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‘Baby Reindeer’ Helped by Netflix Algorithm, Ted Sarandos Says

‘Baby Reindeer’ Helped by Netflix Algorithm, Ted Sarandos Says

While Netflix has expanded the type of programming it offers, most recently venturing into live sports and other events, co-CEO Ted Sarandos has indicated in a new interview that news is not for Netflix.

“We don’t do breaking news and that kind of thing, because I think there’s a lot of other outlets for it. People aren’t looking to us for that,” Sarandos told The New York Times in a wide-ranging interview that ran online on Saturday when asked what’s not right for Netflix, yet the executive, whose company a year ago launched an ad tier, in the same answer said he’s open to new things: I don’t think that there’s a clean answer because the best version of something may work really well for Netflix but just hasn’t worked to date.”

Last week, after Netflix’s first in-person upfront presentation, CNN acknowledged that despite the popular streamer’s forays into different types of content, it still lacks live or pre-taped news programming and doesn’t seem interested in changing that.

“The entertainment platforms are not interested in news,” an anonymous agent told CNN. “Their audiences don’t want it and it can be polarizing. It’s just not worth it for them.”

Elsewhere in the Times interview, Sarandos spoke about the streamer’s recent British hit, Baby Reindeer, suggesting that its popularity was at least in part due to the Netflix algorithm.

“There was a time when something like Baby Reindeer would not even be seen in the United States. And if it did, it’d be on PBS once,” Sarandos said. It’s very, very big in the U.K., and in that way that Netflix does, it gets picked up in the algorithm and starts getting more and more presented, because when something gets that big in one country, it’s likely there’s a lot of audience for it outside of that country. And it’s been an enormous hit around the world.”

Beyond that, Sarandos spoke about how he believes that international series can work in the U.S. without needing to be engineered for an American audience.

“You don’t have to adapt your storytelling to America to work. If your movie, if your film works, if your TV series works in the home country, it’s got to be very authentic,” he said. “And I think what international audiences pick up on is that authenticity. When you try to engineer something to travel, it really appeals to no one. I can’t think of anything that we’ve done that has been engineered to travel that actually did travel.”

Last week, Netflix released its list of the mostviewed series and films for the second half of 2023, with international programs scoring high in its list of the most-viewed series (measured by the streamer’s metric of (total viewing hours divided by running time). Four of the top six shows originated outside of the U.S., including German miniseries Dear Child, the third installment of France’s Lupin and British shows Who Is Erin Carter? and Sex Education season four. And its top series for the second half of 2023, One Piece, is a U.S.-Japanese co-production.

Throughout the interview, Sarandos emphasizes Netflix’s “consumer view of quality,” praising the live Tom Brady roast for being a hot topic of discussion, and highlighting the strong performance of its “great” Lindsay Lohan rom-com Irish Wish, despite the rom-com loving Times reporter making a face at the movie.

“I am going by the numbers, how many people watch it. I mean, people watch the whole thing. People generally turn off things they don’t like in this on demand world,” Sarandos said of Irish Wish.

The Times reporter argues that fans of such films “are very committed to watching things to the bitter end.”

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Still, Sarandos feels Irish Wish has its place, comparing it to other TV and film offerings by saying it’s at “the high end of the Hallmark scale” but “not at the kind of midtier of the [Searchlight] scale.”

In the second part of the interview, incidentally where Sarandos mentioned the “breaking news” thing, he again praises the breadth of the streamer’s library and how a project resonating with a large audience suggests it’s a “quality” TV show or movie.

Referring to Irish Wish again, Sarandos said, “We all have these great contradictions even inside of ourselves. I love The Crown, and I love Is It Cake? And I love them both equally, which doesn’t make any sense! When I think about that and think about, What are we trying to do? We’re trying to make movies that are great. We define quality from the perspective of the audience. So if the audience loves the movie, it’s great. That’s quality. Irish Wish maybe didn’t scratch the itch for you, but 65 million people watched that movie. It’s an enormous hit, and people love it. Critics and reviews — it’s a great thing. We want to please everybody. But sometimes the movies that we make are not made for critics. But for the audience that loves it, they love it.”

As for what worries him going forward, Sarandos said he’s mostly concerned about “internal execution.”

“It’s a very different company with 270 million subscribers around the world than it was when I joined with 175,000 subscribers getting DVDs in the U.S.,” he said. “So how you evolve the company, how you don’t get too nostalgic, how you don’t be too romantic about the past. Movies and games and television and stand-up comedy — all these things are real art forms. Otherwise it’s just killing an hour, and then I’d be very worried about TikTok.”

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