TV Ratings Have Hurt Creative Side of Television, Says Netflix Content Boss Sarandos

Ted Sarandos Netflix
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

The reliance of TV networks on ratings to gauge the success or failure of their shows has been bad for creators of high-quality television programming, according to Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos.

“Look how many shows didn’t get past the first three episodes,” said Sarandos, speaking Monday at the UBS Global Media & Communications Conference in New York. “Not because they were a bad show… but because it was in the wrong slot at the wrong time.”

The reason Netflix doesn’t provide ratings figures is “not because we’re trying to frustrate the press” or “squeeze suppliers,” the exec said, but because the company is not an ad-supported service and “I honestly believe it works against quality television.” He noted that “Seinfeld” on NBC didn’t become a hit show until after four years on the air.

Last month, Nielsen said it would provide viewing metrics for Netflix’s and Amazon’s subscription VOD services, although initially the firm will only let companies see SVOD viewing information for their own content. Nielsen also won’t measure Netflix viewing on computers or mobile devices at first.

Asked about the Nielsen plans to measure SVOD, Sarandos quipped, “I hope you have all the confidence in that number as you do in their current tracking,” alluding to past errors in TV ratings measurement service from Nielsen.

Meanwhile, Sarandos also said cable operators haven’t kept pace with shifting consumer habits by failing to invest in dynamic advertising tech, which would let them better cater to viewer preferences for the on-demand model. “People like watching all episodes (of a show) in one sitting… instead of waiting a whole season to watch them on cable,” he said.

Cable TV needs to “fix the root of the problem,” to let advertisers serve ads dynamically, so that VOD services will be able to support the delivery of television shows in an on-demand fashion.

Netflix’s model has appealed to writers and showrunners, because the SVOD company gives them a level of creative freedom that many networks don’t, Sarandos said. On the other hand, Netflix requires that the content come to us “better developed” than it would have if it were going to a traditional TV network, he said.

Currently, Netflix is various stages of producing nine original series, including Marvel’s “Daredevil” under a pact that will also bring live-action series based on three other “street hero” characters to Netflix. “Daredevil,” which Sarandos called “cinematic” and “dark,” is shooting right now in Brooklyn. The exec praised British actor Charlie Cox, who stars as the title character, and said Vincent D’Onofrio is “one of the best supervillains you’ll ever see.”

Within five years, Netflix wants to be available in virtually every country in the world, Sarandos said. The company by that point expects to debut as many as 20 original TV series annually, or about one every 2.5 weeks, “kind of getting into a regular drumbeat” for subscribers to expect original programming on the service, he said.

Netflix is now hoping to shake up the movie business the way it’s disrupted TV. The company is now competing with studios for talent, Sarandos said, citing Netflix’s deal with Adam Sandler to develop four exclusive movies.

The motivation to get into original movies was driven by the high price of pay-TV output deals from studios, according to Sarandos. He said that instead of paying $1 billion over three years for an output deal, Netflix is now looking at spending a portion of that to produce its own films with the same stars and directors who would have worked on those films.

In licensing content, Netflix has an advantage in approaching studios by offering a global footprint of 50 countries. Sarandos cited the company’s recent deal with Warner Bros. Television to license the first season of Batman origin series “Gotham” worldwide, before it had premiered on U.S. television. “That means there are 50 buyers around the world that would have liked to be in the mix,” he said.

Internationally, limited access to U.S.-produced shows with worldwide name recognition and buzz has resulted in piracy, Sarandos said. “In the Nordics they were two years behind on ‘The Walking Dead,'” he said. In a country with high-speed Internet access, consumers who want to watch a hot show that’s not available through legal channels are “going to steal it.”

Also at the UBS conference, Sarandos said he doesn’t anticipate Netflix tiering its pricing plans based on different levels of content. Currently, Netflix charges differently monthly prices based on number of simultaneous streams viewed and access to content in 4K UltraHD format.

“It’s tough to tier by content… people value content differently,” he said.

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  1. Rena Moretti says:


    The 5.6 million viewers is an aggregate. Its overnights (which are the standard to judge) were a lot lower, although I’ll give you that the show did not collapse in its third year.

