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

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

Ted Sarandos Netflix
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

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. “