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    The Interview: The Netflix Chief’s Plan to Get You to Binge Even More

    enJuly 05, 2024

    Podcast Summary

    • Netflix's Influence on Hollywood and TechNetflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos transformed the company from a DVD rental service to a major Hollywood and tech player, pioneering binge-watching, original productions, and powerful algorithms.

      Ted Sarandos, co-CEO of Netflix, has played a significant role in shaping the streaming platform into a major player in Hollywood and tech. With a background unlike typical CEOs, Sarandos's grandfather's dream of being a trail cook led him to America, inspiring the family to move to Arizona. Sarandos started at Netflix 24 years ago and has since overseen the company's expansion into streaming, pioneering the binge-watch model, and leading the development of Netflix's powerful algorithm. He's also responsible for Netflix's first original productions and its ventures into reality TV, prestige film, and live entertainment. Despite challenges like layoffs, Sarandos continues to deliver content that keeps audiences engaged, raising questions about the impact of binge-watching on viewers. In this interview, Lulu Garcia Navarro explores Sarandos's career and the implications of Netflix's influence on entertainment and our viewing habits.

    • Personalized entertainment recommendationsPersonalized entertainment recommendations have been a key factor in the success of streaming services like Netflix, setting them apart from competitors by providing tailored suggestions based on individual viewer preferences

      The power of personalized entertainment recommendations and the value of choice have been crucial factors in the success of streaming services like Netflix. The speaker's personal experience of working at a video store and memorizing hundreds of titles to help customers find what they loved demonstrates this. This ability to provide tailored suggestions has set Netflix apart in the streaming wars, even as other companies like Peacock, Hulu, Apple Plus, and Max spend heavily to compete. However, the speaker also acknowledges that the entertainment industry is undergoing significant change, and the legacy players are facing challenges as they try to adapt to the new landscape. The box office is down, and studios are laying off people, but the speaker remains optimistic that both tech companies and entertainment companies can learn from each other and find ways to thrive in the evolving media landscape.

    • Streaming and CultureRecognizing and embracing the shift towards digital entertainment despite having a profitable physical business led Netflix to become a global leader in content production and distribution, allowing diverse stories to reach audiences.

      Having a forward-thinking vision, even when it seems counterintuitive or unpopular, can lead to significant success. As shared in the conversation, Netflix recognized the shift from physical media to digital entertainment early on, and despite having a profitable DVD business, made the bold decision to invest heavily in streaming. This decision allowed Netflix to become a global leader in content production and distribution, bringing diverse stories from around the world to audiences. The success stories of shows like Squid Game and The Queen's Gambit are a testament to this vision. However, the way we consume culture today through streaming platforms also raises questions about the role of serendipity and human curation in our entertainment choices. While algorithms can help deliver content tailored to individual preferences, they may also limit exposure to new and unexpected genres or stories. Overall, the impact of streaming on culture is complex, and it's important to consider both its benefits and challenges.

    • Streaming services and cultural gapsStreaming services bridge cultural gaps by providing access to diverse stories from around the world, resonating with international audiences and broadening horizons, while attempting to engineer content for global appeal can disconnect it and lessen the love for American film. The popularity of accessible, affordable content also appeals to viewers.

      Streaming services like Netflix are bridging cultural gaps and making the world a smaller, safer place by providing access to diverse stories from around the world. These authentic narratives resonate with international audiences, broadening horizons and increasing demand for authentic storytelling. Conversely, attempting to engineer content for global appeal can disconnect it from audiences and lessen the love for American film. Additionally, the popularity of "light and fun" shows, or "folding your laundry shows," demonstrates the appeal of accessible, affordable content for viewers.

    • Netflix's Diverse Content StrategyNetflix produces a large volume of movies with varying budgets and genres to cater to a broad and diverse global audience, focusing on consumer preferences and Oscar nominations.

      Netflix aims to cater to a broad audience with a diverse range of high-quality content, not just focusing on prestige programming. Ted Sarandos, Netflix's Co-CEO, emphasizes their consumer-centric approach, striving to create the best versions of various genres that cater to different viewer preferences. Regarding movies, Sarandos defends the company's approach to producing a large volume of content, mentioning eight Oscar nominations in the last five years. He also acknowledges the success of less critically acclaimed films, such as "Irish Wish," which appeals to specific audience segments. Netflix's strategy includes producing movies with varying budgets and genres, aiming to cater to the broad and diverse tastes of their global audience.

