Author Topic: Cannes: Ted Sarandos on Why He Won't Share Netflix Ratings and the Future  (Read 4828 times)

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Cannes: Ted Sarandos on Why He Won't Share Netflix Ratings and the Future of the Industry

By Shipra Harbola Gupta | Indiewire
May 18, 2015 at 6:29AM
Outside the more dramatic moments of Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos' keynote conversation at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, for those who took the time to listen carefully, certain portions of the conversation provide indirect access to the mysterious prevailing business and creative philosophies that have catapulted Netflix to success.

Most of the reports so far on Ted Sarandos' 2015 Cannes conversation have focused primarily on two moments that occur towards the end of the session: When a French reporter accuses Netflix of destroying the film ecosystem in Europe, and when Harvey Weinstein takes to the microphone and issues a rousing defense of Sarandos and Netflix.

Given that the conversation took place at a European festival, it's no surprise that the concerns of the host country, and continent for that matter, took centerstage.

Nevertheless, earlier in the hour, Sarandos provided some fascinating insight into what makes Netflix tick, as well as what the future of the industry might look like. Here are the four topics that received the most attention:

Revenue Models

"What Happened, Miss Simone?"
Sarandos spoke in broad terms for most of the talk. When comparing traditional theatrical distribution versus distribution on Netflix, however, Sarandos made it clear that the latter is much less of a financial gamble for all parties involved. He illustrated this point through an approximate scenario in which he compared the cost of distributing a medium budget film (made for $10-$12 million or below) the traditional route versus through Netflix. When released theatrically, a medium budget film, Sarandos said, has a hard time seeing a profit because theater, distribution and advertising fees all count against the box office. The philosophy at Netflix, on the other hand, is that "all the film that we do on Netflix are going to be profitable for the producer," which is why, Sarandos said, the company buys the films "at a premium to the budget so there is no chance that an investor [on] a film who does a deal with Netflix is going to lose money."

Although there is no backend with digital distribution, Sarandos said that Netflix does its best to compensate by estimating what the backend revenue might have been, based on older distribution models. "It's a discounted amount for sure," admitted Sarandos, "but it’s guaranteed."
Sarandos went on to use the upcoming documentary, "What Happened, Miss Simone?" as an example of how the Netflix model of production and distribution has proven successful on the documentary front.

Directed by Liz Garbus, "What Happened, Miss Simone?" is an intimate portrait of the iconic singer, songwriter and civil rights activist Nina Simone. The film premiered earlier this year at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews and will be available to stream June 26 on Netflix. According to Sarandos, if the film "had to go out and play theaters, sell DVDs, you could never recover what that film cost to make because the music rights are too expensive," which is why, he concluded, exclusive digital distribution is becoming such an attractive option for filmmakers. Releasing on a platform such as Netflix provides a film not only access to a massive audience, but also translates into cultural relevance.

The Decision Not to Share Ratings

"For me, it's infinitely valuable to be watched eventually." - Ted Sarandos
When asked about the company's reluctance to share ratings information, Sarandos explained that unlike network television, where each time slot has a monetary value attached to it through advertising, on Netflix, "there is no urgency or pressure has to work" right away. "For me," said Sarandos, "it's infinitely valuable to be watched eventually.”

He described the practice of sharing ratings information as an "arms race." After one of the moderators brought up the fact that it's not just the networks, but cable companies like HBO as well, that are sharing ratings information with the public, Sarandos replied that even though he understood why HBO had shared the figures, he thought that they should never have done it. "I think they only did it because they had a success and they wanted to share it," said Sarandos. "I'm incredibly proud of the viewing numbers on Netflix and I'm very tempted to tell you right now, what they are. What I don't want to do is start that arms race against ourselves — to say what's going to be successful and what's not going to be successful because I would argue that many of the shows with low ratings on HBO, have been very important to HBO, and yet people can perceive them as failures."

The Light Touch

On the issue of creative latitude, Sarandos said that Netflix provides creative talent with as much room as they need in order to get the job done. "We allow incredible artistic freedom and expression," he told the room. "We try to guide with a light touch. Sometimes we can be helpful and my goal with my team, both on the series side and on the film side, is that the collaboration should always be invited. In other words, we're not looking to impose our view on the filmmaker; we hire a storyteller because we love the story and we love their ability to tell it."

And while a creative executive's job will overlap with that of creative talent, the existence of the overlap does not privilege the executive’s opinion on creative over the talent — when making a film or television show in Hollywood, it's usually the opposite. "While my team is very gifted," said Sarandos, "that isn't the gift that I hired them for. We hired them to find great projects and if we pick the right projects, the rest plays out very well and that has served us very well so far."

Executives at Netflix provide guidance to talent with, in Sarandos' own words, a "light touch" and, "at the end of the day, they'll [the talent] break the tie if we have two conflicting points-of-view on creative."

The Importance of Choice

Throughout the hour-long conversation, Sarandos was very careful to characterize Netflix as one of many consumer choices, rather than the reputation that currently precedes the popular streaming outlet, which is that of a theatrical replacement.

