DIASPORA

The Greek-American who revolutionized Netflix

The Greek-American who revolutionized Netflix

When Ted Sarandos, the Greek-American co-CEO of Netflix, joined the company in 2000 it didn’t look much like the streaming giant we all know today. Founded in 1997 by Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph, Netflix was a DVD rental company, operating a DVD-by-mail service. However, Hastings believed that, despite the era’s internet limitations, the future would be dominated by online streaming. He brought a receptive Sarandos on and shared his vision and the two men would revolutionize entertainment forever.

Netflix’s adaptation of British political thriller “House of Cards,” released on February 1, 2013, marked the beginning of this paradigm shift. While Netflix had been offering online streaming services for years, this was the first major TV series to be exclusively streamed on the platform. Then Chief Content Officer Sarandos, whose family hails from the island of Samos in the eastern Aegean, was the man responsible for that moment which forever changed the way we consume content. Not only was it a major upset of the status quo, it also further established what we today call binge watch culture.

Netflix’s acquisition of David Fincher’s “House of Cards” was a major coup. Sarandos, convinced by the data on the popularity of political thrillers and Kevin Spacey, requested a private meeting with the “Se7en” director, after the latter invited the networks to a screening of the pilot. Sarandos, unlike major cable content providers like HBO, did not even ask to see the pilot before offering Fincher a two-season deal, worth a rumored 100 million dollars. Sarandos’ algorithmic approach was not the only change. Netflix released all 13 episodes of “House of Cards” on the same day, completely upending the practice of weekly serialization. The series was a runaway hit, earning seven Emmy Awards and 56 nominations over five seasons.

Netflix, transformed by the success of “House of Cards” and the subsequent “Orange is the New Black,” established itself as the leading streaming service, forcing its competitors to also turn to original content creation. In 2018, the Netflix documentary “Icarus,” on doping in sports, became the company’s first production to win an Oscar, fully confirming that Netflix was now mainstream. The pandemic further bolstered all streaming companies, as people found themselves stuck at home, with Netflix adding 36 million new subscribers in 2020 and 18 million in 2021 for a total of 222 subscribers globally.

Ted Sarandos, one of the main architects of this success, was born in Phoenix, Arizona in 1964. While they did not speak Greek at home, his grandfather had migrated to the United States from Samos. Sarandos, a common surname on the island, has visited Samos in an effort to better connect with his Greek heritage.


This article was first published in Greek in moneyreview.gr, a member of the Kathimerini group of companies.