Netflix’s Ted Sarandos: ‘There’s No Such Thing As Too Much TV’

Netflix’s Ted Sarandos pushed back against a much-discussed assertion by FX Networks CEO John Landgraf this summer, stating at an industry forum Thursday, “There’s no such thing as too much TV.”

Speaking at the Hollywood Radio and Television Society’s annual State of the Industry luncheon, Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, noted that Landgraf – who cited a perceived glut of original scripted series that will exceed 400 in the next year – suggested that the only concern would be if distributors were spending vastly more and people weren’t watching more content.

Landgraf, who made his remarks on the same stage at the Beverly Hilton Hotel during the TV Critics Assn. tour, expressed concerns that supply was already exceeding demand, saying that original production is in “the late stages of a bubble” that’s destined to burst.

Sarandos’ comments were characteristic of a generally bullish discussion about the state of the industry, with ABC Entertainment Group president Paul Lee citing his gratification in seeing several old rules banished, beginning with the belief that programs with minority leads can’t reach a large audience. Alluding to ABC’s success with programs like “How to Get Away With Murder” and “Black-ish,” Lee said that TV could deal with issues like race and “really attract a broad audience, and most importantly, you can unleash a huge wave of creativity.”

Lee also noted that the broadcast networks have found new revenue streams, from program ownership to retransmission fees, to help offset their declining ratings. That said, Sarandos – who reiterated his resistance to issuing viewer data for Netflix – said the network model was flawed and that only dynamic ad insertion (that is, updating ad content within programs to make it timely, whenever it’s watched) could help remedy the situation.

Left to right: Jon Erlichman, Paul Lee, Ted Sarandos, Sandra Stern, Frances Berwick and David Nevins. Courtesy of Courtesy of The Hollywood Radio and Television Society

Discussing the rapid rate of change within the industry, Showtime Networks president David Nevins pointed to his company’s move into selling its product via the Internet, saying that is “clearly what’s going to drive our growth going forward.” The panel also seemed to agree that the current climate – favoring both programs that viewers feel they must watch immediately and binge viewing – has benefited “addictive, serialized high-quality shows,” as Nevins put it, at the expense of procedurals.

“We’re all in an on-demand world. … where if you don’t love it, it doesn’t survive,” Lee noted. That said, the ABC executive maintained there is still value in having an overarching brand. “We can build a stronger network by knowing who we are,” he said. That assertion produced a mild rebuke from Lionsgate Television Group president Sandra Stern, who said, “Sometimes you have to take a risk, and sometimes you have to move a little bit outside your brand,” citing AMC’s development of “Mad Men” as an example. Lee agreed, saying, “The great thing about television right now is that risk-taking is being rewarded.”

Despite the emphasis on scripted fare — and the question regarding whether there’s too much of it — NBCUniversal Lifestyle Networks president Frances Berwick pointed out that much of cable still relies heavily on so-called reality shows, noting that the dominance of such programs is “almost the dirty secret that people don’t want to talk about.” Berwick did joke that reality stars do present their own unique set of challenges, adding that in order to keep the shows going, “We also have to keep them out of jail.”

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