Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos defended the wisdom of his decision to sign Adam Sandler to a multi-picture deal despite the weak domestic box office return of his latest theatrical release, “Pixels.”
Sarandos cited the international strength of the Sony release as a good fit for Netflix’s increasingly international audience in a Q&A session with reporters Tuesday morning at the opening of the Television Critics Assn. press tour at the Beverly Hilton in Los Angeles.
“We did our deal with Adam Sandler because he is an enormous international movie star,” he told reporters. “We are as encouraged as ever.”
Sandler’s box office clout came into question again after a weak opening weekend in which “Pixels” collected $24 million in the U.S. and slightly more than that in overseas markets. Marvel’s “Ant-Man” topped “Pixels” to lead the box office.
Nevertheless, Sarandos characterized himself as “thrilled” with the deal he struck last year to bring four titles from Sandler to the streaming service in the coming years.
“I don’t feel I have to defend Adam Sandler,” he said.
Talking with reporters further after his formal Q&A, Sarandos also addressed the controversy kicked up by complaints from talent on the set of Sandler’s first production, “The Ridiculous Six,” with regard to the depiction of Native Americans.
“When people see ‘Ridiculous Six,’ the show will speak for itself,” said Sarandos. “When the movie comes out, people will see it’s fair.”
Beyond Sandler, Sarandos used the TCA stage to tout the collective strength of his slate of Netflix original programming, which now includes 16 scripted dramas and comedies. Taken together with feature films, documentaries, standup specials and kids programming, Sarandos estimated 475 hours of original fare would hit the streaming service this year.
He explained that the rationale for moving so aggressively into originals — Netflix had just two series online a mere 30 months ago — had less to do with the growing amount of competition in the streaming sector and more to do with differentiating the service with content unavailable anywhere else.
To highlight the important of Netflix exclusivity, Sarandos noted in response to a question about the Hulu-“Seinfeld” deal that the substantial expense of that content doesn’t prevent the classic comedy from being seen elsewhere, like on TBS and Crackle.
“I think there’s a bunch of holes in the exclusivity relative to the economics of that deal,” he said, noting that a simultaneous worldwide release also help curb piracy.
In April, Hulu announced a deal to secure the entire “Seinfeld” library at a cost estimated to be worth $160 million.
Back on the originals front, Sarandos indicated that he continues to be “plugging along” in pursuit of another season of “Arrested Development,” the former Fox sitcom he resurrected in 2014.
“It’s a really long, complex deal to make for these guys because talent is busy working on other shows and the show is owned by Fox,” he said. “It is our intent to have a new season of ‘Arrested Development,” and all the negotiations are underway.”
In addition, Sarandos confirmed that Netflix’s first-ever original-series co-production, “Lilyhammer,” would not return after three seasons, citing the “economically challenged” dealmaking that would have been required to get more episodes.
With Netflix’s rapidly growing international expansion, Sarandos also touched on the challenge of programming for the streaming service’s first Asian market, Japan. Citing the relatively diminished popularity of U.S. TV content in Japan, he nevertheless professed optimism that he could crack the market successfully.
“I’m not fully convinced that the Japanese have radically different taste than the rest of the world,” he said, citing a lack of choice heretofore in Japan that could end up differentiating Netflix there.
Earlier in the day, Netflix made a range of original-series announcements including the third-season renewal of “BoJack Horseman” and premiere dates for “Longmire” and Aziz Ansari vehicle “Master of None.”