Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos has rejected any assertion that the company is showing signs of hindering the creative freedom of its producers and said it is on track to double its original programming output.
Speaking at a Royal Television Society conference in London on Tuesday, the Netflix exec said he was working “very diligently” to ensure relationships with creatives were “collaborative” and insisted creative control of production would not increase as the company grows. “Four years ago we weren’t producing any original programming and this year we had 17 different shows nominated for 54 Emmy awards and the only way you can work that way is to build upon the same premise we built Netflix on: to work with the creatives,” he told the audience. “Our job is to pick the right shows and the right storytellers and create an environment where they can do the best work of their life.”
He pressed that any creative involvement on Netflix shows was “always invited.” “That’s what I want to impress upon people,” he said. “If you aren’t collaborating on the show by the time it is in production, then we have failed in some way that we haven’t been invited into the process. We don’t enclose ourselves from the process creatively, we are very collaborative absolutely.”
He quipped: “I am not going to give creative notes to Peter Morgan [writer on Netflix’s The Crown]. I’m not going to do it.”
Asked about Netflix’s programming budget, Sarandos maintained that the company is committed to targeting $6 billion next year and was on track to sustain its growth. “We’ve been able to maintain the quality,” he said, pointing to shows such as Fuller House or Rams, which have developed under “their own creative umbrella.”
Original programming continues to be viewed more on the platform and this, he said, is a big reason why the company is pushing for more distinguished content.
“We are looking for stuff that is more brand-defining and tentpole,” Sarandos said, pointing to Netflix’s $100 million upcoming Queen Elizabeth II drama series The Crown, which was developed for the company through UK banner Left Bank Pictures and penned by Morgan. “That [The Crown] is produced to a scale that I don’t think many networks could step up to. Because our audience is large and global and the story is incredibly local, we can invest heavily in a project like that.”
Sarandos said the goal is to push for a 50:50 split in terms of originals and licenced programming over the next few years.
He also pointed to the transition of filmmakers from the big-screen to the television world as being responsible for enabling projects to travel more globally. “Historically, big films have always been more global than television but it is becoming more and more the case that TV is travelling more globally now as well,” Sarandos said. “I think a lot of that is influenced by the filmmaker’s move into television.”
But while the company’s embrace to the creatives was emphasized, there was no sign of Netflix wavering on its stance on the pay-TV window issue. Sarandos asserted that making consumers wait seven to 10 months after a theatrical release of a title “doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
“I’ve always been of the mindset that pay-TV windows are probably the most out-of-step licensing window with the current generation of television watching you can imagine,” he said. “To have people wait seven to 10 months in the internet age doesn’t make a lot of sense so I think you wind up with these pay deals with movies that people saw already because they were excited to see them or they made a conscious decision not to see them at any point between the time it opened on theatre, to the time it was on DVD, to the time it was on VOD, to the time it was on an airplane, so that by the time the movie itself is available, it’s a much more casual transaction. I don’t think you can assign a lot of subscription value to that kind of watching activity.”
He added: “We’re investing in film so that we can aggressively give the consumers what they are telling us they want, which is when they open. And in some cases we will say they will be on Netflix instead of in theatres.”
The company is looking to large-scale films such as cop thriller Bright, starring Will Smith and Joel Egerton, directed by Suicide Squad‘s David Ayer, as a potential franchise. It also has films such as Brad Pitt starrer War Machine and Christopher Guest’s Mascots on the horizon.