In conversation with Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos
by Ernesto Leotta
- CANNES NEXT: The man behind Netflix's programming shares his views on the past, present and future of the VoD phenomenon with the NEXT audience
The morning round tables at this year's edition of NEXT couldn't have got off to a better start. Friday 15 May saw the K Hall of Cannes' Palais des Festivals already full one hour before the arrival of the speaker: none other than Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos.
After an opening address by the festival's General Delegate, Thierry Frémaux, who defined him as "the man embodying the future of audiovisual", Sarandos was welcomed on stage, where he tried to answer myriad questions, including those posed by the two moderators.
The first issue to be addressed was the change in the role of TV in today's cultural environment. Sarandos recalled Netflix's early years, when the company specialised in DVD rental and delivery, and when people watched more films (90%) on television than they did TV shows (10%); in contrast, today's figures say that Netflix's films represent one-third of the total watching hours, while TV shows represent the remaining two-thirds.
"We didn't expect our shows to be this popular," admitted Sarandos. "According to CNN, House of Cards is the most-watched show in China – we can thus speak of global television. But I believe that one dollar invested in original content is more effective than one dollar spent on licensed content, as we don't have to wait ages for the programme to be ready. All we care about is quality, though, and for this reason, I prefer to have a quality mix of genres, rather than following an editorial line when choosing the programmes. 63 million viewers can have very different tastes, after all."
When asked about the use of big data in order to always be able to match users' preferences, Sarandos replied that reverse-engineering the product can only lead to failure. "I focus on quality, and the high ratings are a result of that, not the other way round. Tracking ratings is one of the causes of some TV programmes' poor quality, in my opinion."
He also admitted being a major film buff, as well as a big fan of documentaries (albeit frustrated by their under-distribution) and giving his team total artistic freedom, except for a "light touch" ("What does this mean in Hollywood language?!" laughed the moderators).
After a short but stimulating Q&A session, Sarandos wrapped up his speech on a rather optimistic note: "Movie theatres are going to stay, even in 20 years' time. People love the theatrical experience, but they also want and need choice – preventing people from choosing is dangerous for cinema. I see the future as an expansion of choice that will make films more profitable."