Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos addressed the perennial elephant in the room at any Netflix press event right off the bat today. “Let’s talk about ratings,” he said at the opening of Netflix’s TCA executive session. There was talk but there were no revelations as Netflix continues to closely guard ratings information for its shows. “Subscriber growth, not ratings drives our revenue, ” he said, noting two recent reports by companies, Nielsen and Symphony, that claimed to have been able to crack Netflix’s ratings for paying customers. Sarandos pointed out that one of the companies reported twice the audience for Orange Is the New Black than the other. Of course, he would not say whether either of the viewerships was correct but “either number would be great,” he said. Sarandos was not concerned about the recent subscriber drop in Q2, noting that various factors, including a rate increase, played into it and noted that Q1 subscriber growth was bigger than expected.
Netflix is on track to spend the earmarked $6 billion on original programming this year. The unprecedented number will go up even further in 2017, Sarandos said, but exactly by how much will become clear later in the year, he said.
He gave some indication what some of Netflix’s most watched shows globally are, speaking of the success of Orange Is The New Black and Marvel’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones as well as acquired Breaking Bad and Gilmore Girls, with expectations high for CBS’ new Star Trek series, which Netflix will distribute internationally.
Netflix’s big push this year has been in family programming, going up to 40 programs by the end of this year, and that will continue, he said, pointing to the new Beatles music animated series Beat Bugs and its upcoming Motown offshoot. The network is looking for co-viewing on those series, as well as the upcoming One Day At A Time reboot, overseen by Norman Lear, who turned 94 today.
Sarandos once again addressed the often discussed subject of Peak TV. “There are too many mediocre safe shows on television,” he said but indicated that Netflix would not be slowing down in its original series expansion. “We vote to keep the bar high and keep them coming,” he said. Afterwords, he was asked who makes mediocre TV. “We’ve got a few too. Not intentionally.”
The newest Netflix original programming additions that Sarandos mentioned in the context of shows that break through the clutter is breakout paranormal drama Stranger Things. Given its resonance with fans, a second season appears a lock, but Sarandos would not commit to that yet. “We always want to take some time to be thoughtful about the (renewal) process,” he said.
Speaking of renewals, Sarandos was asked about the decision to pick up a 90-episode second season of Chelsea Handler’s talk show despite some rough going early on, including a showrunner departure.
“I used to think the departure of a showrunner was a failure. Now I see it as a part of making a great show creatively,” Sarandos said. He highlighted Chelsea’s bookers that have been able to get big-name guests and the expanding live comedy and filmed bits on the show, noting that he feels “the elements are all there”, it’s all about “finding the right rhythm.”
Some elements that have popped are expected to have even bigger presence on the show last year, including the segments with kids and dinner party episodes,” Sarandos said. Asked about the lack of water-cooler buzz for the show in terms of “did you watch Chelsea last night”, Sarandos said, “It really isn’t about last night.” He noted that the linear late-night shows are “desperate to get that moment” while Chelsea’s viewers watch the show at different times, with audiences growing.
Every Netflix series so far has been renewed for a second season. What does it take to cancel a show on Netflix? “Relative to what it costs, does it get an audience?,” Sarandos said, listing several factors that play a role, including whether viewers complete a season, what the audience satisfaction and social media engagement/buzz is and what the critical response is.
Sarandos indicated that, with the Marvel universe expanding via renewals and spinoffs, Netflix may air more than the two series a year that had been slated originally but noted that, while there is a push in closing the gap between seasons, maintaining the quality of the shows won’t allow to shrink hiatuses too much. He said that miniseries The Defenders will follow Luke Cage and Iron Fist‘s first seasons before the Marvel series begin airing new seasons. He noted that the mini will feature the casts of all Marvel series. Will that include Jon Bernthal, star of spinoff The Punisher? “Stay tuned,” Sarandos said.
He indicated that Netflix is open to further expanding the superhero universe and to potential crossovers with ABC’s Marvel series.
Getting episodes on the air as soon as possible is a goal, and it led to the new model introduced with The Ranch of releasing two seasons a year and splitting The Get Down‘s first season into two. “The gap between desire and availability is piracy,” Sarandos said, noting that getting content online sooner is great for fans.
Shortening the window comes at a cost, and Netflix had to step in to pricing, Sarandos said.
After the session, Sarandos confirmed that the Spanish-language series starring Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, who was drawn into the El Chapo-Sean Penn saga earlier this year, is currently in production.
He also gave the latest update on a new season of Arrested Development. “We are working on it,” Sarandos said. “By as early as next year.”