'We're Not Trying to Export Hollywood': Netflix's Ted Sarandos Breaks Down the New Movie Model
Netflix is now the most nominated film studio at the Oscars. And Ted Sarandos, the streamer's content chief, is doubling down on his push to boost local-language content in the dozens of markets the media company operates in as a direct assault against competitors like Disney Plus, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.
"Our goal is not to just export Hollywood content around the world. We can find a good story from anywhere in the world and make it play anywhere in the world," Sarandos said Thursday at the Upfront Summit at the Rose Bowl, noting that even in the early days of mailing DVDs, the goal was to "take these underdeveloped films and give them a national platform."
Netflix is producing 130 seasons of local language television this year alone, betting heavy on the idea that viewers will want to watch good programming in whatever language it might air. He noted that the U.S. has a wealth of English language programming such that folks don't get very adventurous. But in Brazil, for example, 80% of what people watch is in a language other than Portuguese.
Sarandos said that had he been running a traditional movie studio, he probably would have turned down "The Irishman," for example, because it's three-hours long and can only play in theaters a few times a day. But Netflix doesn't have the same business model.
"A lot of us are recognizing film on Netflix beyond the catalogues licensed in the past," Sarandos said. Plus, "people watch more on Netflix than they go see in a movie theater."
Netflix today has 167 million subscribers globally, Sarandos said, and the studio releases 30 to 40 films a year. Its film "Roma" was in theaters for 15 months in Japan, leaving just last month. "The Irishman" was seen in 200 theaters.
In a bit of a twist of irony, Netflix has also refurbished theaters in Los Angeles and in New York. The New York movie theater was the last single-screen theater in the city and was about to become a pharmacy. (Sarandos says, "I love going to the theater. I remember vividly, "Blazing Saddles" was the first R rated movie I saw when I was 10 years old. I thought I'd robbed a bank, that I'd gotten away with something.")
The studio now holds five to seven premieres a week for its films and movies. And this year it surpassed traditional film studios with its 24 Oscar nominations.
"People want to see these stories that are about people, it's very rare to see a hit movie that takes place on planet earth anymore, where animals don't talk, where there's no super power," Sarandos said. "Movies are a storytelling medium, real human drama. There's a market for it, and you wouldn't guess it by looking at the top 10 movies over the last decade."
Sarandos said that today the goal is to "make the best movie possible," he said, "the movie has to be undeniable."
Netflix decided to jump into creating its own content three years ago because it presumed all the major television stations and studios would move toward streaming their own content and would no longer want the increased competition of having their content on Netflix too, Sarandos said.
He said Netflix is building a "pipeline" to release four to six animated features a year.
"This is the best time in the world to be a lover of movies and TVs, the choices are unbelievable, it's a great time to be a creator, there are a lot of competitive buyers," Sarandos said. "The market's very frothy.
"The chance you're going to have a deep relationship with the content you're watching is better the more choices you have."
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It's almost 90 degrees outside in Los Angeles as lines of cars pull up to Dodger Stadium, home to a mass vaccination site that opened Friday.
"Please make sure that they're not under the sun in the cart," Edith Mirzaian is telling a volunteer as she directs the person to put ice packs on coolers that hold up to 20 COVID vaccines. Mirzaian is a USC associate professor of clinical pharmacy and an operational lead at one of California's largest vaccination sites.
Dodger Stadium alone — once the nation's largest COVID-19 testing site — is slated to vaccine up to 12,000 people each day, county and city health officials said this week. Officials plan to finish vaccinating some 500,000 health care and assisted care employees by the end of this month before opening appointments up to people 65 and older.
Mirzaian is desperately trying to make sure that the vaccines don't spoil.
"We have to be the guardians of the vaccine," she said.
Earlier this month, hundreds of vaccinations were lost after a refrigerator went out in Northern California, forcing the hospital to rush to give out hundreds of doses. Mirzaian's task tells a larger story of the difficult and often daunting logistical process required to roll out a vaccine that requires cold temperatures.
"You know they can't be warm so just keep an eye out," she gently reminds the volunteer.
The volunteers and staff from USC, the Los Angeles Fire Department and Core Laboratories prepared enough doses to vaccinate around 2,000 residents on Friday and they plan to increase capacity each day after.
Local health officials are holding the vaccination syringes in coolers after they leave the air-conditioned trailers. The coolers are then covered in ice packs and wheeled on carts to clinicians administering shots to health care workers and nursing home staff eligible under the state's vaccination plan.
"Vaccines are the surest route to defeating this virus and charting a course to recovery, so the City, County, and our entire team are putting our best resources on the field to get Angelenos vaccinated as quickly, safely, and efficiently as possible," said mayor Eric Garcetti in a statement announcing the plan.
Health officials around the world are racing against time as the virus mutates and poses greater dangers.
"We have a little bit of borrowed time here right now because these variants are not here in great numbers from what we can tell," said Susan Butler-Wu, an associate professor in clinical pathology at USC's Keck School of Medicine of USC.
Curbing the spread of the virus is a vital way to prevent mutant strains from developing, she said.
Mirzaian, who arrived at the site before it opened at 8 a.m., said that there were logistical challenges as volunteers scrambled to assemble what will likely be the hub of the region's vaccination efforts.
"It's challenging to make sure that everyone knows what the process is and what we're doing and what to tell the patients who receive the vaccines."
After a few hours, the procedure moved quicker.
Residents have to show identification and proof of employment before they're taken through a list of pre-screening questions and given the vaccine through their car window. They're required to then wait for 15 minutes while clinicians monitor them for side effects.
Mirzaian said the process took each car about an hour. While eligible residents can walk-in for vaccinations, she recommends they make appointments so that enough doses are made available each day.
"As long as people have their appointments, they will get in," she said. "We are ready. We are like an army ready to give vaccines."
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As part of the reorganization, Chief Strategy Officer Jared Grusd, who previously oversaw content, will become a strategic advisor to Snap CEO Evan Spiegel.
As a casting director, Lacey Kaelani has a leading view on Hollywood's content pipeline. Based on what she's been seeing on her venture-backed casting platform, Casting Depot, prepare for a deluge of unscripted shows.
"It's all gonna be handheld videos where everything looks like a Zoom call," she said. "Dating shows, talk shows, food competition shows – that's what was cast and is going into production."
The Casting Depot launched its latest beta version on Friday, with a "six-figure" investment from global venture capital firm Antler. Its board includes leaders from companies including CAA, Airtime, iHeartMedia, WorkMarket and IAC.