The January Television Critics Association press tour kicked off on Wednesday (January 7) morning in Pasadena with only the second appearance from Netflix and the first executive session with Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos.
Forestalling a series of predictable, pent-up questions about absent ratings numbers and whatnot, Sarandos kicked off his presentation with a slew of variable-sized announcements, including a second season renewal for “Marco Polo,” a March 6 premiere for “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” a March 20 premiere for “Bloodline,” a May 8 launch for “Grace and Frankie” and, most surprisingly and notably, an April 10 premiere for the first of Netflix's Marvel-based shows, “Daredevil.”
Then Sarandos opened the floor to questions and, in a small surprise, the ratings question didn't come up for over five minutes. Sarandos was, of course, ready for it and said there were multiple reasons why Netflix hasn't told you how many people watch their shows and why Netflix will continue not to tell you how many people watch their shows.
“The biggest one is that most of the business reasons why you would publish ratings is you would use it to justify ad rates and we don't sell advertising and you might use it to justify carriage fees to cable operators and we don't have those relationships with cable operators. So there's no real business reason for us to internally or externally report those numbers,” Sarandos said.
“We don't do any kind of time-weighted viewing, so primetime viewing is no more valuable than 3 a.m. viewing,” he noted.
Sarandos said plainly, “When you're tracking Live+3 or Live+7 or overnights, it has no reflection on our business in any way.”
So what, then, is Netflix basing success on? And how should we judge whether Netflix is successful?
“Very much like everywhere else, the shows have got to be watched,” Sarandos said.
He noted, “We have subscriber revenue and we reinvest that subscriber revenue in programming and if we're investing in programming that people aren't watching, then engagement drops and when engagement drops, retentions drop and subscribers drop.”
His advice? “Keep watching the net-subscriber growth.”
This, of course, raised the question of whether not announcing viewership would cause people to speculate that viewership must therefore be low.
“I think you know better than that,” Sarandos scoffed at the reporter's insinuation.
“You don't have shows that penetrate the culture at the level that these shows have had without having a lot of people watching,” Sarandos.
See? There's a Netflix viewership figure: A lot of people.
When it was further implied that HBO shows, that announce somewhat low viewerships, also penetrate the culture, Sarandos clarified that those HBO shows are penetrating the culture on the coasts, but something like “Orange Is The New Black” is being watched everywhere.
Yes. By a lot of people.
Now you know when you'll know how many people watch Netflix shows and what constitutes success.
What other big questions came up on the Sarandos panel?
After saying Netflix wasn't in the “Show Resurrection” business, Netflix has subsequently resurrected “The Killing” and, most recently, “Longmire.” So is Netflix actually in the resurrection business again?
“I think you should think about it as opportunistic,” Sarandos said. “'Longmire' is one that we are resurrecting. There are times that we can uniquely and efficiently aggregate audience for a show sometimes even more effectively than its originating network, where they represent a certain area of programming that we don't have enough of on Netflix. 'Longmire' is a good example of that, where the show had a very loyal, strong base, but at the time it was airing or the audience they were trying to reach or the products they were trying to sell against it, it just didn't work well for the network, but it'll work great on Netflix.”
Key issues for future resurrections? “Does the show have an enduring audience? Are people anxious for it to come back?”
“We've gotta be able to deliver to the fans for what they want,” he said.
And if we're not going to talk about how many people watch Netflix things, can we talk about how they watch what they watch?
“While most people don't sit down and watch 13-hour binges of television, but what they do watch is more than one,” Sarandos said. “It's pretty rare for anyone to sit down and watch 'Marco Polo' when it premieres and watch one hour of it. They typically watch two to three episodes in a sitting.”
He added, “Typically a Netflix viewer will watch a one show at a time. So if they start 'Breaking Bad' tonight, they're not gonna watch anything else until they watch all of 'Breaking Bad.'”
This means Netflix shows have a “high rate of completion.”
What other projects did we get updates on?
*** While “Daredevil” is set now for April, Sarandos wouldn't say when “Marvel's A.K.A. Jessica Jones” would premiere. On one hand, Marvel has been making casting announcements saying that “Jessica Jones” will premiere in 2015, but Sarandos observed that production on “Jessica Jones” hasn't begun yet, so he wouldn't promise that date. “We want to give them enough room and enough time to make a great show,” he said. “You should expect them about a year apart.”
*** What will the budget/sensibility be for Adam Sandler's upcoming Netflix films? Sarandos promised, “Our intention here is that these are to be the movies that would be similar to the movies that you would see in the theater. This is not a TV movie strategy or an art-house movie strategy. These are films that could be or would be released by any studio, so similar in scope and budget to the Warner and Sony releases from Adam.”
*** “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2” is in post-production, with an August release planned.
*** Any word on “Wet Hot American Summer”? Sarandos mostly demurred on specifics, but said, “We're really excited about the proposition of getting that show back together and more to come.”
*** Sarandos also preferred not to explain why Netflix wasn't a player to rescue “The Interview” in that brief moment when “The Interview” appeared to need saving. He did note, though, that it proved “when you give people distribution choices, you can actually create a lot of revenue around it.”
*** Sarandos continued to be non-specifically optimistic regarding more “Arrested Development. He teased, “As you can imagine, it's an incredibly complicated show to do considering how busy the entire cast is, trying to line up schedules and trying to line up the talent to do it. Everyone is trying to to make it happen and we're trying to make it happen on a time schedule that works for everybody.” Is there actually a story? “Not that I can talk about today.”
*** Netflix is chuffed about the recently announced Pee-Wee Herman project. Sarandos said, “It's based on the same material, of course, but we're very excited about not just the Pee-Wee character, but Judd Apatow, what he's gonna bring to this with his own unique stamp. He's a super-fan of Pee-Wee and has been intimately involved in developing the script,” he said. He said that it'll e “a new adventure” and not a reboot or sequel.
*** Sorry, “Lilyhammer” fans, Sarandos didn't want to say anything definitive about a fourth season.