Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos had a lot to say to investors about output deals at Monday’s UBS Global Media and Communications Conference. “I’ve been mostly disillusioned in the output deals because the success ratio of any given network is not that great.” There are some hits and some misses, he said. On the murmurs that vertically-integrated companies, like cable nets, may regret selling their content to Netflix, Sarandos called such a claim “foolish…because the billions of dollars of benefit they realized from Netflix wouldn’t have been replaced with anything else.”
Sarandos continued: “What we’ve just figured out is some of the content—not all of it—but some of the content is remarkably interchangeable,” and could be replaced by similar content from other cable nets at a far lower price. In Discovery’s case, Netflix chose not to renew its agreement due to the high premium that he believed did not reflect the viewership. “If you have a premium brand, you have to deliver the viewing, too,” he said. His advice: create more “hard to replace content.” In the case of the deal Netflix had with AMC, “’The Walking Dead’ was the best thing to come out of it. It wasn’t that great for us… I don’t think we’ll enter into big output deals in the US anymore,” he said.
However, Sarandos did speak highly of the output deal it has with Disney. How is this different? “Disney is a solely differentiated brand among movie studios,” he said. It means something to have “Star Wars” or “Marvel” films. But Paramount? Not so much. “When you say I have Paramount movies, that means absolutely nothing to most consumers. No offense, Philippe.”
So where will future investments go? A top priority is continued international expansion, original programming (for instance, 31 originals next year, 30 kids’ shows exclusive to Netflix) and investment in film production. A third of time spent watching content on Netflix comes from movies, he explained, despite the fact that they’d be considered “old.” The newest movies are still 10 months after the theatrical release. “Instead of spending another billion dollars on a movie output, we should invest a billion dollars in original movie production, movies that you would see in the theater,” Sarandos said.
He’s also interested in producing “global television,” of which the original series “Narcos” is a prime example. 85% of the show is in Spanish, it was shot by a French film company in Colombia, the talent is Brazilian and it’s popular all over the world, particularly Germany. “It’s the first flavor of what global television can really be.”
Regarding the oft-addressed subject of viewership, did he have any hard numbers to share? Nope. The shows on the streaming giant are “among the most watched in television.” Investors can measure success by looking at “net subscriber growth,” he said, adding that internally the company looks at hours of viewing per user. And he’s quite confident about what he sees: Responding to a recent Nielsen multiplatform study that ranked a Netflix show as the 2nd most viewed in all of premium television in a specific week Sarandos quipped, “I think it’s actually number one,” because “they don’t measure all the devices.”
Speaking about possible new genres of content, Sarandos stressed that Netflix is not getting into nightly news or sports. The problem with the latter is that “the leagues have all the pricing power in that business, forever.” But if there was a model where Netflix created its own league, “that might be interesting.” It’s “not what we’re chasing,” but “that’s what it would take to get me into sports,” he said.