"Don’t misunderstand. Nothing I'm saying and nothing we're doing is meant to be anti-theater or anti-cinema," he told the room. "I love, personally, the experience of going to the theater, going to the cinema. I think it competes beautifully on its own. I have great confidence that if things were day-and-date people would still go to the movies, but I do think that people need choice and people want choice and if you try to prevent them from choice, it's going to ultimately harm [the theatrical experience]."

The importance that Sarandos assigns to consumer choice stems from the fact that he, and, by extension, Netflix, seemingly acknowledge movie and television watching as a lifestyle choice similar to a hobby — you pick it up whenever and however you want it. Said Sarandos: "On Friday night, if you want to go out on a date with your wife or your girlfriend, nothing on Netflix competes with that, right? Because you’re getting out, that's what you’re doing. If you don't want to put your shoes on, nothing in the cinema competes with the worst thing on Netflix."

With choice, he insisted, "more films will get made, more films will get watched [and] more films will be loved." Sarandos was careful, nonetheless, to acknowledge (albeit briefly) that distributors and theater owners might have to take a pay cut if the industry were to embrace the philosophy of consumer choice on a widespread scale.

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Tuesday, 14th January 2020
Spike Lee To Head Cannes Film Festival Jury
by Andreas Wiseman

Two years after BlacKkKlansman debuted on the Croisette, Spike Lee is heading back to Cannes to serve as jury president.

The 62 year-old U.S. filmmaker will award the Palme dO’r at the close of the 73rd edition, which will take place from 12-23 May, 2020. Jury members will be announced in mid-April.

BlacKkKlansman, which won Cannes’ Grand Prix and scored Lee’s first Oscar, marked the director’s return to Cannes after a 22-year absence.

Seven of Lee’s movies have played at the festival, including She’s Gotta Have It, Do The Right Thing and Summer Of Sam.

Lee said in a statement,

“In this life I have lived, my biggest blessings have been when they arrived unexpected, when they happened out of nowhere. When I got the call that I was offered the opportunity to be president of Cannes jury for 2020, I was shocked, happy, surprised and proud all at the same time.”

He continued,

“To me the Cannes Film Festival (besides being the most important film festival in the world – no disrespect to anybody) has had a great impact on my film career. You could easily say Cannes changed the trajectory of who I became in world cinema."

“It started way back in 1986 – my first feature film She’s Gotta Have It, which won the Prix de la Jeunesse in the Director’s Fortnight. The next joint was in 1989 – Do The Right Thing, an Official Selection in Competition. And I don’t have the time nor space to write about the cinematic explosion that jumped off, still relative to this, 30 years later."

“Then Jungle Fever 1991 – Official Selection in Competition, Girl 6 1996 – Official Selection out of Competition, Summer Of Sam 1999 – Director’s Fortnight, Ten Minutes Older 2002 – Official Selection in Un Certain Regard and then BlacKkKlansman 2018 – Official Selection in Competition where it won the Grand Prix, which became the launching pad for the world theatrical release which led to my Academy Award for screenplay."

“So if you were keeping score that’s 7 Spike Joints to be chosen. In closing I’m honored to be the first person of the African diaspora (USA) to be named president of the Cannes jury and of a main film festival. The Lee family sincerely thanks the Festival de Cannes, Pierre Lescure and Thierry Frémaux and the great people of France who have supported my film career throughout four decades. I will always treasure this special relationship.”

In the role, Lee succeeds Alejandro G. Iñárritu, whose jury awarded the Palme d’Or to Bong Joon-ho’s multi-Oscar nominee Parasite.

Cannes President Pierre Lescure and festival head Thierry Frémaux said,

“Spike Lee’s perspective is more valuable than ever."

"Cannes is a natural homeland and a global sounding board for those who (re)awaken minds and question our stances and fixed ideas."

"Lee’s flamboyant personality is sure to shake things up. What kind of president of the jury will he be? Find out in Cannes!”

The iconic, firebrand director has previously criticized the lack of diversity in the film industry.

Cannes has had its own inclusion problems, including around women and black directors.

Mati Diop last year became the first black female director to have a film in competition at the event.

Despite the ongoing Netflix snafu, Cannes had a stellar edition last year.

Movies from the festival, including 'Once Upon A Time In Hollywood', 'Parasite', 'Pain And Glory', 'For Sama' and 'Les Miserables', have garnered 20 Oscar nominations.

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Thursday, 20th August 2o2o
Netflix apologizes after thousands call to remove film that ‘sexualizes’ young girls
by Christi Carras

Netflix issued an apology Thursday after thousands signed a petition demanding the immediate removal of the controversial French film “Cuties” from the streaming platform.

The movie, about an 11-year-old who rebels against her family and joins a “free-spirited dance crew,” is accused in the online campaign of sexualizing young girls “for the viewing pleasure of pedophiles.”

Originally titled “Mignonnes,” the project premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won a jury award for directing.

On social media, people are calling Netflix’s poster for the movie — which pictures its four preteen stars posing in costumes baring their legs and midriffs — “disgusting,” “upsetting” and “sick.”