    • Business InnovationEven during tough times, pushing for innovation and improvement is crucial for business success. Netflix, facing a loss of subscribers, introduced an ad-supported tier to expand their market and give more choices to customers.

      Ambition and adaptation are crucial for success in business, even during tough times. Ted Sarandos, Netflix's Co-CEO, emphasized the importance of pushing for innovation and improvement, rather than just making things bigger. He shared his experience during a difficult moment for Netflix in 2022 when they lost subscribers for the first time since 2011. Instead of sticking to their core principles against advertising, they introduced an ad-supported subscription tier to expand their market and give more choices to customers. Sarandos also addressed the complexity of corporate activism, acknowledging the need for companies to be careful in inserting themselves into political discussions and balancing the diversity of thoughts among their constituencies. He provided examples of clear-cut decisions, such as pulling out of Russia, while acknowledging the challenges in navigating internal activism within a company that aims to be all things to all people.

    • Netflix live entertainmentNetflix enters live entertainment to bring people together, generate excitement, and stay relevant, but must continually improve to remain worth paying for and stand out from competitors

      Netflix, as a maturing business, faces increasing competition for screen time and is exploring new areas like live entertainment to stay relevant and drive conversation around the world. The novelty of live events, despite being a departure from on-demand viewing, offers value in bringing people together to watch at the same time and generate excitement. Netflix's move into live entertainment, such as live roasts and wrestling shows, aims to capitalize on this phenomenon and keep the platform a must-watch destination. However, it's crucial for Netflix to continually improve its programming, choices, and conversation-driving abilities to remain worth paying for and stand out from free competitors like YouTube.

    • Netflix's focus on adaptation and evolutionNetflix prioritizes internal execution, avoiding nostalgia, and effectively using AI to maintain adaptability, while catering to diverse audience tastes with a wide range of content options

      Netflix prioritizes maintaining their ability to adapt and evolve as a company, focusing on internal execution and avoiding nostalgia for the past, while also recognizing the value of various art forms such as movies, games, television, and stand-up comedy. Ted Sarandos, the CEO of Netflix, emphasized the importance of not being overly concerned about AI replacing human roles, but rather focusing on individuals who use AI effectively. The conversation also touched upon the idea that quality in entertainment is subjective and defined by the audience, and that Netflix aims to cater to a wide range of viewers with varying tastes. Ultimately, Netflix's strategy of providing content for everyone does not necessarily compromise quality, but rather allows for a diverse range of options that may not appeal to every critic or demographic.

    • AI and storytellingAI is a tool that can enhance storytelling and expand creative possibilities for humans, not replace them. On-demand platforms and recommendation systems bring value to storytelling and AI can help filmmakers, writers, and directors be more efficient and effective.

      Technology, including AI, is a tool that can enhance storytelling and expand creative possibilities rather than replace human creators. Ted Sarandos, Netflix's Co-CEO, believes that on-demand platforms, distribution channels, and recommendation systems bring significant value to storytelling, and there's no reason to believe certain types of movies won't work on these platforms. Sarandos also views AI as a creator's tool that can help filmmakers, writers, and directors do their jobs more efficiently and effectively, even enabling them to put things on screen that would be impossible otherwise. He emphasizes that humans should have faith in their abilities and view technology as an opportunity rather than a threat. The entertainment industry has historically resisted new technology but ultimately benefited from it, and Sarandos sees no reason why this trend won't continue with AI.

    • Netflix in a crowded media landscapeNetflix aims to be the best in a competitive media landscape, not the most dominant, by continuously innovating and providing high-quality content.

      Despite Netflix's significant growth and dominance in the streaming industry, there are numerous competitors and distractions vying for people's attention. Ted Sarandos, Netflix's co-CEO, acknowledges the challenges they face in a crowded media landscape, emphasizing that their goal is not to be the most dominant player but rather to be the best. The industry is constantly evolving with the rise of video games, social media, user-generated content, traditional television, and sporting events. Netflix must continue to innovate and provide high-quality content to stand out in this competitive landscape. The interview was produced by Wyatt Orm, edited by Annabelle Bacon, mixed by Brad Fisher, with original music by Alicia Beethup and Mary Lozano, and photography by Devin Yalkin. Special thanks to the team at The Interview and Hard Fork for their contributions.

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