If Hastings is the Web’s Louis B Mayer, does that make Ted Sarandos its Cecil B DeMille?

I get asked a lot lately whether I think Netflix is going to become a major player in creating original series – the underlying question, of course, is whether CEO Reed Hastings and content chief Ted Sarandos are gunning for the Hollywood studios’ breadbaskets – their production business.

Ted Sarandos' profile is rising, along with Netflix's, in Hollywood.

Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos’ profile rises in Hollywood, as the company takes on a new role.

This speculation seems perfectly natural, especially after an impressive and historic showing at the Emmy Awards of Netflix’s new shows. Nearly every Netflix-made series — House of Cards, Arrested Development and Hemlock Grove – was nominated and the one that wasn’t recognized by the Emmys – Orange Is the New Black – is dominating both water cooler and industry talk and Netflix streams.

Sure, Netflix could give the studios a run for their money. Hastings and Sarandos are already doing that using the same approach that gave them unrivaled hegemony over online rental and streaming – using an enormous amount of predictive data gathered from closely studying consumers for 16 years and delivering what people actually watch – not what the studio system bell jar thinks Flyover Land consumers will like.

And yes, Netflix will continue to be very successful – but making content is not their core mission, or their core competency really. Attracting and retaining subscribers is. Right now, Netflix is using content creation as a strong magnet to achieve that core mission, but it is extremely risky.

So my thought is that if Hastings and Sarandos can hive off that risk on somebody else – like the people whose job it is (ahem, studios) – and get a good profit-sharing deal for providing data and distribution (as well as their famously hands-off, artist-centric attitude toward production) — everybody wins.


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