×

Ted Sarandos: AT&T-Time Warner ‘Sure’ to Face DOJ Scrutiny

Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos weighed in on the pending AT&T-Time Warner merger Saturday, predicting the deal will face some regulatory questions.

“It’s a tough hypothetical, mostly because deals of this size in the industry are unprecedented. I’m sure it’s going to have a lot of DOJ scrutiny,” he said at USC’s Entertainment Law and Business conference, in a keynote Q&A with entertainment attorney Bruce Ramer.

“How it impacts anybody will be highly dependent on how it emerges,” said Sarandos. “Those are pretty powerful assets. I’m sure it will come under a great deal of scrutiny.”

The Department of Justice, as well as the FCC, could conceivably take a hard look at a Time Warner-AT&T combination, but there has yet to be any indication from either government body as to what action they will take.

Sarandos also defended the streaming service against any suggestion that he’s creating a “monopoly.”

Ramer brought up the question that FX Networks CEO John Landgraf had raised during the summer’s Television Critics Association press tour, when Landgraf said, “I think it would be particularly bad for storytellers and for our culture if any one company — and I don’t care what company that is — were able to seize a 40 or 50 or 60 percent market share within storytelling. I don’t think monopoly market shares are good for society, and I think they’d be particularly bad for society and storytellers if they were achieved in the storytelling genre.”

Ramer also quoted Landgraf, who’d said: “Television shows are not like cars or operating systems, and they’re not made best by engineers or coders in the same assembly line as consumer products, which need to be uniform size shape and quality.”

Responded Sarandos, “Who would make TV like that? We don’t. I don’t know where he gets that. I don’t know how he said that with a straight face.”

Sarandos continued, “The edge that we might have is in our technology roots. We make data-driven hunches. We make informed intuition. We have data on what shows people watch. We can’t reverse-engineer great storytelling. We can create a better business model for it.”

The biggest difference between FX and Netflix, countered Sarandos, was on taking credit when shows succeed. “I don’t think you can corral storytellers, and have them write to your vision and be successful at it for very long,” he said. “You won’t hear me take credit for our shows. That credit belongs to the storytellers. I’m not writing. I’m not directing.”

And he challenged Landgraf’s use of the word “monopoly.” “I’m sure John Landgraf knows the definition of that word and what a loaded word that is and how foolish it is to say,” he says. “Considering how much storytelling and television creation and movie creation is happening all over the world….We’re operating around the world. It’s a big world of storytellers. It’s impossible to monopolize.”

Sarandos also made a joke at Relativity CEO Ryan Kavanaugh’s expense, when Ramer asked about his infamous algorithm predicting what films would succeed financially. “How did that work out?” quipped Sarandos of Relativity, which has been embroiled in a longstanding legal dispute with Netflix.

Asked his thoughts on Amazon Prime, Sarandos credits Netflix’s singular focus on content for their success vs. their competition. “I think they’re betting video is a better way to sell Prime than other things,” he said. “If we were shipping diapers I don’t know if we would be as successful at this. That’s why there’s very little engagement in that product [Prime] today.”

Sarandos acknowledged his ongoing battle with theater owners of “day and date” releases as Netflix expands their film efforts, comparing the concept of “day and date” to drinking a beer: “You can drink a beer at home or you can go to a bar,” he said. But he pointed the finger at theater owners, saying they needed to invest in improving the theater-going experience. “If you do that you don’t have to hold the content hostage,” he said. “It’s the lack of innovation that’s been hurting movies terribly. The reason that television’s gotten so great is all the distribution innovation, which expanded the audience. Now TV shows are displacing movies in the culture.”

Sarandos also addressed the renewal rate for Netflix series, none of which have been cancelled in their first season.

“That’s by creative design,” he said. “We built shows for longevity. They’re designed to be long-running shows. One or two seasons is not the definition of success. Four, five or six season shows, those are the successful shows.”

Given the current political climate, Ramer couldn’t resist asking about Sarandos’ own political ambitions. “No, I have no political aspirations whatsoever,” he said. “[But] I do love politics both as a concerned citizen and as a supporter.”

More Biz

  • Santos Dumont

    Mipcom: International TV Output Picture Changing for U.S. Majors

    The global import-export strategies of the U.S. majors are in flux as the world’s major content companies gather this week in Cannes for the annual Mipcom market and conference. Disney, WarnerMedia and the other handful of media conglomerates that control the vast majority of the U.S. market are in the midst of a radical transition [...]

  • Jane Fonda Arrested

    Jane Fonda Arrested in D.C. During Climate Change Protest

    Jane Fonda was arrested on Friday in Washington, D.C. during a climate change protest, Variety has confirmed. “Today, the United States Capitol Police arrested 16 individuals for unlawfully demonstrating on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol,” Capitol Police communications director Eva Malecki said in a statement to Variety. She added that all were charged with crowding, [...]

  • Firefighters battle the Saddleridge fire in

    Saddleridge Fire Forces Evacuations, TV Production Shutdowns

    A wind-whipped wildfire has spread across parts of the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles and forced evacuations, threatened thousands of homes and closed parts of five major freeways. The Saddleridge fire has prompted mandatory evacuations affecting about 100,000 people between Porter Ranch, Granada Hills and Sylmar. Mandatory evacuations have been called for about [...]

  • amazon-studios

    Amazon Studios Pacts With Howard University for Entertainment Education Program

    Howard University and Amazon Studios have teamed to launch Howard Entertainment, a two-semester program based in Los Angeles that offers Howard students the ability to take courses, network with Amazon industry partners and gain work experience in the entertainment industry. The inaugural program will begin January. The curriculum and immersive experiences will start with academic [...]

  • Remembering Prince

    Prince Estate Slams Trump Campaign for Playing ‘Purple Rain’ at Minneapolis Rally

    The Prince Estate strongly criticized the Trump campaign for playing “Purple Rain” at a Minneapolis rally in which the president made multiple aggressive and juvenile comments about Democratic leaders, Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce and Jay-Z. In a statement posted on social media, the Estate wrote, “President Trump played Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ tonight at a campaign event [...]

  • Charlie Rose Sexual Harassment

    Charlie Rose Wins Dismissal of Retaliation Claim in Harassment Suit

    A New York judge on Thursday dismissed a claim that Charlie Rose retaliated against three female employees who complained of sexual harassment. Judge Doris Ling-Cohan found that while Rose had allegedly disparaged the women — calling one a “f—ing idiot” and another a “f—ing kindergartner” — his comments did not amount to retaliation under the [...]

  • James Murdoch

    James Murdoch's Lupa Systems Takes Minority Stake in Vice (Report)

    James Murdoch has purchased a minority stake in Vice Media, the once-upstart brand that is trying to reconfigure itself as many prominent digital-media brand grapple with a wave of consolidation, according to a new report. The Financial Times reported that Murdoch’s investment vehicle, Lupa Systems, has secured a small ownership stake in Vice. A spokeswoman [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content