Sarandos, in an appearance at Vox Media’s Code Conference at the Beverly Hilton, shared two slides. One showed the most popular Netflix shows based on its proprietary metric of the number of accounts that selected a given title in the first 28 days of release (and streamed for at least 2 minutes). A second showed total time spent viewing by hours within the initial 28-day window — engagement data Netflix has not released previously.
“We’re trying to be more transparent with talent, with the market,” Sarandos said. Netflix’s streaming data, he acknowledged, is “a big black box, mostly.”
Shonda Rhimes’ “Bridgerton” Season 1 scored as the No. 1 series based on both number of Netflix households and time spent viewing (in the initial four-week release), while “Extraction” was the most-viewed film in terms of households and “Bird Box” was the most-watched movie in terms of hours.
That said, Sarandos said that high-concept Korean survival drama “Squid Game,” which premiered Sept. 17, has a very chance of becoming the biggest Netflix show ever, and currently ranks as the No. 1 show worldwide on the service. “We did not see that coming, in terms of its global popularity,” Sarandos said.
Here are the slides Sarandos showed at Code Conference, which are based on Netflix’s own internal monitoring:
Rankings by No. of Households Sampling a Title (First 28 Days of Release)
Rankings by Overall Time Spent Viewing (First 28 Days of Release)
Netflix uses data to make certain business decisions, but Sarandos said that for content creation, “you want to be careful to not use it too much,” because “reverse-engineering a story” doesn’t work well.
Asked about Netflix’s move to strike overall deals with the likes of Rhimes and Ryan Murphy, Sarandos said the company needed to go down that route to compete with traditional entertainment companies.
“If we didn’t do that deal with Shonda, ‘Bridgerton’ would have been somewhere else,” Sarandos said. He added, “Talent has to be respected and has to be compensated competitively.”
Sarandos said Netflix removed Dave Chappelle’s “Chappelle’s Show” last year at the comedian’s request, after Chappelle explained to Sarandos that he wasn’t being fairly compensated ViacomCBS. That led Chappelle to negotiate a new deal, after which Netflix put the series back on the service. “Very few deals are as bad as that one was,” Sarandos said. “I’m betting on our long-term relationship with Dave.”
Sarandos was interviewed on stage by Vox Media’s Kara Swisher, who asked if Netflix would by a theater chain or a digital music company like Spotify. No, Sarandos replied: “We’ve always been builders instead of buyers.”
As he’s said many times before, Sarandos said Netflix isn’t interested in pursuing live sports rights, saying “the next $10 billion” in the company’s content spending would be better invested in TV shows and movies.
Sarandos said Netflix is feeling “maybe more confident” in competing with the likes of Disney and WarnerMedia as they continue to ramp up their push into streaming (“our home field”). However, he added, “I have to take them seriously… I don’t want to underestimate any of them — because I think they underestimated us.”
Netflix, which ended the second quarter with just over 209 million paid streaming subscribers worldwide, is really “competing with ourselves,” Sarandos commented. “The thing I’m concerned with over the next decade is, can we continue to execute [at scale]… To me, that’s more troubling that any competition in the marketplace.”
Sarandos said Netflix has an advantage in not having to be concerned about how decisions about theatrical movie windowing will affect its business. “You can’t look at the world and say, ‘How do I protect my business?'” he said. Netflix’s day-and-date release strategy for movies “is not very exotic anymore,” Sarandos said (who added with a laugh, “‘Tiger King 2’ is coming!”).
Sarandos, who started working at Netflix in 2000 as a DVD buyer, was named co-CEO alongside Reed Hastings in July 2020. Sarandos oversees the company’s teams worldwide responsible for the acquisition and production of all Netflix content.
Pictured above: Regé-Jean Page, Phoebe Dynevor in “Bridgerton” Season 1