Ted Sarandos, the chief content guy at Netflix, doesn't care about all the horrible early reviews of his pseudo-network's Arrested Development release, which reports suggested had pushed down company stock earlier this week. As far as Netflix is concerned, they're not a network — and they've got a huge hit on their hands.
"I hope you guys are not really trading on New York Times reviews," Sarandos said in response to a question about the stock at a conference Thursday, according to The Los Angeles Times, referring to Mike Hale's savaging of the fourth-season episode dump without exactly denying that the (very) poor reception had to do with the dip in Netflix stock, which has since recovered. It's just that reviews aren't the point of the original series business, least of all if you're in the streaming business: "It's not a Broadway show. It’s not going to close because of a bad review," Sarandos said. Arrested Development indeed got some stinkers, mixed in with some more positive ones — it gets better, seems to be the conventional wisdom at this point. But the masses of people who watched and continue to watch the 15 new episodes are a lot more important to Netflix's bottom line than some snobbish opinions. And preliminary data show success.
Indeed, Arrested Development appears to have done very well in terms of "ratings." Netflix doesn't release actual streaming figures, but in addition to positive numbers from third party metrics, Netflix CEO Reid Hastings referred to the premiere weekend (which actually was only half of a long weekend) as "huge" — and presumably more users will get around to watching the full season as the summer presses on. Plus, only a "small percentage of people burned through all of them," Sarandos added, so the numbers only look to get more than "huge."
Sure, some disappointed fans who signed up for Netflix just to get their AD fix might not stick around as subscribers forever, even though Hastings said Netflix is "willing" to do a fifth season. But people who found this comeback season even a little satisfying will likely either stick with Netflix until then — or sign back up the next time a big original show comes around. Netflix has said previously unannounced original content is on the way next year, in addition to a slate that includes new programming from the Wachowskis. Even if Sarandos's push only results in a must-see show every year or two, Netflix is doing something right. And, besides, you can't judge a disrupter by its Bluths. "It's a really rare bird," Sarandos said of Arrested Development at the Nomura's Media & Telecom Summit today. "TV cults get more intense but typically smaller over time. Arrested Development was unique because the audience grew dramatically when it was off the air." And Netflix is now a specialist in dramatic audience growth.