U.S.-China Film Summit: Netflix’s Sarandos takes aim at theater chains

Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos.
(Bernd von Jutrczenka / EPA)

Ted Sarandos, chief content officer for Netflix, took another poke at the movie theater industry on Wednesday.

Speaking at the U.S.-China Film Summit sponsored by the Asia Society Southern California at the Millennium Biltmore hotel in downtown Los Angeles, Sarandos defended his company’s recent decision to release a sequel to the 2000 martial arts movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” on Netflix’s streaming service next summer on the same day that it opens in Imax theaters.

The announcement sparked a backlash among U.S. theater chains, with Regal, Carmike and Cinemark all saying they would not screen the film in their theaters. They cited concerns that the simultaneous release of the movie would undermine the traditional theatrical release window -- the period of time between when a movie is shown in theaters and when it is available in the home.

But Sarandos said traditional approaches to movie distribution were outmoded.


“There are a lot of models that theater owners have kept in place very rigidly that are out of step with the way people watch movies,” Sarandos said. “We need to stop distinguishing the experience by access in a world where people come to expect anything they want, whenever they want.”

As for China, Sarandos said his company, which has 53 million subscribers worldwide, would like to expand into the world’s second-largest film market, which he described as “very complex” for a foreign company.

China is the setting for Netflix’s upcoming historical epic series “Marco Polo.” Filmed in Malaysia, the series will debut next month on Netflix.

Although Netflix does not have a presence in China, its original series “House of Cards” is available on the streaming service Youku. Despite its American setting, the show is popular in China, Sarandos said.

“Most people say that’s a pretty American show set against American politics,” Sarandos said. “But at its core, if you dig deeper it’s a very human show. It’s much more rooted in Shakespeare than it is Washington politics.”

He said the company would follow a similar approach in China as it has in other countries.

“I’ve always believed it’s not about being more Chinese or any less American, it’s about thinking more globally, " he said. “I don’t have a team thinking ‘how are we going to get into China?’ We’re going to get there by having great content that everyone wants to see.”

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