Peak TV is an “analog idea,” Netflix’s head of content Ted Sarandos said at the Vanity Fair Summit in Beverly Hills on Tuesday. “It’s like saying you’d eat too much at the buffet–you only eat what you want.” Adding that “what’s great about online is it can be personalized,” Sarandos threw out the notion that online streaming has detrimentally saturated television.
Sarandos also pointed out that Netflix is in his opinion perfect for film too. The streaming platform he said is “a better way to monetize film and distribute film,” but conceded, “I also agree that seeing Dunkirk in the theater was an incredible experience. It is another great example of a theater-centric film he said, since, “young people really enjoyed going to see it together.” However, Sarandos said Netflix is extremely important for films like Beasts of No Nation, which didn’t do well in the theater, but was a huge streaming hit. “It’s an amazing movie,” he said. “With the exception of Star Wars, more people on Netflix watched Beasts of No Nation than any other movie in the world. Yet conversations about that movie always start with, ‘It wasn’t a box office hit.’
As for how Sarandos decides how to invest without the traditional per episode viewing figures broadcast relies upon, he said, “For us the numbers help guide us around potential. A lot of conventional wisdom gets thrown out…For the most part, people like great storytelling and it does travel.”
Sarandos’ co-panelist, Ava DuVernay, who had much success with her Netflix documentary film 13th–including an Oscar nomination–said she doesn’t feel the need for numbers feedback anyway. “I get a vibe,” she said. “I can feel the energy rolling in. It’s not hard numbers, but it is a general idea of how things go. I don’t need numbers to know.” Of the experience of working with Netflix, she said, “It’s fantastic to be able to make something and present it in an elevated manner to an audience that’s been targeted and well marketed to,” adding that “13th was available in 190 million countries,” thanks to Netflix. “There are different fits for different places,” she said. “There’s Netflix that doesn’t fit into the platform of a traditional theatrical release. It’s not problematic for me…How beautiful that now as a filmmaker and a content creator, I have a choice. I have a choice whether I want to be in 2000 theaters or no theaters….I’m a champion of the whole disruption of the old Hollywood paradigm.”
This year Sarandos spent some of his annual $6 billion budget on hiring David Letterman at a reported $2 million per episode. “Dave wanted to come back to television,” Sarandos said. “He has earned it to come back on his terms, and his terms were to come back and produce a talk show that has some of the characteristics of a Barbara Walters special, but to inject his brand of comedy into it.” On making that choice Sarandos said, “We have a bunch of audience in that specific age demographic and whether they’re likely to be Netflix subscribers or not….some people will join Netflix to watch that. There are some people who will not quit because that show’s coming on next month.”
DuVernay perhaps expressed best how much viewing habits have changed in the past few years, and how Netflix has embraced that when she said, “Can you imagine this? You used to have to go home, sit in a chair at a certain time and sit there where it played and wait through the commercials! We did this for 50 years!”