×

Netflix Leader Ted Sarandos Plans Broader Creative Push for the Future

Ted Sarandos, who has helped to upend the way audiences receive and consume entertainment as Netflix’s chief content officer, will be honored with the Milestone Award at the 31st annual Producers Guild Awards on Jan. 18. Game-changers including Steven Spielberg, Sherry Lansing, Robert Iger, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Ron Meyer have previously received the recognition, and Sarandos admits it’s not an honor he imagined himself receiving before he entered showbiz.

“Growing up, my escape was always television and movies,” Sarandos tells Variety. “Some of the biggest influences of my life were on screens, big and small. My younger self would never have imagined that I would be a part of the community that brings so much joy to the world. I did not grow up on sets or in pitch meetings. I grew up as a fan, and I am proud to have played a role in this new golden era of filmed entertainment.”

A former video exec who began producing shows after joining Netflix in 2000, Sarandos spearheaded the streaming service’s foray into original content production. Knowing the company was taking a big swing, he barely envisioned the seismic effect to follow.

Popular on Variety

“When we made that big bet on ‘House of Cards,’ I actually had no idea if it would even be eligible for an Emmy,” Sarandos recalls. The series would become the first series that never aired on traditional broadcast or cable to win a Primetime Emmy. “It was an early lesson that if you were going to make changes to long-established systems, the shows and films better be undeniable.”

Recruiting top-tier talent was crucial in launching a staggering succession of addictive, watercooler-worthy television, from originals to revivals and re-imaginings to comedy specials, he says.

A major foray into film followed, again fueled by visionary creators, resulting in popular and award-contending fare. “It was also a reinforcement of the idea that if you choose well and support artists and try to stay out of the way, people will do the best work of their lives,” he says.

Throughout the process, he’s found tremendous creative challenges and satisfaction as a producer. “Producing is all about emotion and human intuition,” he says. “The same things you think about when choosing what to watch are the same things I think about when we consider greenlighting a new show or film: Is this something I’ve seen before? Are these characters I care about?

Do I want to follow this journey over a few seasons, or might this actually be a film? There is no shortage of ideas, but someone who has a vision and can execute it is pretty rare, so know what you are looking for.

“Being able to tell new stories and discover new storytellers is something that drives us every day, and finding the best formats for those stories is a unique proposition that Netflix can offer,” he says. “We have traditional showrunners making films, we have documentarians making narrative features. Looking forward, I’m really interested in continuing to break down boundaries that may have historically prevented creators from telling their stories in a more traditional system.

“It is hard to imagine how much the world of TV and film has changed in just these few years that we have been at it,” says Sarandos.

He is prepping for new challenges as Netflix enters its next phase, which includes broadening its film slate, launching its first animated features and making 130 seasons of local-language television around the world. “The one thing that is true across all of these efforts is that we need to entertain our members, and everything else is chatter.”

More Digital

  • Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren,

    How to Watch the Nevada Democratic Debate Online

    The ninth Democratic presidential debate will take place Wednesday as six hopeful candidates take the stage ahead of the Nevada caucus on Feb. 22. NBC and MSNBC will broadcast the debate on their networks from 6 p.m. PT/ 9 p.m. ET to 8 p.m. PT/ 10 p.m. ET. Those wanting to tune in can also [...]

  • Reed Hastings seen on day one

    Netflix CEO Reed Hastings' New Book Title, Release Date Announced

    Reed Hastings promises to share the untold story about how Netflix’s culture helped it pivot from a DVD-by-mail company to a streaming giant more than a decade ago in a new book due out this spring. “No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention,” is set to be released May 12, 2020. The 320-page [...]

  • A-ha - Take On Me Video

    A-ha's 'Take on Me' Tops 1 Billion YouTube Views, Second '80s Video to Hit Milestone

    Norwegian synthpop trio A-ha’s “Take On Me” has joined YouTube’s billion-views club. The iconic video from A-ha, which combines live action with pencil-sketch animation, is only the second song from the 1980s to reach the elite YouTube milestone, after Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine” crested the one-billion-views mark last fall (and currently has [...]

  • Terms and Conditions

    YouTube Drives Into Feature Doc Space With Brian Hill's 'Terms and Conditions' (EXCLUSIVE)

    YouTube is driving into the feature documentary space with a bold new film on drill music from one of the U.K.’s most celebrated documentarians. The controversial genre represented in the Brian Hill-directed “Terms and Conditions: A U.K. Drill Story” has become inadvertently associated with violence and knife-crime in the U.K., and marks a daring step [...]

  • America Ferrera Gentrified Variety

    With ‘Gentefied,’ America Ferrera Brings a Series Unlike Any Other to Netflix

    America Ferrera had directed before, but not like this. She and her crew were shooting scenes from a massive burner party — think a miniature Burning Man, complete with drugs and costumes and bad dancing — for Netflix’s upcoming series “Gentefied.” Though she wouldn’t appear on camera, Ferrera was dressed for the occasion in a [...]

  • Alamo Drafthouse LA

    Alamo Drafthouse Unveils Monthly Subscription Service

    Alamo Drafthouse, the Texas-based cinema chain that popularized in-theater dining, is offering a subscription service to rival the AMCs and Regals of the exhibition industry. The company unveiled Season Pass, a monthly program that will be available to patrons in its 41 locations across the country. Season Pass will provide one regularly priced ticket per [...]

  • TV Decline Pay TV Placeholder

    Traditional Pay-TV Operators Lost 6 Million Subscribers in 2019 as Cord-Cutting Picks Up Speed

    The U.S. satellite and cable TV business declined at an unprecedented rate last year — with traditional pay-TV providers dropping a staggering 6 million customers, a 7% year-over-year decline. In the fourth quarter of 2019 alone, traditional TV distributors lost around 1.5 million subs, dropping to about 83 million total at year-end, according to estimates [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content