Ted Sarandos: ‘Cuties’ Is a ‘Very Misunderstood’ Film

Netflix is facing a criminal indictment in the state of Texas regarding allegations of “lewd visual material” involving underage girls in the French indie film Cuties. Speaking Oct. 12 at the French virtual MIPCOM confab, co-CEO Ted Sarandos defended the movie about an 11-year-old Senegalese girl coming of age in 21st century Paris against the backdrop of a religious mother and peer pressure from a group of young female dancers.

“It’s a little surprising in 2020 America that we’re having a discussion about censoring storytelling,” Sarandos told the confab. “It’s a film that is very misunderstood with some audiences, uniquely within the United States.”

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Sarandos, who shares CEO duties with Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings, said the streamer has no plans to alter the movie to appease critics. He said the film, which Netflix acquired at the Sundance Film Festival, amounts to an autobiography of sorts for director Maïmouna Doucouré.

“The film speaks for itself,” he said. “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 theatres throughout Europe without any of this controversy.”

GOP Senators Question Netflix’s Planned Chinese-Based Sci-Fi Series

A group of Republican senators has sent a letter to Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos questioning why the SVOD behemoth plans to adapt Chinese sci-fi trilogy “A Three-Body Problem” by author Cixin Liu into an original series. “Game of Thrones” creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have been tasked with creating the series for Netflix about humanity’s first contact with an alien civilization.

Liu is also author of the short story upon which Chinese sci-fi theatrical hit The Wandering Earth is based. The movie, which has topped Mulan in theatrical revenue, has generated more than $690 million at the Chinese box office. Netflix acquired SVOD rights to the movie for North America, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.

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Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Martha McSally (R-AZ), Rick Scott (R-FL) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) contend Liu is sympathetic to Chinese government’s forced re-education of ethic Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region.

The Uyghur Muslims have become political pawns for the Trump Administration and its allies in Congress seeking leverage in the government’s ongoing trade disputes between Beijing and Washington, D.C.

Earlier this month, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) took to social media, accusing Disney of “whitewashing genocide” by allegedly cooperating with Chinese police working at the Uyghur camps, including crediting them in the live-action Mulan movie credits. Disney CFO Christine McCarthy said it was common practice in Hollywood to acknowledge local governments for a movie filmed abroad.

In the Sept. 23 letter to Sarandos, the senators are seeking answers to the following questions:

  1. Does Netflix agree that the Chinese Communist Party’s interment of 1.8 to 3 million Uyghurs in internment or labor camps based on their ethnicity is unacceptable?
  2. LWere Netflix senior executives aware of the statements made by Mr. Cixin liu regarding the Chinese Communist Party’s genocidal acts prior to entering into an agreement to adapt his work? If so, please outline the reasoning that led Netflix to move forward with this project. If not, please describe Netflix’s standard process of due diligence and the gaps therein that led to this oversight.
  3. Does Netflix have a policy regarding entering into contracts with public-facing individuals who, either publicly or privately, promote principles inconsistent with Netflix’s company culture and principles? If so, please outline this policy. If not, please explain why not.
  4. In order to avoid any further glorification of the CCP’s actions against the Uyghurs, or validation of the Chinese regime and agencies responsible for such acts, what steps will Netflix take to cast a critical eye on this project – to include the company’s broader relationship with Mr. Liu?

 

A Netflix representative was not immediately available for comment.

Reed Hastings Quashes Retirement Scuttlebutt: ‘I’m in for a Decade’

Don’t expect to see Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings exit the subscription streaming video service until 2030, according to comments the new co-CEO made on the July 16 pre-recorded earnings webcast.

With Netflix announcing that longtime executive Ted Sarandos would share the CEO position while retaining his chief content officer title, scuttlebutt suggested Hastings had one foot out the door.

With a net worth of $5.5 billion and proactive interests in public education and social causes, there isn’t much reason for the 59-year-old Hastings to continue overseeing day-to-day operations of the by-mail DVD rental service-turned-SVOD behemoth he co-launched with software executive Marc Randolph in 1997.

