Netflix’s Ted Sarandos Talks Oscars, Losing ‘Friends’ and Their New Appetite for Animated Films

Netflix plans to keep revving up its movie slate in the coming year, although the volume of new releases will grow at a steadier pace following the ramp-up of the past 18 months, Netflix executives told investors Tuesday in discussing the company’s Q4 2019 earnings.

Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, and Netflix chief Reed Hastings told investors during the company’s quarterly earnings interview with Michael Morris of Guggenheim Securities, that being a contender in awards season is very much part of the business model. Netflix led all studios in Oscar nominations this year with a total of 24 bids, paced by Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” (10) and Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” (six).

“It’s exciting that we ended up being the most-nominated studio at the Oscars with those films. The most exciting thing is those films are all incredibly popular with our members as well,” Sarandos said. 

Hastings emphasized that Netflix sees awards as important to drawing top talent, a vital asset at a time when competition for shows and talent deals is fierce as Netflix faces a surge of subscription and ad-supported streaming competition in the coming year.

“The business benefit is that we will win deals that wouldn’t have otherwise for incredibly strong content,” Hastings said.

Sarandos pointed to the growth of the company’s internal production capabilities on the film side. And he cited feature animation as a big area of focus for the company. “Klaus,” the first Netflix original animated pic, was a “real crowd pleaser” and it nabbed an Oscar nom, allowing Netflix in the same circle as industry stalwarts like Disney and DreamWorks in yet another content genre.

Sarandos said animated films also tend to draw a wide audience across the global platform. “They do travel much more predictably than series do,” he said. He highlighted two titles set for release later this year –“The Willoughbys” and “Over the Moon,” from “Little Mermaid” toonsmith Glen Keane — as being “big-scale feature films competitive with anything you’d see at the box office.”

The interview included a lengthy discussion of Netflix’s strategy of delivering a huge volume of content in markets around the world in order to provide something for everyone. Netflix brass put a positive spin on the loss of “Friends” streaming rights as of Jan. 1, a sign of the heightened streaming-wars battle to come this year as WarnerMedia snatched the Netflix workhorse back as a pillar of the HBO Max service scheduled to bow in May.

The loss of “Friends” is an opportunity to encourage Netflix members to search the vault for more exclusive shows. Sarandos and Hastings noted that Netflix has weathered the loss of sticky content in the past such as when it parted ways with Starz and dropped a raft of movies including Disney titles, and when Nickelodeon abruptly yanked some of its biggest titles back after cashing licensing checks for a few years.

“Typically what happens is our members are able to find their next favorite show. That will happen with ‘Friends’ fans,” Sarandos said. “Some will find it elsewhere and some will find their next favorite show.”

(Pictured: “Marriage Story” and “The Irishman”)

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