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Ted Sarandos: Vanquisher in streaming wars

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Ted Sarandos
Ted Sarandos, photographed at the Tribeca Festival in New York City on June 8.
(Justin Bettman / Contour by Getty Images)

Is streaming good business?

While media executives across Hollywood struggle with this existential question, Netflix co-Chief Executive Ted Sarandos isn’t fretting.

Discover the changemakers who are shaping every cultural corner of Los Angeles. This week we bring you the final installment of the L.A. Influential series: The Establishment. They are the bosses, elected officials and A-list names calling the shots from the seats of power.

Seeing how Wall Street rewarded Netflix’s massive growth, legacy media companies poured billions into their own streaming services. Walt Disney Co., Paramount and NBCUniversal have been hammered trying to catch up with Sarandos, whose company brought game-changing hits such as “Stranger Things,” “Squid Game,” “Bridgerton” and “The Crown” to millions of couch potatoes around the world.

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The industry now is reckoning with its collective decision to engage in the streaming wars. Most of Netflix’s big rival streamers still aren’t profitable, and companies such as Disney have sacrificed much of the content firepower from their core businesses — profitable but declining TV networks — in order to pump up their direct-to-consumer offerings. The industry and its investors have slowly come to realize what an advantage Netflix achieved with its big head start in streaming.

Moreover, Sarandos, a former video store clerk, had a major hand in changing the way Hollywood works, the consequences of which are still being felt.

He was named co-chief executive in 2020, in recognition of the essential role he’s played in building the company into what it is today.

Netflix played a key role in overhauling how talent deals are structured, paying big fees upfront in lieu of offering traditional back-end participation. It changed the culture of TV by releasing full seasons of a series at a time and making shows from South Korea, France and Spain into global hits, despite U.S. audiences’ supposed aversion to subtitles. It accelerated viewers’ shift to streaming from cable and satellite. It revived oldies such as “Friends” and “Suits.”

The streamer recently had its largest fourth-quarter growth in membership; it now has about 270 million subscribers.

Not everyone is a fan of Sarandos’ streaming utopia. During Hollywood’s labor unrest, some took to calling it the “Netflix strike,” with many writers and actors in Hollywood arguing that the firm’s popularizing of shorter and fewer seasons has cut into their livelihoods. In turn, Sarandos was one of the four big Hollywood executives who eventually took a direct part in meetings with the WGA and SAG-AFTRA unions in order to finally resolve the disputes.

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Sarandos, who is married to political fundraiser and former Ambassador to the Bahamas Nicole Avant, has overseen Netflix’s content operations since 2000. He was named co-chief executive in 2020, in recognition of the essential role he’s played in building the company into what it is today. Sarandos, 59, was instrumental in transforming the Los Gatos, Calif., entertainment giant from a mere Blockbuster-killing DVD-by-mail service into one of Hollywood’s most prolific and biggest-spending players.

But despite the company’s influence and Sarandos’ prominent leadership role at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, one goal remains elusive — that coveted best picture Oscar.

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