Ted Sarandos Backs Away From Day-and-Date Movies with Netflix

Ted Sarandos Netflix
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Content chief modifies earlier suggestion that streaming service could share window with theaters

Days after floating the notion of Netflix releasing movies simultaneously with their theatrical bow, the streaming service’s  chief content officer seems to be having second thoughts.

In a keynote Q&A held Monday at a Bloomberg-sponsored event in Los Angeles, Ted Sarandos appeared to back away from his original statement on the matter.

“I wasn’t calling for day and date with Netflix,” he said. “I was calling to move all the windows up to get closer to what the consumer wants.”

The sentiment was quite different than the one he made Oct. 26 at an Independent Film Forum event in which he suggested, “Why not premiere movies on Netflix the same day they’re opening in theaters? And not little movies. There’s a lot of people and a lot of ways to do that. But why not big movies?”

Sarandos was also sharply critical of theater owners in his Oct. 26 address, saying,  “The reason why we may enter this space and try to release some big movies ourselves this way, is because I’m concerned that as theater owners try to strangle innovation and distribution, not only are they going to kill theaters–they might kill movies.”

That statement drew a harsh rebuke from John Fithian, the president of National Assn. of Theater Owners, who made clear that exhibitors would not cotton to sharing their window with Netflix.

Sarandos acknowledged having since spoken with Fithian, but not other exhibitors, though he didn’t specify what they discussed.

However, Sarandos may not be out of the woods yet; his suggestion that he’s still interested in “moving all the windows up” could still mean the theaters will find their own window crowded. He didn’t specify what he meant by that.

“Netflix is innovating on behalf of the consumer, getting the consumer closer and closer to what they want. I think that is a better business, giving consumers what they want, than creating artificial distance between the product and the consumer,” he said.

Since he gave his address on Oct. 26, to the Film Independent Forum, he said that he had received “mostly great feedback from people who say we have had this discussion [about windows] for a long time, but no one wants to say it out loud.” He said that the point of the speech to independent filmmakers was to show the “simple contrast to what is happening in TV” and what is happening in film.

“Figuring out a way to skim the market is healthy for the studios, but doing it in a way that breaks consumer enthusiasm for the product itself is taking it too far,” he said. “So that is why I am a big proponent of being much more progressive about premium VOD early in the life cycle. Just trying to move all the windows up before people just decide they are going to steal it. So I think all these kind of windows that were built well before the technology, well before people had the Internet in their homes, would serve the market well because you could actually skim the market, let it sit and come back out again. That just doesn’t exist anymore. So I think trying to cling to that is just going to do nothing but promote piracy.”

Sarandos’ speech on Monday was to the Bloomberg and Tribeca Film Festival’s Business of Entertainment breakfast at the Soho House in West Hollywood.

In other Netflix movie news, Sarandos discussed his company’s first-ever acquisition of a documentary, “The Square,” which details the unrest in Egypt.  Asked whether he though the film had chances to snare an Oscar, he replied,  “‘The Square’ is a great, great film. That is a hard thing to call but that would be phenomenal. “

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  1. Anne DeAcetis says:

    Absurd the blustering over the suggestion to reduce or eliminate theatrical windows. John Fithian and NATO are incensed, but all Sarandos is doing is daring NATO to compete by innovating, like everyone else. I can order dinner from restaurants to be delivered to my house every day. But do I still go out to restaurants? Yes. Because the service is better, the atmosphere is more stimulating, the food is hotter/fresher, the experience is premiere. NATO can cry that doing away with theatrical windows would kill movies, but that’s only assuming the cinema stays exactly as it is now…crappy and unimaginative, and notably how it has been since the age of the dinosaurs, when many other industries have since reinvented themselves many times over. Theatres can fight modernity or they can focus on improving the tragically lousy in-theatre movie experience and innovate. It doesn’t seem that hard to me to offer something that Netflix could never rival through access alone. See my open letter to Fithian on this subject here: http://bit.ly/1aw5p5z

    • Anyone who claims movie theatres have not reinvented themselves since the age of the dinosaurs has absolutely zero business speaking about movies in any way, shape or form.

      But to the topic at hand… the basic truth is that people like Ted Sarandos, who have never worked in the exhibition industry a day in their life, simply do not understand is that home video in all its forms requires the theatrical promotional engine to get the word out about the new titles. They need the tens of millions of promotional dollars distributors spend to promote these movies. They need the word of mouth that films build to become the Gravitys and Slumdog Millionaires and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragons of our industry.

      Does Ted Sarandos really think people would have paid PVOD prices for something like Shaun of the Dead or Saw or Paranormal Activity or Napoleon Dynamite or Juno, in order to see them at home the same day they opened in theatres?

      The guy is simply talking out of greed. He has a big piece of a pie, and he wants more. And he thinks he can do that by taking a piece of another person’s pie. He’s just not satisfied with what he has now. Which shouldn’t be surprising. That’s what Americans businesses have done for decades, and where the world’s corporations have followed.

    • Ice-T says:

      Great letter, Anne! Very thoughtful. Looks like you live in NYC, which gave me many a horrible theater experience when I lived there. It’s not THAT bad in L.A., but your points are still valid. I also don’t go to the theater nearly as much any more, but the biggest deterrent is ticket price. It’s getting ridiculous with the 3D prices. $19, seriously? Gimme a break (I sure deserve it).

  2. Ice-T says:

    The reality now is that not enough small theaters are left to show smaller films so the consumer is faced with driving two hours to go to that one arthouse theater showing the new indie they want to see, or 1) Streaming it if it’s available on VOD for a reasonable price, 2) Torrenting/pirating it, 3) Waiting until DVD/Netflix, or 4) Forgetting about it and never seeing it.

    Financially, the studios and filmmakers stand to make the most profit from alternative option #1, the shortened window for VOD. This is not only what the (non criminal) consumer wants, but it’s the most profitable engine for all parties. SO JUST SHORTEN THE WINDOW OR ELMINATE IT AND LET’S CALL IT A DAY.

    To clarify, I’m not talking about doing this for Avengers 2, but for movies like “Enough Said,””Mud” or “Black Rock.” Movies that most people won’t see in the theater because of availability and ticket prices but would certainly stream for $5.99 if given the chance.

  3. Tommy Telephone says:

    Yes, studios have a right to distribute their product, and the secodary market has become closer to the original opening. My problem is with the time after the DVD release. The viewing public should be able to view, from one vendor, another, or VoD server, any video ever produced. We have the technology, but content owners continually seek to generate new demand for old releases.

    Someone once said, “All the troubles in the world are caused by people who can’t be happy in their own rooms.”

    When all the video ever produced and released is available on-line, we’ll be one step closer to a safe and happy world. Anyway, I’ll be happier.

    • Michael Co says:

      Even if they were to follow your suggestion they would still find a way to generate new revenue from old product. That is why every popular movie has multiple editions (director’s cut, deluxe edition with 12 seconds of previously unreleased footage, family edit, theatrical release, NC17 edit, alternate endings, box set, etc., etc., etc.).

  4. Michael Co says:

    Actually he was calling for same day theater and Netflix release. Walking it back now doesn’t make the original statement go away. He’s running Netflix and is expected to (and should) be calling for what is best for his company but not while alienating the main source of his product. The window has already shrunk to the point of many titles going to PPV, rental and retail while still playing at second run venues – something unheard of just a few years ago.

  5. Chris says:

    And if they do as he suggests, you can kiss all studios goodbye as profits will tumble. Additionally see comment from Comcast CEO.

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