On Tuesday, Feb. 2, yet another much-heralded dramatic series will debut—The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story—adding to an ever-growing list of shows we’d like to watch but don’t necessarily have time for.
And lest you think you can just add it to the Netflix queue, think again: American Crime Story is an original show from FX Networks, a cable channel owned by 21st Century Fox
, and is unlikely to be available on the streaming site anytime soon.
Spend some time with the network’s CEO, John Landgraf, a TV exec who has become known for his candid pronouncements about the threats of streaming services, and you’ll understand why. Even as Hollywood and Silicon Valley seem to have joined forces more than in the past (some of FX’s shows do make it to Netflix, though with a significant delay), the rift between the two worlds is more expansive than ever. Landgraf, who describes Netflix as a “frenemy,” has many thoughts on why this is the case.
In a recent interview with Fortune, the outspoken TV exec said he has lots of respect for Netflix and its head of content acquisition, Ted Sarandos. But he also pointed out his gripes with the Silicon Valley-based company—and Silicon Valley itself. (The word “baloney” came up several times.)
For starters, Landgraf has long called for Netflix
to be transparent about the number of viewers that watch individual shows—a.k.a. ratings, in TV-speak—not just its total subscriber numbers. The streaming service recently announced that it has more than 75 million paying subscribers worldwide.
“I think the reason Netflix doesn’t release data like ratings and churn numbers is because they’re carefully cultivating a myth,” Landgraf told Fortune. “I’m someone who ironically works in mythmaking and storytelling but believes in a kind of fairness and a kind of transparency in society.”
Netflix declined to provide a comment for this story, but a spokeswoman pointed Fortune to a recent talk given by Sarandos at a Television Critics Association event. According to a transcript provided by Netflix, Sarandos said, “…you have to understand the difference between Netflix and most other—all other linear television networks who report ratings is that those sample sets don’t give you a lot of information when people are watching literally thousands of different shows all the time in all different countries. So when you’re trying to measure our ratings as a measurement of our success, you’d have to remember that in—somewhere in the world, every second of every day, someone is pushing play to start a Netflix original show. That’s a fact.”
But others, including NBC execs, have called on Netflix to be more transparent too. And some have even tried to get at the data without Netflix’s cooperation. A company called Symphony Advanced Media recently came up with a way to reverse-engineer some numbers on the streaming service’s shows. Netflix has yet to offer up its own numbers and the accuracy of Symphony’s study is unknown. (It’s worth noting that Amazon Prime also hasn’t disclosed viewership of specific shows either.)
FX’s ratings, meanwhile, are down about 13% in prime time. But the network has had its share of critically-acclaimed shows, from Fargo to Louie, and the channel’s new miniseries about one of the most closely-watched murder cases in modern history has early earned “must see” status. But Landgraf has publicly worried about the overwhelming abundance of content, much of it a result of digital-only newcomers. His beef isn’t just with Netflix—but the larger ecosystem, spawned by Silicon Valley.
“Whenever any industry achieves this extraordinary level of almost mythic power that Silicon Valley has, I think there’s a lot of falsehood and arrogance that exists there too,” he said. “I think Silicon Valley is a mixture of excellence, truth, innovation and myth and falsehood. It’s the dark side of it that bothers me.”
Hollywood, of course, isn’t devoid of a dark side too, which Landgraf was quick to point out.
“The difference at the moment is that I don’t think the American consumer is entranced with the Hollywood myths and buys Hollywood’s baloney,” said Landgraf. “I think it [the American consumer] is entranced with the myths of Silicon Valley right now and buys its baloney right now. So I think the reason I’m tougher on Silicon Valley is because it’s having its way with our society right now.”
At the same time, Landgraf is no Luddite, and he is well aware of the impending, inevitable changes to the television landscape.
“Some of the most brilliant businesspeople and entrepreneurs the U.S. has ever known are out there,” he said of Silicon Valley. “And I have profound respect for many of them.”
His respect for Netflix, however, is coupled with a fundamental disagreement.
“I look at Netflix as a company that wants to take over the world,” said Landgraf. “I don’t look at them as a company that wants to be part of an ecosystem. I look at them as a company that wants to own the ecosystem.”
While American Crime Story might not make it to Netflix’s “ecosystem” for a while, Landgraf admits that there is plenty good content on Netflix—he was a fan of the site’s recent comedy series, Master of None. And yes, the CEO of FX Networks is a Netflix subscriber. Frenemies, indeed.