Photo: Art Streiber For Variety
On the latest episode of Variety’s podcast “Strictly Business,” Netflix’s co-CEO and chief content officer discusses how the company manages the incredibly high volume of original content produced in multiple languages for its astounding 193 million subscribers from more than 190 countries.
“It’s not unusual for shows to come on Netflix without me having seen any of it,” Sarandos says. “That’s because we’ve got incredible teams in each of our content verticals in each of these countries.”
The exec was feted by Variety and Mipcom on Oct. 12 with the Vanguard Award recognizing individuals and companies that have blazed trails in the global content business. By any measure, Netflix has up-ended the traditional order of television in the U.S. and abroad. Sarandos notes that the company now operates ‘in every time zone in the world.”
He is proud of the role that Netflix has played in introducing subscribers to new ideas and previously unseen cultures. The investment in strong storytelling pays off every time he sees a Turkish production scoring high with subscribers in South Korea or a Brazilian title playing well in Europe.
“The opportunity to enable people to make great choices and come up with great TV and film for the world has been one of the things I’m most gratified by how this all turned out,” Sarandos says. “And that has really enabled (Netflix) to scale in way that I think other entertainment companies have a difficult time scaling.”
Sarandos addressed the management changes implemented in September when Bela Bajaria was elevated to head of global TV, coinciding with the departure of longtime Netflix VP Cindy Holland. Those moves were spurred in part by Sarandos’ own promotion to co-CEO in July. Netflix’s expansive TV content operation had been managed on a largely regional basis, and he realized that he needed to set up a new structure.
“We had very strong teams regionally and I looked at that and said I wanted to have a global head of television,” Sarandos says. He pointed to Bajaria’s success in building up unscripted TV after she joined the company in 2016. From there, she was dispatched to help launch the company’s local-language production efforts outside the U.S.
“Cindy was a great partner in getting all of this built… Looking at the challenges and the opportunities of the next 20 years, Bela was so perfectly positioned to lead us through that,” he says.
Sarandos also addressed 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, Tex., for distributing “lewd content.”
Sarandos says 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 says. “It’s a little surprising that in 2020 America we’re having a discussion about censoring storytelling.”