Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos kicked off his quickfire Bloomberg and Tribeca Film Festival Business of Entertainment breakfast by defending his recent back and forth with theater owners. “I wasn’t calling for day and date with Netflix. I was just calling to move all the windows up to get closer to what the consumer wants,” Sarandos said of his incendiary October 26 speech that riled up theater owners. “I think there’s a better business in giving people what they want than creating artificial distance between the product and the consumer.” A week after accusing theater owners of killing the movie business with inflexible theatrical windows, Sarandos maintains his position that what’s good for the consumer is good for the film and TV industry. NATO CEO John Fithian hit back at Sarandos, accusing Netflix of only looking out for Netflix at the expense of the film industry, but “[Fithian] and I don’t have uncommon ground,” Sarandos told me. If Netflix starts producing original features suited for theatrical exhibition “we of course would seek screens, for more choice.”
Netflix has been expanding its content into original programming and acquisitions including recent comedy features from Russell Peters and Aziz Ansari, eight seasons of Showtime’s Dexter, and Netflix’s first documentary pickup — and potential Oscar contender — The Square. It’s also counting on users to come back for more seasons of originals House of Cards and Orange Is The New Black. Both series could go beyond their current season orders, Sarandos said. More Arrested Development also is a possibility. “Mitch [Hurwitz] has a great idea,” the exec said. “It’s a matter of cast availability and getting everyone together. We’d like to do able to get more of the cast together than we were able to in Season 4, and we’re looking at a bunch of ways to do that.” Ratings performance, however, is still under secretive lock and key even to content partners. “It’s a very small town, the fewer people that know the better,” Sarandos said. “We keep it pretty close to the vest. Even David Fincher doesn’t know.”
Recent rumblings of Netflix’s potential move onto cable set-top boxes intrigued investors and spooked cable companies. But Sarandos says it’s a natural progression. “A cable box is just another box in home,” he said. “Some have connections to internet and then to the TV, like a Roku box or an Xbox, and most of those homes have at least one of those. The Internet to the television is a very natural state of affairs.” More difficult will be Netflix’s move into the international game, as the company takes aim at key overseas markets. “Our long-term intent is that Netflix is completely global,” said Sarandos, though payment infrastructures in places like China will be major hurdles.
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Sarandos was enthusiastic for Netflix’s upcoming partnerships with Disney and DreamWorks, even as he spanked the studios at large for clutching to antiquated distribution models that worked before technology paved the way for services like Netflix. “I’m a big proponent for being much more progressive for Premium VOD earlier in the life cycle. Move all the windows up before people just decide going to steal it. I think all these windows that were built well before technology – well before people had the internet in their homes, which served the market well because you could actually skim the market and let it sit then come back out again — that just doesn’t exist anymore. I think trying to cling to that is doing nothing but promoting piracy.”