Netflix plans to have five original series available for streaming by mid-2013, part of its efforts to compete with HBO and insulate itself from trouble in acquiring content.
"Lilyhammer," starring “Sopranos” and E Street Band great Steven Van Zandt, debuts Feb. 6. The Kevin Spacey-starring “House of Cards” and new episodes of Fox’s “Arrested Development” will be available by early next year. On Tuesday, Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said two other ambitious shows are in the works and ticketed for 2013.
Increasingly, exclusive content may be an important differentiator,” he said at the NATPE event.
In a sense, Netflix is following the arc of basic cable entertainment networks, which over the last decade have realized they need original content to complement syndicated series. Netflix has acquired rights to a slew of TV series recently, but was also unable to renew a streaming deal with Starz. Though it is deemphasizing its DVD mail order business, it acceded to Warner Bros.’ move to double the time before Netflix could make discs available.
Netflix, which CEO Reed Hastings has likened to HBO, focused on film distribution for many years, but is now emphasizing TV content. In the October-December period, it streamed 2 billion hours, approximately 60% of which were TV shows.
Netflix will not stagger the release of episodes of its originals, choosing to make it all available at once on premiere day, including all eight of “Lilyhammer.”
“Core to the Netflix proposition with our customers is choice,” Sarandos said.
Sarandos said Netflix isn’t sure what to expect as far as viewership for “Lilyhammer," noting it will take time for the company to find its footing in the production game. He described “Lilyhammer” as “bigger than experimentation, but it’s definitely learning.”
Netflix is finding that its users enjoy watching bunches of episodes of serialized dramas in a single sitting, which might help build its library. Studios may find they can get the most money by selling rights to Netflix, since those type of shows generally aren’t standouts in syndication, while DVD sales are challenged.
Netflix has exclusive streaming rights to past seasons of “Mad Men” and is likely to make similar agreements.
As far as Netflix’s relationship with Hollywood studios, Sarandos said: “It’s just normalized. We’re a buyer. We’re a big buyer.”
The company opted not to renew with Starz, since the financial commitment could have precluded it from acquiring more popular content, he said.
“When it comes down to it,” he said, “I think it’s a very typical programming decision.”