Ted Sarandos tells what makes Nextflix tick
H E has been named as one of
Time magazine’s 100 most influential people for “helping create the future of entertainment”. Ted Sarandos has been chief of content for the streaming video on demand (SVOD) service, Netflix, for the past 15 years. Now he wants to change the way Australians watch television.
You have just started offering Netflix in Australia. How has it gone?
There has been an incredible level of interest. You find that in markets where on-demand products have been underdeveloped. Before Netflix came to Australia there wasn’t a lot of investment in the on-demand part of television.
What type of programming will you offer in Australia? How will it be different to what you offer in the US?
We will be heavily influenced by what people watch. You can know a lot about a market from television ratings data. But once we begin to see the viewing data on our service we can expand the universe of choice. It is hard to say you can characterise a country’s taste. We can’t characterise any of our subscribers’ taste and we have 57 million around the world. We cut across almost every demographic and taste profile you can imagine. On the comedy side the Australian audience is a little closer to the UK sensibility. But our programming will get more refined when we get more viewing data from Australia.
SVOD has been slow to get to Australia but there are several players coming into the market such as Presto, Stan and Quickflix. It will be quite a competitive market.
They all are. We are now in more than 50 countries and there are multiple players in every market. It’s a very big universe and there will be a lot of competitors. I think of them less as competitors and more as growing players in the entertainment landscape. (Television) used to be a very consolidated business with a handful of players. But the way it is evolving, there will be multiple streaming (services) just the way there are multiple television channels.
How much of an issue is the bandwidth?
The internet infrastructure is what took us so long to come here. It was a bit slow in being built, but the pace of catch-up has been phenomenal. We have adaptive technology that is built to work, regardless of your (internet) speed. The faster the streaming, the better the picture. We have full confidence in the fact that broadband speeds will never be slower in Australia than what they are today.
Netflix started out licensing programs but now you have moved into making your own productions such as House of Cards and
Orange is the New Black. How much h do you spend producing your own programming? mming? We spent $3 billion in total on programming mming last year. Our original programming is probably only 10 to 15 per cent of it but ut it will grow over the next few years. We e will have 320 hours of original programming this year alone.
Will you be producing any Australian n content?
A couple of years ago we came across
H2O: Just Add Water that is made for the Disney Channel in Australia. We bought it for Netflix around the world. It became extremely popular everywhere. We have since gone on to co-produce the sequel, Mako
Mermaids. We have picked up a lot of Australian shows and have given them a global footprint. Shows such as Wentworth, Rake, Secrets & Lies
– the Australian version of the US remake. We have picked up the rights s for them for Netflix in multiple territories s around the world. A lot of our original al shows also have some Australian talent. We have two Australian actresses in Orange is the New Black. And Ben Mendelsohn is the star ar of
Bloodline. We will also be doing a series es with Baz Luhrmann in a few months on the he history of hip hop. It’s full blown Baz Luhrmann ann production. It will be fabulous.
As director of content based in Los Angeles with a growing budget, the queue outsideutside your office must get quite interesting. g.
Some days it is a pretty sexy waiting room. We probably get 30 pitches a week. We have a constant flow of some of the biggest names in Hollywood coming in to pitch projects.ts. There is no shortage of ideas for television. But there is a wonderful rarity about a show creator eator who can realise a great vision. That’s what I love about Baz Luhrmann. If someone e else came to us with the idea (to do a show w on the history of hip hop) we would probably y say no. It’s very ambitious but I have enormous us confidence in Baz.
You are in 50 countries. The economiesmies of scale must get better as you expand?d?
The programming has to be globally interesting too. Figuring out what are e the values around the world is part of the art. Even in markets where we don’t operate, ate, shows such as Orangek is the New Black k and
House of Cards have become enormous us hits. In China these shows are incredible hits. These are very global shows. The ones es we are producing are more likely to have global bal appeal. And the ones we are licensing g such as
Gotham are shows that would also be attractive around the world.
How is your programming different from what you can see on free-to-air television?
The shows being made for Netflix are never interrupted for advertising. And they are not built to be watched one episode at a time. The content cr creators build them with no catch-up time whichwhic means you end up with richer story telli telling. You don’t have to take up half the show catching people up on what happenedhappene last week.
But how much time can people spend watchin watching television on their computer?
Our viewingvie is on different devices that connec connect through the internet. Most of our viewingviewin is on big televisions. The new smart televisions have the Netflix app built in in. It’s not about people sitting at their computers.c
What other new shows are you producing?produ
We haveha a series called The Crown we will film in Britain later this year. It is written by Pete Peter Morgan who wrote The Queen. It is being directed by Steve Daldry. The Queen is probably the most famous person on the planetp right now. The series will track h her life from the day when her father diedd when she was on her honeymoonhoneym in Kenya.
Will stre streaming on-demand services such as NetflixNetfli ever replace free-to-air television?
It is not me meant to. What free-to-air, advertising-supportedadvertising television does well is track very large audiences that watch the same thing at the same time. This is very attractive t to selling advertising. It is very good for programmingprogram like live sport or reality shows. Or competition shows where you go to work the n next day and talk about what you saw on televisiontele the night before. But we don’t do that.th Everything we do is professionallyprofessiona scripted programming, the more serialsseria the better.
Will Netflix ever have advertising? There are no plans to. What’s aheadah in the next five years?
My track r record of predicting the next five years has notn been very good. When I met (Netflix founder)fo Reed Hastings in 1999 we guessed str streaming (over the internet) would be right ar around the corner. We were off by about sevenseve years. On-demand services will get rich richer and richer in content. Our own programmingprogr will be more global, more exclusiveexclu and more original than we have today. The delivery quality will improve. We are se seeing a handful of people today who are able to experience ultra-high-definition television. In the future it will become the norm. Wit With ultra-HD the picture quality and the sound quality of video streaming services has already surpassed the quality of the typical pay-televisionpay service.
“The way streaming video on demand is evolving there will be multiple streaming services just the way there are multiple television channels”
Ted Sarandos on the future of television