Ted Sarandos Says Disney Plus Launch Changes ‘Nothing’ for Netflix

Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos claims he’s not getting distracted by huge competitors — like Disney — rumbling into the company’s streaming turf.

The exec was asked what has changed for Netflix with the Nov. 12 launch of Disney Plus, which the Mouse House boasted as having signed up over 10 million users so far. Sarandos responded, “I don’t mean to say this [as] anything but the truth, which is — nothing, really.”

“Our focus has been, and it will be, on making great content people love, delivered seamlessly,” said Sarandos, speaking Thursday at the Paley Center for Media’s 24th Paley International Council Summit in New York.

He elaborated: “We’ve been competing with Disney and all these other folks who are coming into this from the beginning.” Despite different delivery forms in the past, it’s “the exact same players, the exact same content… so nothing really changes.”

Netflix is focused on its customers rather than rivals, he added. “We really don’t get that distracted by competition,” Sarandos said. “Not from out of arrogance, but just out of, we think it’s a better place to spend the energy.”

But there’s no question Netflix is keeping a very close eye on its competitors. Just last week, CEO Reed Hastings said that out of the new crop of rivals, “Disney’s the one that we really have the most to learn from in terms of entertainment.”

Sarandos said that at some point Netflix’s service could be entirely stocked with originals: “One way or the other I think we end up there.” He reiterated a talking point he’s often raised: that the company expected big studios to stop licensing their content to Netflix eventually, which is why it started creating originals over seven years ago. Echoing comments he’s made recently, Sarandos said Thursday, “I was frankly surprised it took Disney and other people this long to go on this path.”

Today, Netflix is the king of subscription VOD, and it’s hoping to keep growing the customer base amid the forays by streaming-wars combatants like Disney, WarnerMedia, Apple and NBCUniversal. As of the end of the third quarter 2019, Netflix had 158.3 million total paid subs, including 60.6 million in the U.S. It’s set to spend an estimated $15 billion on content in 2019 on a gross-cash basis, and the company keeps raising funding through junk bonds to pump out even more programming.

By and large, Sarandos had a friendly session at the Paley Center: He was interviewed by “Saturday Night Live” cast member Chris Redd, who appears in Netflix’s pot comedy series “Disjointed.”

But Redd pointedly asked Sarandos about Hastings’ comments at the New York Times’ DealBook conference about Netflix’s decision to remove an episode of “Patriot Act With Hasan Minhaj” in Saudi Arabia. That came after the Saudi government threatened the company over the offending episode, in which the comedian criticized Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (aka MBS) and the regime’s role in the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “We’re not in the news business,” Hastings said last week. “We’re not trying to do ‘truth to power.’ We’re trying to entertain… We don’t feel bad about [pulling the ‘Patriot Act’ episode in Saudi Arabia] at all.”

Sarandos attempted to walk back his boss’ comments, saying they may not have been “a great choice of words.”

“I think all entertainment is truth to power – all creative expression is truth to power,” Sarandos said. “Stand-up comedy is certainly truth to power. A lot of great films have changed the course of history.”

What Hastings was getting at is that Netflix is “not in the breaking-news business,” Sarandos said. Redd countered that Minhaj’s show is definitely about the news, but Sarandos tried to split hairs by claiming “it isn’t the news itself.”

The challenge for Netflix as a global company, Sarandos said, is that “there are different standards and different laws and regulations you have to figure out how to navigate.”

The big shift with internet streaming, Sarandos said, is that it allow companies like Netflix to present a huge diversity of voices and stories that wouldn’t have made it to air in the broadcast era of TV.

“The opportunity that presents itself is a lot of people who never had an opportunity [before] are making real high-quality television compared with anything else on any other outlet,” Sarandos added. “Where the next great story is going to come from, who’s going to deliver that story, is up for grabs.”

Netflix is casting a very wide net in terms of acquiring and producing new content, including 130 seasons of original scripted local-language series from 20 countries. “Our network is not geared to one thing for one demographic,” he said. “We are basically trying to appeal to whatever you like – we don’t want our brand to define the shows or the shows to define the brand.”

