In the paranoid precincts of Hollywood, a question has been making the rounds: Is Ted Sarandos friend or foe?

Sarandos is the content chief at Netflix and one of the studios' most devoted customers. Each year, on behalf of his company, he buys an estimated $240 million worth of DVDs that Netflix then mails out to its subscribers. All was going well until Sarandos last year cut a deal with Starz, the movie channel, to stream Walt Disney and Sony films, including Ratatouille and Spider-Man 3, to subscribers' PCs, Web-connected TVs, and game consoles.

For an industry that jealously protects its right to license movies to the highest bidder, the move amounted to an end run. Why would Sarandos risk angering Hollywood? Because Netflix, having prospered in the DVD rental business, needs to position itself for a future when viewers will be able to watch any movie or TV show they want instantly on their PC, TV, mobile phone, game console, or tablet.

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