Netflix, CTA argue for creative and regulatory freedom at CES 2016

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Surprise guests Chelsea Handler, Will Arnett help Reed Hastings announce Netflix's arrival in 130 new countries

LAS VEGAS — Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Chief Content Officer Ted Sarados and Consumer Electronics Association President Gary Shapiro kicked off the first official day of the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas with audience-rousing calls for greater regulatory and creative freedom for technology companies around the world.

"What we’re up against is old rules that impede innovation," said Shapiro to loud applause in the standing room-only hall. "Our job at CTA is to defend disruptive industries against entrenched rules." Shapiro then called on governments around the world to repeal outdated laws that stand in the way of companies like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb.

Uber creates 20,000 new jobs every month by "lowering barriers to entrepreneurship" and letting everyday people "make better use of capitol," such as cars that would otherwise sit idle, Shapiro said. He added that 53% of Airbnb members said that the extra income they earn from the service enabled them stay in their homes.

He also blasted privacy advocates for standing in the way of innovation. "First responders could come upon an accident and know whether the occupants are breathing," he said. "Does that violate privacy? No."

Hastings and Sarados struck similar — if less contentious — themes when they took the stage. Both executives credited Netflix’s success (12 billion hours watched globally in Q4 2015, up from 8.25 billion a year ago) to a strong culture of creative freedom.

"At Netflix, we have what we call a ‘freedom of responsibility culture,’ " Sarados said. "Which means that Netflix executives get a lot of freedom to innovate in our fast-moving business. It also means we’re responsible for delivering the goods.

"We treat the filmmakers the exact same way," he continued. "We hire strong creatives and let them create compelling worlds."

Hastings advocated for a free and fast Internet around the world as a fast track to better lives and better businesses.

"A robust Internet is key to economic prosperity and a better quality of life," said Hastings. "The Internet allows us to constantly experiment and improve, to learn and get better. At Netflix, we’re always testing what works for consumers, to remove what frustrates them and to provide them with an improving experience."

Sarados added: "With the Internet, global distribution no longer has to be fragmented. Everyone should be able to see great movies and TV shows at the same moment. It’s the business models that stand in the way."

Hastings left his surprise announcement for the end of the 90-minute presentation: during the talk, Netflix went live in 130 new countries, including Azerbaijan, Vietnam, India, Nigeria, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Turkey, and Indonesia.

Netflix is now live "in nearly every country in the world except China — where we hope to also be in the future," he said to laughter.

Sarados was joined onstage by surprise guests Chelsea Handler, Will Arnett, Krysten Ritter and Wagner Moura, all of whom have at least one show on Netflix.

Handler, who led a short panel discussion among the actors, praised Netflix for giving her wide creative latitude to execute her vision.

"It’s such a nice place to work when you can go in, create a vision and then you guys are progressive enough to say, ‘Go, do it.’ And then all of a sudden it’s done," she said. "I pitched you four documentaries and you said, ‘Yeah, they sound like great ideas,’ and that was it. Probably not the best way to tell Reed you’re running things, but it’s a great place to work!"

Handler also joked that Hastings had taught her how to pronounce Silicon. "I thought it was Silicone," she said.


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