As for whether there’s too much television content flooding the market, Sarandos responded, “No one ever says that about anything but TV.” He added, “Are there too many songs? Are there too many paintings? Are there too many poems?” Redd interjected: “Is there too much love?”

The exec also said the company isn’t absolutely wedded to its binge-release strategy of dropping all episodes of a show at once. In some cases Netflix releases new segments weekly, as it does in the U.S. with “The Great British Baking Show.” Said Sarandos, “It’s a business, not a religion.”

In a lighter moment, Sarandos was asked about his reaction to the “Saturday Night Live” parody ad from a year ago mocking Netflix’s rampant spending. Sarandos said he was a huge fan of the show and said he thought the bit was “hilarious,” adding, “When you’re spoofed on ‘SNL,’ you have arrived. I wish they would have used my name or something.”

More Digital

  • HQ Trivia

    HQ Trivia Lives? CEO Claims He's Found Potential Buyer for Live Game-Show App

    Hold the phone, HQties — there might be a second act for HQ Trivia. The once-buzzy live game-show app, whose audience had declined after peaking two years ago, shut down last week after the company ran out of money and a deal to sell it fell through. Now Rus Yusupov, CEO of parent company Intermedia [...]

  • Dolan Twins

    Dolan Twins to Launch Their First Podcast (EXCLUSIVE)

    The Dolan Twins, sibling digital influencers who have a combined following of more than 50 million across internet platforms, are set to launch their first podcast: “Deeper With The Dolan Twins.” The new weekly podcast from 20-year-old Ethan and Grayson Dolan is being produced under an exclusive pact with Cadence13, a division of Entercom Communications’ [...]

  • Justin Bieber Changes album cover

    Following Lil Nas X, Justin Bieber Track Is Latest to Highlight Online Marketplace

    A shout-out on social media from Justin Bieber has brought some additional shine to Splice Sounds, the popular platform for rights-cleared sounds and beats. The track “Running Over,” from Bieber’s album “Changes” and featuring Lil Dicky, was produced by The Audibles and is based on a loop created by British artist Laxcity and uploaded to Splice. [...]

  • LadBaby at Abbey Road Studio, London,

    Facebook Leans on Local Creators to Grow Watch and Hit New Target Areas

    As Facebook leans into sports, non-scripted and select scripted properties, it’s increasingly looking to an army of creators rather than A-list celebrities to tap into all three target areas as they grow businesses on the Watch platform. Facebook’s newly appointed head of entertainment media partnerships for Northern Europe Anna Higgs tells Variety, “The Watch strategy [...]

  • Apple-Coronavirus

    Apple Warns of Sales Shortfall for March 2020 Quarter, Blaming Coronavirus Outbreak

    Apple said the spread of the coronavirus in China has disrupted iPhone manufacturing and driven down sales in the country. As a result, the tech giant said it now expects to undershoot the revenue guidance it previously provided, of between $63.0 billion and $67.0 billion its fiscal 2020 second quarter (which ends March 28). “Work [...]

  • Jeff Bezos

    Jeff Bezos Forms $10 Billion Fund to Fight Climate Change

    Multi-billionaire Jeff Bezos, the world’s wealthiest person, announced a $10 billion fund to invest in projects that will combat the alarming trend of climate change. The Amazon founder and CEO announced the formation of the Bezos Earth Fund in an Instagram post Monday (Feb. 17).⁣⁣⁣ According to Bezos, the fund will begin issuing grants this [...]

  • Jake Paul

    YouTuber Jake Paul Launches Entrepreneur How-To Platform, Financial Freedom Movement

    YouTuber Jake Paul wants you to be financially free, for $19.99 a month.  At a rally on Saturday, the content creator — along with influencer friends and around 50 teenage and tween-age fans, some chaperoned by parents — launched the Financial Freedom Movement (FFM) in partnership with GenZ Holdings Inc., a Los Angeles-based brand development [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content