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But that’s precisely what Hastings intends to do, working full-time alongside Sarandos for the next 10 years.

“Let me be really clear on that: I’m in for a decade,” he said on the webcast. “As co-CEO, it’s two of us full-time, it’s not like a part-time deal. It’s definitely broadening the management team. It will be great to have some help as we expand and grow.”

Hastings said he see no changes how Netflix is run over the next few years, having worked with both Sarandos and Greg Peters for years. Peters, who was elevated to COO and speaks five languages, helped launch Netflix Japan in 2015.

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Sarandos said he has worked together with Hastings for more than 20 years — a relationship he doesn’t see changing with his promotion and co-title.

“[Reed has] been an unbelievable role model, a source of inspiration for me,” Sarandos said. “We’ve navigated some of the toughest decisions the company has made over those years, from mailing DVDs all over the U.S., to [streaming video] all over the world.”

Hastings said Netflix a few years ago was largely a premium TV service. Now, he says the service is “really good” in movies, unscripted programming, “emerging” animation and “very strong” in local language shows.

“It’s incredible the expansion Ted’s pulled off over the past five years,” Hastings said. “Think of [the next 10 years as] more consistent with the past than different [going forward]. The beautiful thing … is we’ve got a great model. We’ve just got to make it better.”

Netflix Hires Bozoma Saint John as Chief Marketing Officer

Netflix has hired Bozoma Saint John as its new chief marketing officer, replacing Jackie Lee-Joe, who held the position for less than a year after leaving the same position at BBC Studios. Saint John, who is exiting talent agency Endeavor as CMO, previously worked as chief brand officer at Uber and head of consumer marketing at Apple Music/iTunes.

“Bozoma Saint John is an exceptional marketer who understands how to drive conversations around popular culture better than almost anyone,” CCO Ted Sarandos said in a statement. “As we bring more great stories to our members around the world, she’ll define and lead our next exciting phase of creativity and connection with consumers.”

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Saint John launched “The Badass Workshop,” which aims to evolve followers’ careers, health & wellness, lifestyles, relationships, goals and “so much more …”

Sarandos thanked Lee-Joe, who replaced retiring Kelly Bennett in July 2019, for her contributions to Netflix. “We wish her all the best,” he said. Saint John begins her new position in August.

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Ted Sarandos, Bob Iger Among Executives on California Gov.’s Task Force Seeking $1 Trillion in Congressional Virus Relief for Local Governments

Netflix CCO Ted Sarandos and Disney executive chairman Bob Iger have joined a group of more than 90 California business leaders calling on Congress to approve $1 trillion in coronavirus fiscal relief for all states and local governments.

Sarandos and Iger are members of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Task Force on Business & Jobs Recovery organized to deal with the economic, environmental and social fallout from the pandemic.

In a May 15 letter to House and Senate leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the task force said COVID-19 has “fundamentally” changed how business and organizations operate and are managed.

“The worst of the economic impact is likely still to come,” read the letter.

The group said successful re-opening of state and local economies relies on building confidence among consumers that it is safe to shop and greater certainty for workers that the services they rely on to do their jobs will remain in place.

“Without that, we will be a re-opened economy in name only,” they wrote.

The group said it stands with business leaders throughout the nation, from both sides of the aisle, who said the funds would protect core government services like public health, public safety, public education and helping people get back to work.

“This funding will help our states and cities — and America’s economy — come out of this crisis stronger and more resilient,” they wrote.

The letter came on the day the Democrat-controlled House approved a $3 trillion relief bill, which included $1 trillion in states aid. The Republican-controlled Senate is not expected to pass the bill.

Netflix Sets Up $100 Million Coronavirus Relief Fund

Netflix has taken another proactive step during the growing global coronavirus pandemic. The SVOD pioneer March 20 disclosed it is creating a $100 million relief fund for people in the entertainment business waylaid by the epidemic.

