Ted Sarandos, co-CEO of chief content officer at Netflix, weighed in Monday on the streaming giant’s growth in global markets during the past five years and the controversy stirred in the U.S. by the French arthouse movie “Cuties.”
Sarandos participated in a Q&A held in conjunction with the presentation of the Vanguard Award by Variety and Mipcom on the first day of Mipcom, the annual global content conference that shifted to a virtual format this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sarandos reflected on nearly five years of gangbuster global growth for the service since January 2016 when he and CEO Reed Hastings flipped a switch that lit up Netflix in more than 130 countries. In hindsight, Sarandos said, Netflix recognized the opportunity but not the scope of the content possibilities as their field of vision expanded well past North America.
“There was an interesting lack of equilibrium in the storytelling arena where the U.S. represented such a small percentage of the world population and such a large percent of total watching of content around the world,” Sarandos said. “We knew that there was great content coming from all over the world, but the existing distribution models made it pretty difficult for anything but anything but domestic content to travel internationally.”
The more time he spent in other countries, the more Sarandos saw a global strategy coming together.
“The more you got to understand about the local appetites and local culture, local history, local storytelling and local production ecosystems, we realized that was an enormous opportunity for underserved audiences who been pretty dramatically underserved up to that point for us to be able to be as meaningful to a customer in India as we are in Indiana.”
Sarandos was pressed about the backlash that has erupted in the U.S. to the French arthouse film “Cuties,” which Netflix acquired, for its depiction of pre-teen girls in sexualized situations. Several conservative U.S. Senators have sent letters to Netflix decrying the film. Last month the movie led to an indictment against the streamer from a grand jury in Tyler County, Texas, for distributing “lewd content.”
Sarandos said the film is “misunderstood” and raised First Amendment concerns about governmental efforts to pressure the company. He made it clear Netflix has no plans to alter the film that is an autobiographical story for director Maïmouna Doucouré.
“The film speaks for itself. It’s a very personal coming of age film, it’s the director’s story and the film has obviously played very well at Sundance without any of this controversy and played in theaters throughout Europe without any of this controversy,” Sarandos said. “It’s a little surprising that in 2020 America we’re having a discussion about censoring storytelling.”