The Netflix Chief’s Plan to Get You to Binge Even More

If you’re anything like me, you probably spent some large portion of this week sitting on your couch watching Netflix. I love rom-coms — my latest obsession is a Turkish series called “Thank You, Next” — and the more rom-coms I watch, the more of them Netflix feeds to me. Maybe you’ve had this experience with sports documentaries, or thrillers, or biopics. It’s something we’ve all gotten used to. Which means, as I’m pressing play on whatever comes up next, I’m not really thinking about the people who are deciding what I’m consuming. And that’s why I wanted to talk to Ted Sarandos.

Listen to the Conversation With Ted Sarandos

Netflix won the streaming battle, but the war for your attention isn’t over.

Sarandos, 59, has been at Netflix for 24 years, nearly as long as Reed Hastings, one of the company’s two founders. He is now co-chief executive and is in charge of Netflix’s creative output. He oversaw the company’s early expansion into streaming and pioneered the binge watch. Under him, Netflix developed that powerful algorithm that knows just what to serve up next. He was also the guy who greenlit Netflix’s early original productions, like “House of Cards,” making Netflix into a studio, not just a platform. And he has led the company as it has ventured into reality TV, prestige film and live entertainment — including a just-announced deal to broadcast some of the N.F.L.’s Christmas Day games.

Sarandos seems to be very good at giving us more of what we want. And after a crackdown on password-sharing (which Sarandos tells me is still in progress), his company has come out on top in the crowded streaming wars (if you set aside YouTube, which Sarandos does not). That doesn’t mean everything is rosy all the time now — the company has had several rounds of layoffs in the past few years — but Sarandos, along with his co-chief executive, Greg Peters, has put Netflix in a dominant position. Has this been good for us? Or for culture? When we talked recently, with viral clips of Netflix’s Tom Brady roast flying all over the internet, I asked him.

You have an unusual background for a Hollywood or tech C.E.O. I would agree with that assessment. My parents had four kids in their 20s. So these were kids raising kids really. Our house was always chaos. And my only escape from that chaos was that little box. I watched a lot of television. Most of my upbringing, we never had all the utilities on at the same time. So the gas would be cut off, and then the phone would be cut off, and the electric, but never all simultaneously. But for some reason we had a VCR. And total happenstance, the second video store in the state of Arizona opened up two blocks from my house.

Do you remember the first thing you ever checked out in the video store? Yeah, it was a filmed version of the Willie Nelson Fourth of July picnic. [Laughs.]

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