Netflix exec talks historic Emmy nominations and the company's future

With 14 Emmy nominations — nine for House for Cards, including Outstanding Drama Series and acting nods for Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright — Netflix has definitely made a statement while making history as the first Internet network to break into the field. “The great message is, and I think Emmy voters confirmed it for us today, great television is great television, no matter how it gets to the screen,” Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos says.

“What we were able to put on the screen this year earned 14 Emmy nominations. We’re thrilled. We’re a little giddy about it,” he says, laughing hard. “We took some really big bets, but we bet on some really big talent in David Fincher, Mitch Hurwitz, and Eli Roth,” he continues. Hurwitz’s Arrested Development earned three nominations (for lead actor Jason Bateman, single-camera picture editing, and original music composition), while Roth’s Hemlock Grove was recognized for its main title-theme music and special visual-effects.

“We also took a big bet on staying out of their way and letting them create a show,” Sarandos says. “These shows that were nominated today are not the result of pilots and testing and studio and network notes. This is really the result of great storytellers telling great stories, and we couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Click below for more of the conversation:

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You recently renewed your newest original series Orange is the New Black for a second season before season 1 even began streaming on Netflix. While that backs the idea that numbers aren’t at the heart of your programming decisions, people do still wonder why you don’t routinely release information on the number of people watching your original shows — people like FX head John Landgraf, who has great shows like Justified and Sons of Anarchy that get snubbed by Emmy voters, but also TV reporters and TV fans. What is the rationale behind that?
Ted Sarandos: The ratings really support the ad sales business, and we’re not in the ad sales business. I think the kind of ratings race that is put on these shows on linear television, every hour of prime time is so precious that everything has to perform right out of the gate or you have to bump it out and put something else in there. That puts a ridiculous amount of performance pressure on any specific show. Sometimes it’s not the show, it’s the time slot, it’s the marketing, it takes time for it to catch in. We don’t do that. It’s not really that much more valuable for me for someone to watch a show on Wednesday night at 8 o’clock as it is for them to watch five years from now. So it doesn’t make sense for me to post our overnight ratings, when the overnight ratings mean nothing to the success of the show for us in our business. I do think it’s differentially important for ad-supported television — that’s their livelihood. For us, our livelihood is putting on great shows that people love and therefore they continue their subscription. Netflix is really easy to join and super easy to cancel, so we have an instant feedback loop from our customers if we’re doing well. And if we renew a show, you can tell from that the show is doing well. If we’re spending money on shows that people aren’t watching, our service is getting worse. [Laughs] We put our money where our mouth is. We would never renew shows that people aren’t watching and we’re not thrilled with the performance. Why we would renew Orange before it came out — we also have the luxury of seeing the entire 13-episode season before we make those choices. Whereas a network sees one or two episodes, they see the ratings of those one or two episodes, and they decide whether they’re gonna go forward. We know where that show’s going from episode 1 to episode 13, and we knew that the show delivered the creative goods.

Putting all the episodes on Netflix at once — is that the model you’ll be sticking with, or something you might reconsider to build better buzz?
I think it has served us very well. It differentiates the service from other forms of television, in terms of the way that people are able to watch. People have sent us a signal for years that that’s the way they like to watch TV. So for us to then produce our own programming and give it to ‘em one episode at a time, it’d be the only thing on Netflix that you have to watch once episode a week.

I’m in New York City, so I haven’t personally witnessed the For Your Consideration House of Cards lawn signs in LA. What can we expect marketing wise now?
[Laughs] Our original PR team came up with some of the most creative Emmy campaign. I live in the middle of Beverly Hills, so I see all of them. Between the Freddy’s BBQ truck for House of Cards and the lawn signs, it was marketing like I’ve never seen before. I think it really helped get everyone’s attention around these shows. Just like we set a high bar with 14 nominations in our first year, we also set a very high bar for the first time out of the gate Emmy campaigning. [Laughs]

What are you most looking forward to in Netflix’s upcoming slate?
More shows of this caliber. What we’re trying to do is create great television that would be very difficult to do anywhere else. And the other thing we’re really looking forward to is the second season of all these shows. House of Cards is in production right now. Orange is the New Black is getting ready to go already. Renewing that show early gave us the ability to close the window between season 1 and season 2, another thing that I think people will love. We already have scripts on season 2 ready.

Is there anything you can say about whether we might be seeing more Arrested Development?
I’m just extremely proud of the show. We love what Mitch did. The viewers loved what Mitch did with the show. The same way Arrested Development was ahead of its time when it was on Fox, I think it’s ahead of its time today in the way that Mitch was able to construct the story in season 4 and tell it over 15 episodes that interlock in a way that I’ve never seen on television before. It’s just fantastic work. We couldn’t be more proud of the show and of Mitch and everybody. Three Emmy nominations is not a reflection of that show. I would have loved to have seen it get the [Best] Comedy nomination, too. But I think it’s an amazing show that in the passage of time people will come to appreciate the same way they did the first three years from Fox.

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