood have about me: That this is disruption for disruption's sake. It's really about fixing things, not trying to break things. And that I don't have any interest in the health and well-being of movie theaters. I'm trying to expand options and choice, and that doesn't have to be in conflict with theaters.

Pinch-me moment: People who know me know that I'm obsessed with The Godfather — so it was sitting behind Francis Ford Coppola at the Oscars last year and having him turn around and introduce himself.

Best and worst part of success: The best part is meeting your heroes and the worst is that it's very difficult to have an uninterrupted meal in L.A.

Coolest dinner party invite: The one I enjoyed the most was a dinner at my house with Ricky Gervais, Bill Hader, Will Arnett and Mitch Hurwitz. We laughed for five hours straight.

Hollywood person who's killing it right now: [Disney CEO] Bob Iger. He's about to release the biggest movie of all time [Star Wars: The Force Awakens] on the heels of all of the success that they've had with the Marvel films. It's almost a predictable slate of success, which is unheard of in Hollywood.

Most recent TV binge: The new season of Portlandia.

Ideal Friday night: At home in bed, watching movies with my wife.

Best gift I've received: At the start of production for House of Cards, the guys from Media Rights Capital gave me a poster of the Rat Pack — Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin — signed to Jilly Rizzo, who was Sinatra's buddy. They had bought it at an auction of Jilly's belongings. And then my wife [Nicole Avant, a former ambassador to the Bahamas] got President Obama to sign our Hollywood Reporter cover for the political issue. It says, "Ted and Nicole, Love you, Barack." It's hanging in my home office.

Talent I wish I had: A musical talent. I can't play anything.

Thing I wish would be said onstage at the Oscars: That they want to thank Netflix.

Biggest fear of the next five years: The ability to maintain this pace. We've had rapid international expansion, and our shows have gone from four to 12 to 20 to 30 over the past three years.