Netflix’s push into original content continues to increase significantly, with the video-streaming giant aiming to have its own films and TV series account for half its catalog within the next few years, Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said Tuesday.
To that end, Netflix will spend more of its massive $6 billion program budget on glossy high-end television dramas and on unscripted series, a new area for a company that four years ago had no original shows. “This year we had 17 different shows nominated for 54 Emmy Awards, and the only way you can work that way is to build up the same premise we built Netflix on, to work with creative” people, Sarandos said.
Netflix’s deep pockets enable it to invest in “brand-defining, tentpole shows,” Sarandos said, such as the upcoming British royalty series, “The Crown,” which Sarandos said “is produced to a scale that I don’t think many networks could step up to. Because our audience is large and global and the story is incredibly local we can invest heavily in a project like that. ‘The Get Down’ was an expensive show, and Baz Luhrmann’s films happen to work all over the world, which is great.”
“The Crown” is reportedly costing Netflix more than $100 million. While those kinds of figures can be eye-popping, Sarandos said such investment was often more cost-effective given the costs and complications of acquisitions and licensing, and because original offerings draw more viewers than recycled content. Increased original content is valuable “in terms of distinguishing Netflix as a destination rather than another outlet for carrying,” he said.
Sarandos spoke at a question-and-answer session at the Royal Television Society Conference in London, an annual event that this year focused on the challenges and opportunities presented by the new streaming culture.
He said Netflix’s foray into original films is in recognition of the fact that its catalog consists of “old” titles long past their theatrical release dates, and that one-third of watching on Netflix is still directed at movies.
“We’re investing in film so that we can more aggressively give the consumers what they are telling us they want,” which is new content, Sarandos said. While that could involve a simultaneous theatrical and VOD release, “in some cases we will say they will be on Netflix instead of in theaters.”
That strategy, however, has not endeared Netflix to the many filmmakers who still want to see their works shown in cinemas. In France, for example, some filmmakers have expressed a preference for working with Amazon instead of Netflix because Amazon still commits to theatrical releases.
There have also been reports of unwanted interference by Netflix in the creative process and a high-handed attitude toward producers. But Sarandos dismissed those alleged complaints.
“Our creative involvement in the shows is collaborative and always invited,” he said.
“We don’t impose ourselves on the process,” he added. “I’m not going to give creative notes to [‘Crown’ creator] Peter Morgan. I’m not going to do it.”