Interview Hindi

MAMI 2018: Market vibrancy, youth, population are reasons for confidence in India, says Ted Sarandos

At the masterclass with Sarandos, chief content officer, Netflix, the conversation expectedly veered towards the streaming giant's plans for India, apart from how their original content gets greenlit.

Suparna Thombare

The 20th edition of the Jio MAMI Mumbai International Film Festival kicked off on Friday (26 October). In the masterclass with Ted Sarandos, chief content officer, Netflix, with film critic Anupama Chopra as the moderator, the conversation veered towards why India is a prime market for the streaming giant, reasons for aggressive push to developing original Indian content and the country's role in bringing the crucial download option to Netflix.


On Netflix investing in India more than any other country in the world

It's been a strong push. We came into India right away. We have 10 original shows in production right now, six original films coming up in 2019 and more to come. And I think our investment has been not just in our original content but also our licensing and curated library has grown two times since we launched. It's been a very aggressive push into India with a vote of confidence that we can do well here.

Why India has Netflix's vote of confidence

It's one of the most exciting places in the world in terms of just the vibrancy of the market, the youth of the market, the adoption of internet as viewing choices. [There are] 250 million people watching content of different forms on the internet which is an incredible opportunity.

Indian market patterns apt for Netflix

Movie watching is very important to Indians. As much as they like to watch television they love to watch movies. There is a very distinct difference between TV watching and movie watching. And that is unique in India. Around the world it's 70% TV and 20% movies. The appetite here is more evenly split between TV and movies than anywhere else in the world.

It's the art of compression. It's about telling a big story in a short amount of time or big story over a long period of time.

Sacred Games in many ways is a long movie. A lot of distinctions between TV and movies had been about production value and dollars per minute that get invested into it. When you start seeing it more with shows like Sacred Games, the lines start getting a little blurry. Respect the art of cinema and filmmaking as unique and different from than the art of television but increasingly they are starting to get closer and closer creatively.

India's unique challenge and the download option

At the moment, we get into any given country internet infrastructure is built to all different levels. So internet speeds are different. Right away our big push in India was to see to it that the product works well throughout the country no matter how fast your connection is. One of the reasons we invested in downloading which we weren't really doing before launching in India and in the rest of the world too was to take opportunity that we had [an idea] of the way they watch in India. They are more likely to download and watch it whether they may have a good connection or on local trains. So they were able to get that incredible viewing experience regardless of your connectivity across the board. That was the unique driver for us how people deal with the internet.

What Sarandos aims to do with the power he commands in the entertainment business

What I want to do is enable storytelling around the world. One of the things that's been so exciting about Sacred Games... It is a great example of story telling from anywhere to everywhere. And historically just because of the distribution history, different countries have access to different kind of programming, certain kind of films and television and they don't get to see things from around the world just because there has never been a market for it. And because we use the internet to distribute all the physical barriers to distribution go away. And we can use technology to tell stories that bring people closer by great dubbing and subtitling, a day and date distribution — to view the same content at the same time around the world. Just as likely that someone in America loves Stranger Things as it is that India likes Sacred Games and vice versa. That's a very exciting thing and time in television history of the world.

How to get Sarandos' attention if you have a great concept to pitch

It is better to use ways that are more traditional. The agencies become great filters and they know what you are looking for and you are not bombarding someone with ideas that don't fit our format or our company or our business. They might be able to tell you that it's not good for Netflix but it is good for somebody else.

But personally I think the good thing is a very professionally worded cover letter. An actual old school letter stands out a lot. I get more than a thousand emails a day. So if someone is reaching out or cold calling on email and get upset that I am not able to respond because it's not very practical, an actual old school letter stands out more than anything else. I may get a thousand hate mails and two handwritten fan mails. But I notice that more than the others.

How Netflix is able to move so fast with their original content.

Eric Barmack who handles our international originals productions has a great team of people. My direct team is really fantastic and they are fully empowered to make decisions. The only way that we can move as fast as we are and adding as much new programming as we do is that my team has my complete trust and they can pull the trigger on anything. And they can say yes or they could say no and it sticks. They have the authority at even big budgets to say yes. It's been almost 18 years.

Intially, my job was to pick everything that's on Netflix. And then became picking the people who pick what's on Netflix. Then it became picking the people who pick the people who pick what's on Netflix. It's just an evolution of picking. And if I pick the right people that'll be great because they'll make great choices. Sometimes it's the story and sometimes it's the storyteller who they are betting on. And if they are winning more than they are losing then we can keep moving fast and learn from our mistakes. Someone like Eric Barmack has more green lighting authority than most studio heads around the world. The only way that we are able to do what we do is that have a great team like the one that I have.

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