EXCLUSIVE: Major Premium Networks Passed on Series Sony Sold to Netflix

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- According to multiple sources close to the situation, at least three major premium networks passed on the original series Sony ( SNE) sold to Netflix ( NFLX) earlier this week.

Sony approached CBS' ( CBS) Showtime Networks, Time Warner's ( TWX) Home Box Office and AMC Networks ( AMCX) with the as-yet-unnamed psychological thriller from the creators of the defunct FX program Damages, but all three turned down the offer.

But that's only the beginning of the story. The details reinforce why investors as well as observers of the often-euphoric Netflix story the media spins shouldn't believe everything they read.

Across the board, the media -- from financial outlets to television and entertainment reporters -- portray the Netflix/Sony deal as a coup for Netflix. A major get. Here's this Internet-only television network that, unprecedentedly, teams up with a major Hollywood studio so early in its original programming foray.

Netflix's VP of Original Content, Cindy Holland tells us:
We were spellbound after hearing Todd, Glenn and Daniel's pitch, and knew Netflix was the perfect home for this suspenseful family drama that is going to have viewers on the edge of their seats. Their work on 'Damages' was truly ahead of its time and we're proud to be bringing our viewers this upcoming series.

Right, when the ratings suck ( Damages' numbers tanked with each year FX kept the show on the air before it moved to DirecTV ( DTV)), just go with the the show was ahead of its time line.

However, it is telling that Sony, after shopping Damages around, had to settle on a deal with DirecTV because that bares a not-so-ironic resemblance to what I understand went down with this new series Netflix decided to order.

I have learned that Sony is nearing the end of a larger deal with the Damages' co-creators. To salvage what has been something other than a success, the studio pitched this new show.

Not only did many of the major players pass on it, but, independent of one another, at least two told me that the pitch they received wasn't very good. In fact, in their eyes, the concept wasn't worthy of a pilot, let alone the 13-episode season Netflix ordered. The 13-episode season Sony was able to secure with Netflix after, for all intents and purposes, everybody else said no.

So when you read the quote from Holland or the following one from Sony Pictures President of Programming Jamie Erlicht remember that when major companies write press releases, the purpose of the press release is to spin everything positive, not mentioning of course, the not-so-flattering behind the scenes buildup.
The guys worked so hard to come up with the right idea after the success of Damages. It took almost a year to fully develop the pitch and their patience paid off with the incredible reaction in the community, especially at Netflix, the perfect home for this show.

That's Erlicht's PR blurb. And it's exactly what Netflix is overpaying for. As one top Hollywood executive put it, "Netflix (overpays for content) with respect to whom they can get a press release picked up."

While this Sony series could end up a "hit" -- whatever that is in Netflix's world of hiding viewership numbers -- you have to wonder why the media gushes over a deal with Sony that wasn't just turned down by networks with more impressive track records than Netflix, but not even deemed worthy of a pilot.

Relatively speaking, it's not expensive to order a pilot. And the big boys wouldn't even do that with a studio -- Sony Pictures -- they all have great respect for and have worked with in the past. But Netflix, basically one of the or the last resort, has no problem ordering thirteen episodes sight unseen.

This is Netflix's mode of operation. Build a brand and an original programming library on hype. On press releases that put pretty faces on less-than-exciting situations. On quantity over quality. The complete antithesis to the strategies that built the HBO and Showtime empires or support the emergence of the story the media really ought to be gushing over -- AMC Networks.

But it works wonders. NFLX stock continues to rise to highs it didn't even see pre-implosion 2011. Why would Reed Hastings and company stop when they have an uncritical media on their side and more money in their own pockets and to throw at Hollywood studios than the Man himself?

It's all fun and games until it doesn't work anymore.

Netflix continues to play with fire. It's the place a big name like Sony can go when it a.) has nowhere else to go and b.) wants to assume very little of the risk associated with original programming, but keep all the rights to future riches if it happens to work out.

The media should be asking if Netflix can outlive money it doesn't have. When will it raise cash again? Will it raise prices? What would such a move do to churn, a metric Hastings also keeps secret from the public?

Particularly on Wall Street, the media and analysts should "model" what Netflix's "profit" would look like if it didn't push billions of dollars in costs off-balance sheet and report contribution profit and margin. It should question Netflix's renewed push to be part of the cable establishment.

But, most of all, the media and, sadly, the analysts shouldn't regurgitate every single (and very expensive) Netflix press release as news, as journalism. It should ask these questions and more. It should do its job and seek the truth behind the smoke and mirrors that comes from executive offices, media relations departments and corporate communication apparatuses.

-- Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.
Rocco Pendola is a columnist and TheStreet's Director of Social Media. Pendola makes frequent appearances on national television networks such as CNN and CNBC as well as TheStreet TV. Whenever possible, Pendola uses hockey, Springsteen or Southern California references in his work. He lives in Santa Monica.

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