Create locally, stream globally
Story Worlds Go Global
Until recently, Hollywood (and then Bollywood) productions were exported to the rest of the world in a one-to-many paradigm that largely excluded contributions from culturally diverse storytellers. Now we’re seeing a many-to-many production universe, with both economic and cultural implications that stretch far beyond the old conflicts and frontiers.
And while genre-specific story worlds – from those of James Bond and Bruce Lee, to Lord of the Rings and Star Wars – have always traveled well, viewers are now witnessing an ever-growing array of content that includes both comedy and drama and is often highly local in sensibility, setting, story and characters.
Netflix Out Front
Over the past few years, Netflix has been the major catalyst for a new wave of SVOD series production and migration. “Local production, global distribution,” are the building blocks of Netflix’s international strategy, according to CEO and co-founder Reed Hasting.
Netflix’s data indicates that what people like to watch is better predicted by specific affinities (demonstrated by previous viewing behavior and well-publicized in the form of their recommendation engine) than by nationality or native language. Dubbing and subtitles are no longer considered major barriers to international content.
In 2019, Netflix will add its first original series in Arabic to its international repertoire: a supernatural thriller called Jinn, filmed in Jordan. Executives hope it will join hit shows like Dark a mystery/horror original from Germany, Fauda, an anti-terrorism thriller from Israel, 1983, a dystopian alt-history drama from Poland, and Money Heist, a nail-biting crime drama from Spain – all series that were produced locally outside the US but have earned global acclaim.
Money + Crime = Viewers
Money Heist (or La Casa de Papel) has been especially influential in affirming the value of local production. The series follows a group of super-criminals who devise a plan to infiltrate the Royal Mint in Madrid, playing a high-stakes game with the police. It’s a show that rose through the ranks to become a global success: first airing on a local TV station and then regionally before being added to an international platform. Since its global debut, Money Heist has become Netflix’s most watched non-English show ever, surging in popularity in both Latin America and the United States. In April 2018, Parrot Analytics registered over 27 million demand expressions for Money Heist in the US, easily beating out the next most popular series at 20 million. The success of this series and many others born in countries not formerly considered global content providers suggests that the production and distribution world will only increase in its multi-centrality going forward.
Netflix isn’t the sole streaming giant capitalizing on this trend. Amazon Studios has adopted a similar strategy. Its particular focus is Europe, where it has already created popular originals, like The Collection in the UK, You Are Wanted in Germany, and Six Dreams, a football documentary in Spain. Top European executives for Amazon report that they want to produce more local shows, those that are filmed and scripted in a particular region and language, instead of funneling everything back through the US. According to the Director of European Originals, Georgia Brown, their goal is to expose new stories from “different voices you haven’t seen / heard before.”
European streaming services, like France’s Canal Plus, have updated their own production goals. In February 2018, Canal Plus announced that Studiocanal, a subsidiary, would launch its own production company with a focus on French-language dramas. CE Didier Lupfer noted, “French TV series are among the most appreciated by global audiences” referencing Canal Plus’ pan-European appeal and established reach into Africa.
Content from well beyond the usual suspects has also achieved international attention. According to a report by Médiamétrie, Turkish fictional series were included in the top ten of all programs in 11 foreign countries and overall, and series exports from Turkey have now passed $400 million annually. In addition, its bourgeoning film industry ranks behind only the US in global export rates. And of course, it’s not a stretch these days to find series from Korea, Japan and China – cop dramas and mysteries, historical thrillers, urban romances – prominently featured in SVOD services on most continents.
Despite the growth in international production opportunities and increasingly open narrative borders, not all series thrive equally in different cultural contexts. We’ll explore some of the factors that lead to global hits, broad or niche, in our next newsletter.