Netflix’s CES keynote quickly got raunchy when late-night talker Chelsea Handler took the stage Wednesday morning in Las Vegas, with Handler and fellow Netflix star Will Arnett joking about drugs, sex and horse genitalia. The internet video service used Handler’s appearance to tease her upcoming daily talk show, which will debut on Netflix this spring.
But as Netflix expands internationally and strikes distribution deals with a variety of service providers and even airlines, it may one day be offering sanitized versions of some of its content with special cuts to omit mature content, admitted Netflix CEO Reed Hastings during a post-keynote press conference.
Hastings said the company hasn’t decided yet on how to address issues around more mature content. “We’ll see and we’ll have to learn,” Hastings said in response to a question about local cultural sensibilities. He went on to compare the issue to “airplane cuts” — the type of edits studios frequently do to make their R-rated fare safe to be consumed in a semi-public space. “Entertainment companies have to make compromises over time,” he added.
Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos jumped in to stress that Hollywood has been dealing with these issues for a long time, suggesting that Netflix may over time find similar answers.
The issue of airplane cuts isn’t entirely hypothetical for Netflix: The company began a partnership with Virgin America last year, streaming its catalog to Virgin passengers as part of the airline’s in-flight entertainment offering. As of now Netflix is making its entire catalog available to Virgin passengers, according to a Netflix spokesperson.
But content may also be an issue as Netflix is trying to enter some of its final markets this year. On Wednesday, Netflix announced the expansion into 130 additional countries. Altogether, Netflix is now available in 190 countries, covering almost the entire globe, with China being a notable exception.
Netflix needs to get government approval to launch in China, which tightly regulates all terrestrial and online broadcast. “It takes time working with the government,” Hastings said Wednesday, adding: “We are continuing to work on that, and we are very patient.” He didn’t go into details about some of the issues at stake, but it’s likely that China would like to have a final say on available content as well — and having clean versions of some of its shows could help with just that.
In fact, Netflix has already started to sanitize some of its content for a nearby market: Viewers in Japan don’t get to see full frontal nudity in shows like “Marco Polo.” Instead, they’re being served streams that pixelate nudity, like it is common on Japanese TV as well.