In an onstage conversation with Katie Couric at Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit on Wednesday, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos waved away concerns over the streaming service’s upcoming loss of “Friends” and “The Office,” instead focusing on the company’s push in original programming and its international content growth.
“One of the reasons ‘Friends’ and ‘The Office’ are so popular is because they’re on Netflix,” he told Couric. “You imagine what happens when your kid comes to school: ‘I just saw this new show called ‘Friends.'”
That wouldn’t exactly happen if the show were on Seeso, he alluded, referring to the NBCUniversal-backed comedy streaming service that shuttered in 2017.
Recalling Marshall McLuhan’s thesis that “the medium is the message,” Sarandos asserted that “part of the enduring success of the shows is they’ve been available on Netflix in a way that people can watch them and ingrain them in their lives. Part of it also is: they sit down they push play and there it is. ‘Friends’ and ‘The Office’ found them, too, on Netflix. Remember, ‘Friends’ and ‘The Office’ have been widely syndicated for years, still are. … A lot of that phenomenon has been because of Netflix.”
“Friends,” of course, will be moving to HBO Max when WarnerMedia’s new streaming service launches in the spring of 2020, and NBCUniversal will have exclusive domain over “The Office” when Peacock debuts in 2021. Netflix has “Friends” until the end of the year, and “The Office” until the end of 2020.
Responding to Couric’s question about potentially being at a disadvantage without those “Friends” or “The Office,” Sarandos went on to say that while he would’ve loved to have kept the shows on Netflix, the platform is “also about change and keeping things fresh — and we have ‘Seinfeld.’ We’re super excited about having ‘Seinfeld.'”
The sprawling conversation included Sarandos batting down the notion that Netflix could be acquired (while he has not discussed it with CEO Reed Hastings, “we have no plans”), what appeals to him in a pitch for a film or series (“The data part is overblown. It’s all emotional”) and the idea of allowing more ratings metrics to flow out of the company, which has been famously, selectively secretive about its viewer data.
“For a long time I was opposed to doing it — I think the ratings wars were negative on creative,” Sarandos told Couric. “If everyone’s focused on opening weekend or premiere episode viewing, they may force entertainment companies to be more careful and not bet long on people and try new things.”
And while he thought “the longer we stayed out of the fight, the better,” he said that by not releasing viewer metrics, people “were missing some of these cultural moments” and being denied a tool to find popular content.
Though Sarandos shies away from the term “disruptor,” he did tout the “greenlight power” held by the company’s execs, nodding to original programming head Cindy Holland, film head Scott Stuber and international non-English TV head Bela Bajaria.
“They have a ton of authority,” said Sarandos. “I try to take the same approach to creatives as I do with our executives, which is: find the best people in the world, give them the tools to do the best work of their lives and get out of their way. Every one of my VPs has more greenlight power than every studio head, every network head in town.”