Netflix has apologized for its promotional materials but there are no plans to scrap the film, which is set to debut globally on September 9th.

“We’re deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for Mignonnes/Cuties,” Netflix said in a statement Thursday morning.

“It was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film which won an award at Sundance. We’ve now updated the pictures and description.”

The original plot summary for “Cuties,” preserved via screenshot in the petition, introduced 11-year-old Amy, “who becomes fascinated with a twerking dance crew” and “starts to explore her femininity.”

The campaign to delete the title had amassed more than 49,000 signatures as of Thursday morning, and Netflix’s apology did not go over well with those who believe altering the poster and synopsis is not enough.

In a recent interview with Cineuropa, director Maïmouna Doucouré explained the inspiration for “Cuties,” which is based in part on her own childhood experiences, as well as those of girls growing up today.

“This isn’t a health & safety ad,” Doucouré told Cineuropa.

“This is most of all an uncompromising portrait of an 11-year-old girl plunged in a world that imposes a series of dictates on her. It was very important not to judge these girls, but most of all to understand them, to listen to them, to give them a voice, to take into account the complexity of what they’re living through in society, and all of that in parallel with their childhood which is always there, their imaginary, their innocence.”

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Tuesday, 13th October 2o2o
Netflix head defends controversial film Cuties, slams 'censoring storytelling'
by Rachel Yang

Netflix's Ted Sarandos is defending Cuties after the streamer was indicted in Texas over the controversial French film.

Sarandos, the streamer's co-CEO and chief content officer, said Cuties was "misunderstood" at the virtual Mipcom market on Monday.

“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 theaters throughout Europe without any of this controversy.”

He added, "It’s a little surprising in 2020 America that we’re having a discussion about censoring storytelling."

A coming-of-age dramedy directed by French filmmaker Maïmouna Doucouré, Cuties (Mignonnes in French) follows an 11-year-old Senegalese girl who moves to Paris with her family.

She becomes fascinated with a dance troupe at her school, which puts her in conflict with her family's traditional Muslim values.

The film premiered at Sundance in January, where Doucouré won the directing award in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section.

Cuties was released in France by BAC Films in August and internationally in September by Netflix.

In early October, Netflix Inc. was indicted by a grand jury in a Texas county on the charge of promoting lewd visuals of a child in Cuties, citing Texas Penal Code Section 43.262.

The indictment also claimed that the movie “appeals to the prurient interest in sex, and has no serious, literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

It further alleged that the promotion of the film was "authorized or recklessly tolerated by" Sarandos and Netflix Co-CEO and Chairman Reed Hastings.

A press release from the Tyler County District Attorney's Office on October 5th added that the summons was served to Netflix on October 1st.

The offense is a state jail felony.

Much of the initial uproar against Cuties came in August when Netflix released a poster for the feature that many felt was inappropriate.

The original artwork depicted the film's young main characters in suggestive poses and dressed in revealing outfits.

Netflix apologized for its marketing materials following the backlash.

"We're deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for Mignonnes/Cuties," a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement.

"It was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film which won an award at Sundance. We’ve now updated the pictures and description."

Sarandos did not address the film's marketing during the Mipcom event.

In an op-ed for The Washington Post, Doucouré stood by Cuties and maintained that her film was made through a critical lens to "start debate about the sexualization of children in society."

"We, as adults, have not given children the tools to grow up healthy in our society," the filmmaker wrote.

"I wanted to open people's eyes to what's truly happening in schools and on social media, forcing them to confront images of young girls made up, dressed up and dancing suggestively to imitate their favorite pop icon. I wanted adults to spend 96 minutes seeing the world through the eyes of an 11-year-old girl, as she lives 24 hours a day. These scenes can be hard to watch but are no less true as a result."

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Wednesday, 24th June  Twenty One
'NETFLIX became CBS'
by Travis Clark

In 2018, the superstar producer Kenya Barris - creator of ABC's "Black-ish" - signed a lucrative deal with Netflix following other high-profile names like Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes that year.

The deal was worth $100 million, Variety reported at the time.

But by October 2020, reports swirled that Barris was eyeing an exit from Netflix for a new deal with ViacomCBS.

In January, he was let out of the Netflix partnership, according to a new Hollywood Reporter profile of Barris published on Wednesday, and secured equity in and a board seat on ViacomCBS' new BET Studios.

Barris told THR, "I just don't know that my voice is Netflix's voice."

"The stuff I want to do is a little bit more edgy, a little more highbrow, a little more heady, and I think Netflix wants down the middle," he said.

"Netflix became CBS."

Netflix did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.

Barris implied that Netflix executives weren't enthusiastic about his series for the streamer, "#blackAF."

"For Netflix, say we got 35 million viewers, they were like, 'Well, it wasn't 'Fuller House,'" he told THR.

He stressed that there wasn't any "beef" with Netflix, though, just that he wanted to "do in-your-face sh--."

He still has content lined up for the streaming giant, including "#blackAF" "vacation films" rather than a previously announced second season of the show.

For BET Studios, he'll be selling content both within and outside of ViacomCBS from people who are underrepresented in Hollywood.