    That said, it was very,very far from being a hit.


    You can ad viewers on other platforms for all shows. They all increase when you do that. That didn’t make Longmire into a hit. I was also thinking of Arrested Development which flopped on FOX in spite of the tons of ink used to hype it to anyone alive at the time…

    • Ladypn says:

      The night of its 3rd season finale, its “overnights” of 3.77 made it the third highest rated scripted program on cable. A position it held with regularity. I guess by cable standards…you could certainly consider that a “hit”.

      • Rena Moretti says:

        Well… no I wouldn’t. It’s a borderline solid show that never caught on. The fact cable keeps producing duds (and so are the networks) is the real story.

        Calling shows that don’t perform quite as poorly “hits” just doesn’t cut it.

  2. nerdrage says:

    It’s not the ratings, it’s the ad-supported system that has hurt TV creatively, requiring network shows to appeal to the lowest common denominator. It’s not surprising if Netflix (and premium cable) shows are better. In those cases, you are paying for the product. With broadcast, you ARE the product.

    • Rena Moretti says:

      I have to entirely disagree. TV has become worse and worse the more money it has gotten form cable license fees.

      TV that has to appeal to customers has to be good or disappear (which it is doing right now).

      I do also completely disagree with the idea that Netflix’ programming is any better. It’s the same hodge-podge or remakes and adaptations made by the same bad writers and directors (only with lots of hype and some HBO-style pretension thrown in).

  3. Eileen Hileman says:

    The amount of junk content on cable is not worth paying for and Nielsen is a dinosaur. I hope A&E is the first cable network to crash and burn.

    • Rena Moretti says:

      I just love how Nielsen gets attacked because it gives real, unbiased numbers and tells us that most shows flop, but box-office numbers that are nowhere near real but say all movies are hits (or just about) are never attacked.

      It’s just amazing how people just want to hear what pleases them and don’t read numbers with any kind of a grain of salt.

      But yeah, the only real set of numbers in Hollywood is a “dinosaur”…

  4. Rena Moretti says:

    What complete nonsense!!!

    So having programming react to what people actually want to watch is bad for creativity..!!!

    What a ridiculous thing to say from someone who hopes to drive subscriptions to his service by having appealing programming!!

    How elitist!!!

    How just like Netflix: pretentious and promotional.

  5. Laura C says:

    I’ve missed Vincent D since Criminal Intent ended. Not sure I want to see him as a bad guy though. I AM super happy though that Netflix picked up Longmire after A&E dropped this excellent series.

    • Rena Moretti says:

      Netflix picking up all those flops is certainly great of creativity, if by “creativity” you mean making shows people have rejected.

      • Pamela says:

        Obviously you don’t know ANYTHING about Longmire or its ratings. It was NEVER rejected by its viewers – which averaged 5.6 million per episode in its final season on A&E. It was rejected by the NETWORK because of the median age of its viewers – it didn’t deliver the younger demographic that would have allowed them to charge twice as much per commercial minute. Longmire was the 2nd highest rated show on their network, second only to Duck Dynasty. Longmire was reguularly among the top 25 most viewed of all cable programs! That makes it a perfect fit for Netflix, which isn’t dependent on advertiser’s fascination with the younge demographic. Longmire is produced with the most exceptional standards in the industry – brilliant & compelling writing, cinematography you’d expect to find only in major motion pictures, breathtaking location shoots, and an extraordinary cast.

        And as for fans rejecting it? Hysterical how incorrect you are! Those fans just led the most successful social media campaign in the history of the industry – trending on Twitter every week for 23 weeks, non-stop during their social media “Stampedes”.

      • Nik says:

        You missed the point of Sarandos’ statement. The reason those shows are “rejected” is due to scheduling of the shows, and how “linear” they are. Try adding on-demand viewership metrics to the mix. I’m sure viewership numbers will increase exponentially.

        Take myself for instance. I don’t watch shows immediately day & date they air (except for some exceptional shows that you just must watch every week). I’m content to wait till their episodes are all available at once before binge-watching them. And this might happen a few months or even a year after the season has ended on TV. That’s where linear programming viewership metrics are inaccurate.

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