Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos became the latest executive to challenge FX CEO John Landgraf’s notion that television is reaching a saturation point with too much original scripted programming or “too much TV.”
“There’s no such thing as ‘Too much TV,’ unless we’re all spending more and not watching more. That’s not the case,” Sarandos said today during the annual State of the Industry luncheon of the Hollywood Radio and Television Society. “That’s an extremely old lens.”
Another topic that Landgraf has debated publicly — the refusal by streaming services, particularly Netflix, to reveal viewership stats — also came up during the conversation. “The absence of metrics is the absence of predictability,” said Sandra Stern, president of Lionsgate Television Group, which produces one of Netflix’s flagship series, Orange Is The New Black. In creating programming for networks with traditional ratings measurements, producers can tailor shows for each network’s “brand,” Stern said, adding “We only have anecdotal evidence with Netflix.”
When a co-panelist teased, “So you’re saying Ted should publish his ratings?” Stern answered, “If he’d send me a little note, that would be nice.”
Sarandos addressed recent headlines that Netflix would be expanding into the news business, calling his prior comments a “misunderstanding.” During a video conference call for the company’s third-quarter earnings, Sarandos was asked about the possibility of Netflix competing with Vice, and he now says his “never say never” response had been misinterpreted as confirming rumors that Netflix had imminent plans. Netflix will launch a weekly talk show with Chelsea Handler next year, as well as produce documentary specials, “but we’re not starting a news division,” Sarandos said.
Lee said that in the last five years, TV’s “written in stone” rules have been undone, with long-held assumptions about race, moral complexity and character likability tossed aside.
“Viola is literally getting away with murder,” joked Paul Lee, President, ABC Entertainment Group, about the hot Emmy-winning Viola Davis of How to Get Away With Murder.
In an on-demand world, Lee said, TV storytelling is no longer “about what’s least objectionable,” a change “that’s driving all the sophisticated storytellers” to television and away from film.
David Nevins, president of Showtime, said he was most surprised during the past year at how fast Internet streaming has become a significant aspect of Showtime’s operations. He said selling Showtime over the Internet is “what’s going to drive our focus going forward.”
Nevins also provoked an audience buzz when moderator Jon Erlichman, co-creator of Parachute TV, asked for teasers about David Lynch’s upcoming new season of Twin Peaks.
Nevins didn’t take the bait. “We’ve had to hire extra security in Washington (where the series is shot),” he said. Lynch has been notorious about secrecy, and the move by Showtime follows recent paparazzi shots from the set that may have revealed a spoiler about Laura Palmer. Twin Peaks was “the original social media show before social media was invented,” Nevins said.
Scripted series dominated the discussion, prompting Frances Berwick, president, Lifestyle Networks, NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment, to call unscripted TV “almost the dirty secret that people don’t want to talk about.” However, unscripted “is still dominating cable entertainment,” despite the “so-called golden age of scripted,” she said.