For a soft-spoken man, Ted Sarandos makes a lot of thunderous news. Just consider the headlines he’s generated over the last week alone with a succession of game-changing deals. The chief content officer for Netflix stole Shonda Rhimes from ABC, lured retiree David Letterman back into talk-show mode, prodded the reclusive Coen brothers into TV production and snapped up Millarworld, a comic-book empire with buzzy titles like “Jupiter’s Legacy” and “Huck.”
Netflix could conceivably rival Disney and Marvel by assembling its own superhero universe. On Aug. 8, a day after the announcement of the Millarworld purchase, Disney dropped a bombshell when it unveiled plans to launch a streaming service and yank its branded family and Pixar films from Netflix beginning in 2019.
Over the weekend, Netflix fired back by announcing it had poached TV’s most powerful showrunner from her longtime home at Disney’s ABC. “Shonda and I have gotten to know each other over the years and I have always had a tremendous amount of respect,” says Sarandos, who lives blocks away from Rhimes in Hancock Park. “I have sought her feedback and even delivered DVDs to her house myself of our upcoming projects.”
The dramatic events of the last few days suggest that Netflix is in an escalating arms race with Disney. It also ratchets up the blood sport between Netflix and all the major studios and TV networks as Hollywood grapples with how to adapt to the seismic shifts in technology and consumer habits.
“I would say that the relationship between studios and networks has always been that of a frenemy,” says Sarandos. The Netflix boss downplays Disney’s move to establish itself as a streaming rival. “Everyone is doing some version of it already,” he says. “They just have to make a decision for their companies, their brands and their shareholders on how to best optimize the content.” Netflix, suggests Sarandos, has long been preparing for that inevitability. “We started making original content five years ago, betting this would happen,” he says.
These days, where there’s smoke or fire in the media business, there’s usually one revolutionary holding the match. At the center of most industry angst — or, often, bewilderment and excitement — is Sarandos, who engineered the company’s stunning transformation from a mail-order DVD-rental company in the early aughts to a full-fledged studio that is competing dollar for dollar with a crowded field of rivals for Hollywood’s top stars, directors, showrunners and writers.
In a wide-ranging interview at a downtown Manhattan hotel, Sarandos, 53, who is Variety’s 2017 Showman of the Year, revealed that he anticipates spending a whopping $7 billion on content next year — up from more than $6 billion over the past year and $5 billion in 2016. “The vast majority is still licensed content,” he says. “We’re still a couple years from seeing it go 50-50.”
Read more at Variety.