Ted Sarandos Talks About That Stock Drop, Backing Dave Chappelle, and Hollywood Schadenfreude

Over a three-hour dinner, Mr. Sarandos was charming and upbeat, dressed down in Levi’s and sneakers. You would never know he had been through a Job-level run of bad fortune in the last few months. First, his father, with whom he was very close, died. Soon after, his mother-in-law, Jacqueline Avant, with whom he was also very close, was shot to death when she encountered a burglar in the middle of the night at her Beverly Hills home. Ms. Avant, renowned in Hollywood for her elegance, art collecting, philanthropy and community organizing in Watts, Calif., was the wife of Clarence Avant, a music mogul known as the “Black Godfather.”

Then, on top of Mr. Sarandos’s personal woes, Netflix skidded from rapid growth to grind-it-out. (Its stock peaked above $700 a share in November 2021 and has now fallen below $200.)

The rise of Mr. Sarandos, a community college night-school dropout, from a video store clerk in Arizona to the pinnacle of Hollywood, is legendary.

“He’s had more singular influence on movies and television shows than anyone ever had,” Barry Diller told me. “He has denuded the power of the old movie companies that had held for almost 100 years. They are now irrelevant to setting the play and rules of the day. If there is still a Hollywood, he is it.”

Only a few years ago, the Netflix lobby was the coolest place on earth. Now it’s suddenly gloomy. In her “Saturday Night Live” monologue last weekend, Natasha Lyonne, the star of Netflix’s “Russian Doll,” sarcastically cracked that the “two things you definitely want to be associated with right now are Russia and Netflix.”

After winning the pandemic, Netflix now finds itself in its own version of its survival drama “Squid Game.” The company hit a ceiling, for now, of some 220 million subscribers, after thinking it could get to a billion with its global empire, and that has thrown a wrench into the future of Netflix and streaming in general. Wall Street suddenly turned a cold shoulder on its former darling, telling Netflix, Guess what, guys, you’ve got to make money, not just grow subscriptions.

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