The move had Sarandos and the audience laughing from the start of a conversation that ranged from Netflix’s supposed feud with theater owners to the recent cancellations of Sense8 and The Get Down.
Seinfeld, the surprise moderator of the Ted talk, started off by asking Sarandos about his first job in the industry – a clerk at a video store in Phoenix. Sarandos explained how that job set the stage for his future business philosophy – finding out what people want to watch and giving it to them.
“What is this anti-theater theory I hear so much about?” Seinfeld asked, referring to Sarandos’ reputed feud with theater owners.
“I am the opposite of anti-theater,” Sarandos replied, urging everyone in the audience to go out tonight and see Wonder Woman. But theater owners, he said, “won’t book our movies.”
“We are very much against windowing,” Sarandos said, referring to the long wait times between when a film is shown in theaters and are then made available on other platforms. “We want people to see them whenever they want.”
“We’re trying to do for film what we did for television — making content so great that people want to see it,” he said.
Sarandos also spoke about the recent cancellations of original Netflix series The Get Down and Sense8, explaining, that “big expensive” shows “for a huge audience is great” but “a big, expensive show for a tiny audience is hard even in our model.”
And the audience actually gasped when he revealed that Netflix currently has 40 films in the works.
Netflix famously refuses to give out numbers reflecting the viewership of its shows, to which Seinfeld whined, “Yeah, but this is show business. We want to see the numbers.”
Such ratings, Sarandos said, “are negative for content” and create an “arms race” for viewers that undermine the creative process.
“I actually understand what you’re saying,” Seinfeld marveled.
Sarandos’ one concession to the numbers game was to say that Netflix now has “100 million-plus subscribers.”
The movie business, he said, has nothing to fear from Netflix and other streaming services. He said the same fears proved unfounded when television came along. “TV didn’t kill the movies,” he said, even though “they wouldn’t license movies to television until 1967.” That’s a number he got wrong however. Movies were being shown on television in the 1950s, and have been paying residuals to actors, writers and directors since 1960.
Seinfeld asked him where he sees Netflix in the year 2035, but Sarandos demurred. As for the future of virtual reality, he said: “VR makes me feel like I’m 100 years old. It’s cool, but I have yet to see it meaningfully influence narrative.”
During the question and answer segment, a member of the audience noted that he was grateful to Sarandos because he’d bought Netflix stock 15 years ago. “Get out of here,” Seinfeld told him. “That’s all we wanted to hear about — a guy who bought it at 3.”
Another audience member stood up in the second row and said he was “star struck” being so near his comedy idol, and then off-handedly thanked Sarandos for being there.
“It’s called ‘A Conversation with Ted Sarandos,'” laughed Seinfeld, whose Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee moves to Netflix next season.