Ted Sarandos Is ‘Surprised It Took Everyone This Long’ to Challenge Netflix in Streaming

“This is why we made ‘House of Cards’ seven years ago,” Netflix chief content officer tells Katie Couric during Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit

The streaming space is heating up, with four major companies launching their own services in the next six months. Netflix’s chief creative officer Ted Sarandos is amazed they haven’t faced this kind of competition sooner.

“I was surprised it took everyone this long,” Sarandos told Katie Couric on Wednesday during the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in Beverly Hills. “This is why we made ‘House of Cards’ 7 years ago. I said, ‘Someday, these guys are not going to sell us their programming, we better get good at it.'”

Apple is launching Apple TV+ on Nov. 1, which will feature the debut of heavily-anticipated series like “The Morning Show.” The service will cost $4.99 a month and is free for a year for anyone who buys a new iPhone, Mac or iPad. Meanwhile, Disney will launch Disney+ 11 days later, for $6.99 a month, which will feature both licensed and new programming from Marvel Studios, Pixar, Nat Geo and LucasFilm.

Next spring, WarnerMedia will launch HBO Max and NBCUniversal will debut Peacock. “When we made this bet, we bet it would be an enormous space,” Sarandos added.

As the competition has heated up, Netflix’s library has been raided by media companies pulling back old sitcoms like “The Office” and “Friends,” which Netflix will lose to Peacock and HBO Max, respectively, in the next couple of years. To counter that, Netflix signed a massive deal to pry “Seinfeld” away from Hulu.

Saranados argued that part of the reason those old sitcoms have found new relevance is because of their availability on Netflix.

“The medium is the message. Part of the enduring success of those shows is because they’re available on Netflix,” he said, pointing out that those sitcoms have been available on cable TV syndication for years. “A lot of that phenomenon has been because it’s on Netflix.” He said that the streaming service is seeing audience behavior shift from library content, arguing that the “primary driver” for why people subscribe and keep paying their monthly fee is “increasingly” because of its original content.

In the last year or so, Netflix has selectively released viewership information to the public, which has represented an about-face for Sarandos.

“For a long time, I was opposed to doing it. I think the ratings wars were negative on creative. Everyone’s focused on opening weekend or the premiere episode viewing forced entertainment companies to be more careful. I thought the longer we stayed out of the fight the better,” he explained, adding that comparing viewership on streaming to traditional TV is not apples to apples. “Because you know it’s going to be there, you may not watch it in the first weekend.”

So why did Netflix change its mind? Sarandos said that it “helps contextualize” what the streaming service believes is a big audience, noting the company’s increasing role in setting the agenda in Hollywood.

Tim Baysinger

Tim Baysinger

TV Reporter • tim.baysinger@thewrap.com • Twitter: @tim_bays

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