CCO Ted Sarandos, in a blog post, said $15 million would go to third parties and nonprofits providing emergency relief to out-of-work crew, cast, electricians, carpenters and drivers  — many of whom are paid hourly wages and work on a project-to-project basis — in the countries where Netflix has large production facilities.

“This community has supported Netflix through the good times, and we want to help them through these hard times, especially while governments are still figuring out what economic support they will provide.” Sarandos wrote. “So we’ve created a $100 million fund to help with hardship in the creative community.”

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He said most of the monies will go toward support for the hardest hit workers on its own productions. This is in addition to the two weeks pay Netflix has already committed to the crew and cast on productions forced into suspension last week.

“We’re in the process of working out exactly what this means, production by production,” Sarandos wrote.

Netflix is also donating $1 million each to the SAG-AFTRA COVID-19 Disaster Fund, the Motion Picture and Television Fund and the Actors Fund Emergency Assistance in the U.S., and $1 million between the AFC and Fondation des Artistes.

In other regions, including Europe, Latin America and Asia where it has a big production presence, the streamer is working with existing industry organizations to create similar creative community emergency relief efforts.

“What’s happening is unprecedented. We are only as strong as the people we work with and Netflix is fortunate to be able to help those hardest hit in our industry through this challenging time,” Sarandos wrote.

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Netflix earlier this week announced it would limit content streaming to standard definition throughout Europe in an effort to reduce by 25% streaming data bit demandsNetflix from local broadband networks.

 

Sarandos: Awards, Movie Marketing Drives Netflix Viewership

Netflix is again spending millions marketing select movies (The Irishman, Marriage Story, etc.) for industry acclaim, including the upcoming Academy Awards on Feb. 9.

While Irishman has generated much of the media attention and nominations, Marriage Story has taken home the awards hardware, notably for supporting actress Laura Dern.

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Speaking on a pre-recorded fiscal interview Jan. 21, chief content officer Ted Sarandos wouldn’t disclose how much the company is spending on awards marketing, but suffice to say the dollar amount has grown in recent years.

Netflix generated 34 Golden Globes Awards nominations, including 17 for movies. Netflix earned 24 nominations for the 92nd Oscars — topping all other studios and media companies. Martin Scorsese’s Irishman generated 10 noms, Marriage Story, 6, The Two Popes, 3, and Klaus is up for best animated feature film.

Netflix spent $2 billion marketing movies and TV shows in 2018, which included industry awards. The service spent $15 billion on original content in 2019.

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“It’s how we’re choosing to bring the incremental spending to the table in terms of the bigger breadth and scale of films,” Sarandos said, adding that the marketing increase hasn’t been at the expense of original TV series, including adding 130 local language series worldwide.

“So to me, I look at [marketing spend] as the growth — the benefit to the business is the growth [in viewership],” he said.

 

Netflix Brass Doubles Down on Indifference to Pending SVOD Competition

With Disney and Apple just weeks away from launching branded subscription streaming video services, Netflix remains defiant to the pending competition, which includes service launches from WarnerMedia (HBO Max) and NBCUniversal (Peacock) early next year.

Speaking on the company’s Oct. 16 fiscal earnings webcast, CCO Ted Sarandos walked back any apparent corporate weakness regarding comments CEO Reed Hastings made in the United Kingdom last month about a whole new world in over-the-top video awaiting come November.

“I think I got the subtlety of the brave — the whole new world Aladdin reference,” Sarandos quipped. “Everyone else took it pretty literal.”

Many on Wall Street had taken Hastings’ comment to suggest Netflix was concerned, especially after HBO Max and Peacock took away Netflix streaming rights to popular reruns of “Seinfeld” and “The Office,” respectively.

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“From when we began in [2007] streaming, Hulu and YouTube and Amazon Prime Video were all in the market,” Hastings said. “All four of us have been competing heavily, including with linear TV, for the last 12 years. So fundamentally, there’s not a big change here.”

