6. Give television and movie chiefs greenlight authority
Sarandos is too busy with television and 40 movies in production right now to worry about approving everything. (You could hear the room go “Wow!”) So his television and movie heads have greenlight authority. That’s how he landed ex-Universal production chief Scott Stuber. And when they go ahead with something, they’re 100 percent committed to make it and show it. (With iffier shows, Netflix is starting to make script-to-series deals.)
7. Think like Hollywood in the ’70s
Back then, said Sarandos, the Hollywood studios were run by a bunch of old guys who didn’t know what they were doing, “but the kids like it,” they said. So they let the creators create.
David Giesbrecht / Netflix
8. Forget about measuring a “hit”
Most people like to measure whether they have a hit or not, said Seinfeld. In today’s fragmented television and media world, said Sarandos, people just need to talk to their friends. “A number is trivia,” he said. “We don’t sell advertising, so there’s no reason to report.” He resists negative content, he said. “Why start an arms race? The best stuff works all the time.” Why hurt a show that will be available forever? he argued. “The only thing relevant is how the show performs relative to the money put into it. There are people who are still starting out with the first season of “House of Cards,” he said.
9. “There’s no death!”
As Seinfeld observed. Indeed, Netflix brought back new iterations of “Full House,” “Gilmore Girls” and “The Killing.” And Sarandos looks forward to Netflix’s second season (or Season 5) of “Arrested Development.”
One way Netflix is becoming more like television studios and networks, however, is that it won’t keep spending too much money for shows that don’t have an audience commensurate with their cost. Both Baz Luhrmann’s “The Get Down,” “Marco Polo” and the Wachowskis’ groundbreaking “Sens8” were too expensive for the size of their audience. So they stopped making them. But passionate followers will still be able to watch past seasons, whenever they wish. (Sarandos suggested “Bloodline,” and”Hemlock” had simply run their course.)
And that’s what makes it possible to take more chances. When Reed Hastings told CNBC that Netflix should have more cancelations, it was about trying harder to get out of their comfort zone, said Sarandos, describing it as a very Silicon Valley thing to learn from failure.
Cannes Film Festival
10. Go day and date with theaters
Netflix movies hit theaters at the same time that they’re available to Netflix subscribers, in a few cities, and for a short time. However, “I’m the opposite of anti-theater,” insisted Sarandos, who urged people to go see “Wonder Woman” in theaters ASAP. “What’s the next thing people do after they see a great movie? Watch another one.”
However, he is emphatically anti-windows, and pledges to keep fighting that fight. “Theaters choose windows exclusivity,” he said. He objects to anything that keeps content away from consumers when they want it. “We’ll do for film what we did for TV, which is to make content so undeniably great that they’ll choose to see it.”
And he’s anti-French theater chains, who fought for Cannes director Thierry Fremaux to change the rules so Netflix Cannes entries like “The Meyerowitz Stories” and “Okja” would have to be booked in theaters before they play in Cannes. (Netflix doesn’t play its movies in French theaters because the country has an astonishingly long three-year window between theaters and streaming services.) Many movies play Cannes without having distribution at all, he pointed out. He had a “mindblowing” experience at Cannes, he said, which is “reverential to film.”
But, he concluded, “it’s not an independent selection process if they stick with that rule…a celebration of films and filmmakers can’t continue to be as relevant.”