Netflix To Add Original Documentaries, Stand-Up Comedy Specials

07/22/2013 10:29 pm ET
AP

Ted Sarandos, the Netflix chief content officer, is inching closer to his stated goal of becoming "HBO faster than HBO can become us."

On Monday, the company said it plans to produce original documentaries and stand-up comedy specials, taking another page from HBO's book.

"Beyond series, we will be expanding our Originals initiative to include broadly appealing feature documentaries and stand-up comedy specials," said CEO Reed Hastings and CFO David Wells in a letter to shareholders. "Netflix has become a big destination for fans of these much loved and often under-distributed genres."

In moving into comedy specials and documentaries, the company is building off the success of the original series it debuted this year, including "House of Cards" and the fourth season of "Arrested Development," both of which were nominated for Emmy Awards last week. Netflix on Monday said "Arrested Development" helped add 630,000 new subscribers in the last three months.

To differentiate itself from other video streaming services, like Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime Instant Video, Netflix is spending hundreds of millions of dollars creating original content. Both Hulu Plus and Amazon, for their part, are also investing significant money in creating original content.

Although Netflix doesn't provide viewership numbers, Sarandos said on Monday in an unusual Google Hangout with Hastings to explain the company's earnings to investors and analysts that Netflix's original series that debuted this year drew "TV-sized audiences." Sarandos added that "Orange is the New Black," the new comedy-drama from "Weeds" creator Jenji Kohan, "drew as big a 7-day viewing as any of the other original series."

While Sarandos and Hastings made general comments about future original programming, many questions in the earnings call went unanswered. Netflix executives deflected repeated questions about "churn," (the number of viewers who have quit the service) and wouldn't say how many people are watching the original series or how much Netflix plans to spend in the next two years on original content.

Even though the comparisons between Netflix and HBO will continue, Netflix has a long way to go until it's on par with the network behind "Game of Thrones" and "The Sopranos." Netflix was nominated for 14 Emmy Awards last week, and HBO was nominated for 108. Netflix made $17.15 million in profit last year while according to The Wall Street Journal, HBO made more than $1.5 billion.

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