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Ted Sarandos got the TV industry’s semi-annual press tour started Tuesday with a turn in the hot seat.
Netflix’s Chief Content Officer used the platform at the Television Critics Association summer event to plug his service’s remarkable growth, both in terms of original programming and cultural impact. Sarandos reminded the Beverly Hilton ballroom that in early 2013 his streaming service had just two shows, which he noted “was hardly enough to get [critics’] attention for very long.” Two and a half years later, he’s back on stage with 34 Emmy nominations and 475 hours of original fare to tout: 16 scripted dramas and comedies, 9 original documentaries, 3 documentary series, 12 comedy specials and 17 kids shows.
During his half hour or so before the press, he spoke openly about Netflix’s greenlight philosophy — “something special for every taste” — and his continued desire to bet on talent and then get out of its way. (And yes, that includes Pixels punching-bag Adam Sandler, for whom Sarandos still staunchly supports.) Though the service’s all at once roll-out strategy has been knocked in recent months, he said he remains bullish on the once “radical” approach. In fact, he noted that doing so had started a trend, adding to laughs: “Hashtag Aquarius or something like that.”
From live sports to those pesky viewer metrics that he (still) won’t share, here are the key takeaways.
About those Ratings
Though he stopped short of revealing any kind of hard viewer data, Sarandos insinuated that Orange is the New Black, House of Cards and Daredevil are the service’s biggest original offerings. “You can feel it in the culture that [they’re] getting a big broad audience,” he said of the trio. Still, he once again stressed that Netflix’s goal is not to reach all 65 million at once, but rather to target passionate subsets with each of its series. And if you could stop asking about ratings, he’d appreciate it.
In Defense of Sandler
Sandler may have had a (very) rough weekend — disappointing at the U.S. box office, and the subject of vicious takedowns in the media — but Sarandos, who made a four-film commitment to the star, remains a fierce supporter. “I definitely don’t have to defend Adam Sandler. The movie did $24 million domestically, $25 million internationally, and a third of our subscribers are outside of the U.S.,” he told the room, adding: “That’s why we made a deal with Adam Sandler — because he’s an enormous international movie star. That $25 million opening for Pixels is pretty respectable and I think it will continue to grow. We are more encouraged than ever.”
Fuller House May Get Even More Full
Production is underway on Fuller House, which is being billed as a modern take on the late 80s comedy without losing the spirit of the original. He noted from stage that the series’ lone holdouts, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, are “teetering” on whether or not to join their former co-stars; he then added post-panel that the twins could return for a guest spot. As for the inspiration: the family comedy has remained relevant in the culture, and reviving it offered Netflix an opportunity for multi-generation co-viewing. Now if only Netflix had SVOD rights to stream the original, which -— to Sarandos‘ chagrin — is still tied up in other deals for a few more years.
And What about Arrested Development?
The Netflix honcho had no official news to report on another installment of Arrested Development, though he remains hopeful and committed to getting it locked down — and only in part so that he can stop getting asked about it. He added that the delay can be attributed to the complexities of talent schedules and deal-making with owner 20th Century Fox TV. “Our intent is to have another season of Arrested,” he said (again), adding: “All of the negotiations are underway.”
Sorry Hulu, Sarandos Isn’t Impressed
Sarandos argued that Netflix’s aggressive push into originals was “not really a reaction to the competitive marketplace,” but rather “a move to differentiate Netflix in terms of exclusive access to great programming.” In fact, he pointed to Hulu’s recent and much ballyhooed investment in Seinfeld repeats to illustrate the challenges of securing exclusivity in the acquired space. “While that was a very rich deal, it’s remarkably not that exclusive,” he said from stage. “Those episodes are on TBS, they’re on demand on TBS, they’re on Crackle.” Sarandos went on to argue that by creating original programming, Netflix doesn’t have to navigate all those complexities of existing outputs deals in other countries and existing output deals through other networks.
Plus, His Way is Just Better — or At Least Safer
To that end, producing original fare gives Netflix a greater ability to control the launch of his series. “It gives us the ability to launch internationally at the same moment we launch in the U.S., which is a great deterrent for piracy,” he added. “In all those license deals where they have staggered windows around the world, piracy for U.S. television is enormous. It’s always talked about in movies, but in many parts of the worlds, U.S. television is stolen at a much bigger rate than movies.” So yeah, he’s all about originals.
Marvel, Marvel and More Marvel
Sarandos whet Marvel fans’ appetites, noting that they can expect two Defender group launches per year. “Ideally there will be a rhythm of about every six months you’ll get a new season or a new series from the Defender group,” he said, “and then they’ll cross over and do a combined season once we’ve launched the first season of each of the four characters.” Earlier in the day, Netflix confirmed that its second Marvel series, Jessica Jones, will launch later this year.
Cosby is (Still) No Laughing Matter
As the Cosby saga wages on in the media, Sarandos noted that he remains committed to keeping its scrapped 2014 Cosby standup special, Bill Cosby 77, offline. “I don’t think its appropriate to release [the special] now,” he told reporters in a post-panel scrum, adding defensively of his company’s apparent decision to continue distributing Cosby Show DVDs. “The [Cosby Show] DVDs might still be in the library … That business is more about the completeness of things published on DVD. The Cosby Show is produced by NBC and owned by Carsey-Werner; [Bill Cosby 77 was] produced by Netflix and branded Netflix. The classic show is on iTunes, it’s on Amazon, it’s on all these other places, too. It think it’s appropriate.”
Don’t Expect Live Sports … For Now, Anyway
He has both the reach and the resources, but for the time being Sarandos insists live sports doesn’t make sense for the on-demand service. Though he (shrewdly) stopped short of ruling it out forever, he noted that “today the real benefit of watching on Netflix is the consumer control and not the groupthink of it.”
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