Hastings said he found it “interesting” to see both Apple and Disney launching services in the same week after 12 years of not showing much interest in SVOD.

“I was being a little playful with a whole new world in the sense of the drama of it coming,” Hastings added. “But fundamentally, it’s more of the same, and Disney is going to be a great competitor. Apple is just beginning, but they’ll probably have some great shows, too.”

Indeed, until just recently, Disney exclusively licensed original movies and rights to create original Marvel TV series to Netflix.

The Netflix co-founder reiterated that the SVOD market remains more in competition with linear TV than within its market. He said OTT video is still a relatively small player compared to broadcast TV.

“So, just like in the [shareholder] letter … [writing about] multiple cable networks over the last 30 years not really competing with each other fundamentally but competing with broadcast TV, I think it’s the same kind of dynamic here [with streaming video],” Hastings said.

 

Post Subscriber Hiccup, Netflix Piles Praise … on HBO

After disappointing Q2 subscriber growth numbers, Netflix senior management on the fiscal webcast took the high road deflecting the subscription streaming service’s first domestic quarterly decline (since 2011) while adding only half of projected international subs.

CEO Reed Hastings said it might be easy to “over-interpret” the lack of sub growth but that under similar circumstances three years ago  management also could not be confident of any specific reason for the slowdown.

“Then, we were $2 billion in quarterly revenue,” Hasting said. “Now, we’re $5 billion. We’re just executing forward and trying to do the best forecast we can.”

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When Netflix launched streaming video 12 years ago, there were three competitors (Hulu, Amazon and YouTube). Now, media giants NBC Universal, Disney, Apple and WarnerMedia are launching high-profile competitors – and taking their Netflix-licensed content with them.

Regardless, Hastings said Netflix remains in excellent position as the No.1 SVOD service in the world with more than 151 million subs.

“If investors believe in Internet television … then our position in that market is very strong,” he said.

Chief content officer Ted Sarandos said the service continues to focus on creating original content developed in local markets with global appeal.

He said recent releases “How to Sell Drugs Online” (Germany), “The Rain” season 2 from Denmark and “Quicksand” from Sweden, have generated upwards of 15 million combined viewers globally.

Netflix is expecting a similar reception to the second season of India’s “Sacred Games,” which launches this quarter.

“What’s been amazing is [that the shows have] been deeply relevant in the home country, traveled the region very well and found global audiences,” Sarandos said.

With WarnerMedia set to launch SVOD competitor “HBO Max” in early 2020, it was interesting to hear Netflix brass sing praise for the venerable premium pay-TV channel. Indeed, Hastings said most Netflix employees subscribe to HBO.

“We love the content they do and that spurs us on to want to be even better,” he said. “So, it’s a great competition that helps grow the industry.”

Sarandos congratulated HBO for re-taking the Primetime Emmy Award nominations title, which Netflix claimed from the network for the first time in 2018 after 17 years.

“They continue to be the gold standard that we chase, and we’re really thrilled for them,” Sarandos said.

Netflix Names New Chief Marketing Officer

Netflix July 12 announced that Jackie Lee-Joe has been named chief marketing officer, replacing Kelly Bennett, who retired earlier this year.

Lee-Joe has served as CMO of BBC Studios, part of the British Broadcasting Corp., since 2015.

“Jackie is a truly original thinker with a wealth of global experience – making her the perfect fit as our next Chief Marketing Officer,” Ted Sarandos, chief content officer, said in a statement.

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A graduate of the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales, Jackie joined the BBC in 2015 from Skype, where she was global director for audience, entertainment marketing & broadcast media.

She has over 20 years of marketing experience with leading media, technology and telecoms companies including Virgin Mobile, Carphone Warehouse and Orange. Lee-Joe starts in September and will be based in Los Angeles.

Netflix reports second-quarter financials on July 17.