Netflix content chief 'completely' surprised the streaming wars took this long

Also, Friends wouldn't be the modern-day phenom it is without Netflix, Ted Sarandos says.

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Joan E. Solsman
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Ted Sarandos is Netflix's top content executive.

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Netflix is about to face some of its toughest direct competition yet, as behemoths like Disney and AT&T's WarnerMedia plan to launch their own streaming services. What "completely" surprised Netflix's top content executive is why "everyone took so long." 

"When they were selling us their content, years ago, I was kind of surprised every time," Ted Sarandos, Netflix's chief content officer, said Wednesday at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in Los Angeles. "All these networks were going to become apps ... and 'dot coms' and they would want their content. In the meantime, they were selling things over to us and helped us build a big audience."

One after another, major media properties will be putting out their own rivals to Netflix in the next six months, a trend that some (including Netflix executives) refer to as the "streaming wars." Disney's high-profile offering, Disney Plus, will launch Nov. 12 with a huge catalog of shows, movies and originals -- including many of the Disney blockbuster movies that Netflix has been streaming since 2016. Apple kicks off its streaming venture, Apple TV Plus, with nine titles on Nov. 1, and AT&T's HBO Max and NBCUniversal's Peacock are coming early next year with TV favorites including Friends, The Office and The Big Bang Theory. 

Asked about the impact of losing such shows from Netflix's library, Sarandos said "one of the reasons Friends and The Office are so popular is because they're on Netflix." Shows like Friends and The Office have been widely syndicated for years and available on other streaming services, he said, but on Netflix they became much easier to find and watch, especially for younger audiences who weren't fans during the programs' initial runs.

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