ISCHIA, Italy – Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos networked with top Italian film and TV producers Friday at the Ischia Global Film and Music Fest, forging ties ahead of the company’s arrival in Italy in October, by when he expects to announce one local live action production “ready to go,” he said.
“Italy is one of the great film and television centers of the world,” Sarandos enthused during a packed confab on the grounds of the spectacular Villa La Colombaia, once owned by late Italo master Luchino Visconti (“The Leopard”) on the resort isle off the coast of Naples.
He was introduced by U.S. producer Mark Canton, who was instrumental in getting Sarandos to Italy, and by Ischia fest topper Pascal Vicedomini.
“We think we can bring a large global audience to a local Italian show and that we will be able to invest at a higher level than an Italian producer would invest in a series or a film from Italy,” he vowed.
Sarandos was speaking one day after Netflix reported that its global subscriber base had grown to more than 65 million, beating its own forecast.
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While making overtures to the Italo industry, he explained that his content investments are dictated by demand.
“What we are doing is reinvesting subscription revenue in programming. Where hours of programming come from really depends on hours of watching,” he said.
But in Italy Netflix seems to be willing to sustain some original content startup costs.
The big Italian show Netflix plans to produce “will represent probably 15-20 percent of our spending on Italian programming, which at this point will be just investment because there is no revenue from Italy yet,” Sarandos noted.
He also admitted that “Italy lags behind territories we launched earlier,” in terms of Internet penetration.
“But we are the point now where we are investing ahead of it because we have great confidence that those penetration levels and speeds will grow fast.”
Further down the road “when we start spending Italian revenue” on content, “it will be in a proportion to what the revenue has been,” he cautioned.
As previously announced, Netflix is also financing an Italian animation spinoff series, “Winx Club Wow: World of Winx,” produced by Rainbow Studios as a Netflix original, with plans for it to air globally in 2016.
“We recently embarked on producing very large scale local television for the world,” Sarandos said.
The first of these shows, Mexican football comedy “Club De Cuervos,” will debut in August in 60 countries.
The next one is French show “Marseilles,” a tale of power and corruption toplining Gerard Depardieu as the city’s mayor.
Regarding how Netflix is doing in France and Germany, where they launched in September of 2014, Sarandos indicated there are stumbling blocks, but sounded an upbeat note.
“While France and Germany have very high penetration of broadband, they have very variable speeds and very different cultures around what they use the Internet for. Germany has historically very low penetration of video-on-demand services. We think that will change rapidly,” he said.
“In France we saw an incredible explosion around our original programming: “Daredevil” particularly, but also “Sense8” has been remarkably successful in both France and Germany.”
Getting back to Italy, Sarandos declined to divulge Netflix’s one-year subscriber goal for the country, in line with company policy.
But he did give the Italian film industry reason to believe that the arrival of Netflix could be a game changer.
“Next year we will spend $5 billion a year on content globally,” he said. “We are on track to spend about 20 percent of that on original productions, and those productions are being made everywhere in the world. Today we are in production in 17 countries,” Sarandos said.
“The Italian production infrastructure should be able to attract a very large investment from our five billion dollars of content,” he added.