Netflix VP Cindy Holland Is Changing TV Forever - Rolling Stone
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Netflix VP Cindy Holland’s Killer Instincts

The service’s head of original content is leading us into the streaming age — and reshaping entertainment

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Cindy Holland at Neflix Studios in January.

LeAnn Mueller for Rolling Stone

Amid all the other things she has to view — some 1,500 shows and counting to feed 130 million TV-hungry members — Cindy Holland still fields the occasional video from water-skiers, asking her to evaluate their form. Now Netflix’s Vice President of Original Content, Holland was once, incredibly, a high-level, competitive water-skier (yes, it’s a thing) who lived for a time in Florida to train and amassed a devoted following of students. That they think nothing of asking one of the most powerful people in entertainment to give feedback on their deep-water start technique says more about Holland than any streak of impertinence in the water-skiing community. “It’s fun,” Holland says, laughing. “I like to be in the service of others.”

Though she controls a multibillion-dollar budget and can make or break careers with one word at a pitch meeting, Holland, 49, is no slick Hollywood politician. Stanford-educated but Nebraska-born-and-raised, she is direct and forthright, more apt to listen than talk. She views her role as that of nurturer, not power broker. “I’m all about helping creators get the best of their vision,” she says. “People know me to be straightforward. I try to be very clear and give a fast answer. There’s a real trust and simplicity that comes from that, like we have the same agenda.”

Even without the water sports detour, Holland’s path to Hollywood was far from predestined. Growing up in rural Nebraska in the Eighties, her home was surrounded by cornfields. Her family didn’t have cable; the nearest multiplex was a 20-minute drive. Movies and TV didn’t loom large — books did. (Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle and Slaughterhouse Five were early favorites.) Her self-confidence stems from her parents’ insistence that she and her sister could do anything they wanted. Her sure-footed leadership and calm under pressure were forged through more challenging circumstances: her mother’s struggles with alcoholism and mental illness. “I sort of grew up and became a very serious person at a relatively young age,” Holland says. “I became incredibly attuned to the states of others and how you can quickly solve problems and be helpful.”

Underneath that unflappable exterior, the competitive athlete lurks. Netflix scored an industry-best 112 Emmy nominations last year and a winner of three Oscars in Roma. And despite some criticism of the company’s rapid expansion, Holland has no intention of scaling back. “If our goal is for every person on the planet to enjoy content from Netflix, we need to be programming a whole lot,” she says. “There are 300 million people regularly coming to the service looking for something to watch.” As for a marker of personal success, Holland says, “I’m not sure I’ve found it yet. Call me in a few years and I’ll tell you.”

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