Sarandos at South by Southwest 2016
Theodore Anthony Sarandos Jr.
July 30, 1964
|Residence||Los Angeles, California U.S.|
|Education||Glendale Community College|
|Alma mater||Arizona State University, Tempe (attended)|
|Title||Chief Content Officer|
|Spouse(s)||Michelle Sarandos (div.)|
Nicole Avant (2009-present)
|Parent(s)||Theodore Sarandos Sr.|
|Relatives||Clarence Avant (father-in-law)|
Theodore Anthony Sarandos Jr. (born July 30, 1964) is an American businessman who is currently the chief content officer for Netflix. Sarandos oversees Netflix's annual budget of over $6 billion. Under his leadership, the company received 54 Primetime Emmy Awards nominations in 2016.
Sarandos was born in Phoenix, Arizona, to father Ted Sarandos, who was an electrician, and a mother who was a stay-at-home mom. He is the fourth of five children, with three older sisters and a younger brother. Sarandos' paternal grandfather came from the Greek island of Samos to the United States as a young boy. His family name was originally Kariotakis but he changed it to Sarandos.
While writing for his high school newspaper, Sarandos met and interviewed the actor Ed Asner, who was in Phoenix for a local Screen Actors Guild meeting. Asner, then in the height of his Lou Grant period, introduced Sarandos to others in the entertainment industry, for further interviews and connected his interests in entertainment, politics, and journalism.
Sarandos attended Glendale Community College in Glendale, Arizona. He also attended Arizona State University, where he was a journalism major until he left college to manage the video store where he worked since high school, Arizona Video Cassettes West.
From 1983 to 1988, Sarandos managed eight retail video stores in the "Arizona Video Cassettes West" chain. In 1988 Sarandos became Western Regional Director of Sales and Operations for one of the largest video distributors in the United States, East Texas Distributors (ETD). Until March 2000, Sarandos was Vice President of Product and Merchandising for the almost 500 store chain, Video City/West Coast Video. While at West Coast Video he was responsible for negotiating revenue deals to migrate from the company from the VHS format into the DVD format.
Sarandos was responsible for initiating the first round of original programming at Netflix, starting with Lilyhammer, and then continuing with the breakout David Fincher series starring Kevin Spacey, House of Cards. Beginning with House of Cards, which was bought for $100 million in a March 2011 deal, Sarandos created the model where Netflix purchases multiple seasons of shows without pilot orders. Sarandos sees the focus as being on subscriber growth as a reflection of revenue health over ratings, especially because the ad-supported model doesn't apply to Netflix.
Sarandos uses algorithms at Netflix to predict what programs viewers will want to watch prior to producing them. His personal algorithm focuses on 30% judgement (as a highest priority), with 70% focused on a base of data. He also said that the focus is on the audience, and that there is no programming grid – or appointment linear-based television – that is typically used by traditional TV networks. Barometers of success are if the audience completes watching the show, the timeframe within which they finish watching a series if there is social media buzz by critics and fans. Sarandos said that the preference is for show to run for multiple seasons and build a fan base. Sarandos believes the model allows the viewer to be in control, and to watch only the content they enjoy. The more serialized the show is, the longer the revenue stream. Sarandos sees cost per hour basis as greater the more total run time there is across the lifetime of a show, as it is often not cost savings to produce less original content once production is underway.
Sarandos said the comparison of TV network ratings to Netflix isn't meaningful as the typical Netflix release model of pushing out content is full season availability at once. No advertising means there's no need for typical ratings. He said Netflix aggregates audiences over a very long period of time, where Netflix can tell if a show will be successful by using a regression models that tells Netflix, based on the first hour of viewing, how successful the show will be over the life of its license.
Sarandos has been outspoken about discarding or not holding important traditional network models, of which although historically a big TV fan, he describes the model as now becoming archaic. Sarandos sees the new model as a way to prioritize the needs and desires of the consumer. Part of this is the refusal to release ratings and metrics of viewership. International reach and long tail, niche appeal is also an important part of the business model. The spend is typically a large upfront payment, with no back-end fees to talent and creators, especially of original content that Netflix owns. Sarandos said that he sees the Netflix brand as being based on personalization, that it was a deliberate choice on the part of Netflix to focus on providing diverse content that would appeal to the tastes of a broad base of viewers. One that would not be focused on a marquee show that Netflix would be known for, but quality shows that would appeal to different audiences.
Sarandos sees Netflix as a digital product, where the balance between distributing physical bits of content versus streaming digital content would be cheaper as both broadband and Netflix grew, i.e. postal economics vs. streaming economics. This was something that Sarandos said he and his team was closely analyzing at a micro fiscal level. The shift away from the DVD business comes from this evaluation of new model focused on streaming and includes original programming, which is one of the main responsibilities of Sarandos' work at Netflix.
Sarandos set up a multi-picture deal with Adam Sandler, which was met with criticism. In defense, Sarandos said that the numbers make sense, something he characterizes as "data-influenced intuition," and that Sandler has a global appeal. Sarandos characterized Sandler's 2015 film The Ridiculous 6 as successful, saying it garnered the highest number of Netflix viewers streaming a film within the first 30 days of its release.
During the 2016 Television Critics Association presentation, Sarandos said he expects the amount Netflix spends on original programming to rise considerably. In terms of volume, Sarandos said that Netflix will be showing over 600 hours of original programming in 2016.
- 2008: Aspen Institute – Henry Crown Fellow
- 2010: The Hollywood Reporter – "Digital Power 50"
- 2012: The Hollywood Reporter – “Digital Power 50”
- 2013: Time – Time 100
- 2014: Simon Wiesenthal Center – Humanitarian Award
- 2015: International Documentary Association – Pioneer Award
- 2015: The Hollywood Reporter – "Silicon Beach Power 25"
- 2015: NAPTE – Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award
- Variety – “Global 5”
- The Hollywood Reporter – “Indie Power 50”
- The Harvard Lampoon – Honorary Member
Board and advisory work
Sarandos is a member of many boards.
- Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Executive Committee Appointee (2015), Member
- Digital Entertainment Group, Retail Advisory Board
- Exploring The Arts, Board of Trustees
- International Documentary Association, Trustee
- Los Angeles Greek Film Festival, Advisory Board
- Los Angeles Film Festival Film Independent, Film Advisory Board
- MediaRights.org, Board of Directors
- Tribeca Film Festival, Film Advisory Board
- Video Software Dealers Association, Former Chapter President & Board Member
Sarandos and his wife, Nicole Avant, held a fundraiser for President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign in Southern California in 2009, and raised over $700,000 for the Democratic candidate. This relationship was instrumental in getting the couple to sign a multiyear deal to produce series and films for the video streaming service. "It's not the Obama Network, it's not the MSNBC shift," Sarandos said at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills on Tuesday. "There's no political slate to the programming." Following the deal's announcement, some subscribers posted subscription cancellation screenshots on Twitter.
Sarandos married Michelle Sarandos, his first wife, with whom he had two children, Sarah and Tony. In 2009, Sarandos married former United States Ambassador to the Bahamas (2009-2011), Nicole Avant, the daughter of former Motown Chairman Clarence Avant. Producer Lawrence Bender introduced Sarandos to Avant. The couple live in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, after previously living in Avant's home town of Beverly Hills, California. In 2013, the couple purchased a beach house formerly owned by David Spade in Malibu, California. Sarandos has said he is Catholic.
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