Just as Uber has upset the taxi industry and Airbnb has disrupted the traditional hotel status quo, Netflix has been making similar waves in the film and television market. But while there has been an abundance of discussion surrounding the company’s impact on its competitors and the modus operandi of major studios, there is less focus on how Netflix has changed the tastes and habits of TV viewers all over the world.
Since opening up its services to a global audience in 2016, Netflix has enjoyed unprecedented access to millions of subscribers worldwide. Now, not satisfied with merely exporting US products to its new customer base, Netflix is pouring billions of dollars into original content in expanding markets from India to Mexico, unifying TV and film sectors that have long been segmented and creating a truly global media village for its consumers.
A new lingua franca?
The UK and the USA’s joint population barely exceeds 5% of the global total, but these two countries nonetheless dominate TV production across the world. Netflix first capitalised upon this phenomenon by targeting English-speaking viewers, before attempting to subvert it through creating, distributing and championing non-English content on its platform.
The launch of its first foreign language original came in August 2015 with Mexico’s Club de Cuervos, and the segment has heated up since then; last year Netflix produced as many as 35 non-English series and films, a figure it hopes to triple within two years’ time. An aggressive budget of $8 billion was spent on creating and acquiring content in 2018, while $1 billion has been earmarked for Europe alone in 2019. 221 productions (up from 153 in 2018) are being targeted with those funds.
The gambit has already shown considerable returns. As well as its international customer base far outstripping its domestic one (a mere 56 million of its 137 million subscribers are based in the US), Netflix has also found cross-market success with a number of its foreign-language originals. Germany’s Dark, The Rain from Denmark and Casa de Papel and Elite from Spain have all become must-watch television far beyond European borders.
Greater freedom for filmmakers
Not only are these shows gaining an international audience, countless fledgling directors and independent filmmakers are finding that the streaming giant is willing to take a chance on promising projects that major film studios— especially in their own countries, where resources are often more limited— might have turned down. Netflix Vice President Eric Barmack places a special emphasis on developing and working with local talent to unearth the most head-turning stories from around the world.
Netflix’s willingness to experiment is allowing the platform to put a refreshing spin on existing genres. One case in point is the French found-footage film Paranormal Investigation— France’s answer to American ghost story blockbusters starring Romanian footballer-turned-actor Andrei Indreies. The thriller, shot in the Parisian suburbs, has proven itself to be particularly popular with audiences between 15 and 41 years of age and seems likely to be turned into a series. Without Netflix, this kind of genre-bending content simply wouldn’t be possible.
Where East meets West
Netflix is also helping bridge the gap between Western and Asian audiences. India, in particular, has proven itself to be particularly susceptible to the company’s advances. With more than 65% of the country’s populace under the age of 35, and with a comparably low cinema-to-capita ratio, it makes sense that more and more young Indians are turning to online streaming services to satiate their growing thirst for media content.
Meanwhile, the international streaming platform is also an attractive proposition for ambitious filmmakers in the country. Its basis online means that Netflix is able to circumvent the rules and regulations imposed by the Central Board of Film Classification, which places stringent restrictions on traditional forms of film and TV. This has led to the creation of series like Sacred Games, Delhi Crime and Ghoul, all of which have been huge hits.
That success hasn’t been simply limited to domestic audiences or the diaspora overseas, either. 45% of those watching Ghoul in English-speaking countries do so with English subtitles, while a further 37% do so with English dubbing. The series is clearly popular among Indian and international viewers, prompting Netflix to announce six more Indian originals in the coming year, with Bollywood icon Shah Rukh Khan scheduled to appear in one of them.
As well as bypassing local legislation, Netflix also offers the chance for cast and crew to try something new outside of their normal comfort zone. In a recent interview, the so-called “King of Bollywood” Khan admitted that his immense celebrity and the lavish productions which come with it often place certain restrictions on what kind of film he can make. Netflix’s deep pockets and willingness to take risks have allowed him to spread his wings somewhat.
The future of TV and film
All of this adds up to a truly modern media platform which allows viewers all around the world to access films and television series created just about anywhere. The company is currently overseeing original projects in 25 countries, 133 of which are being created outside of North America. That impressive tally includes Netflix’s first African venture, highlighting its mission to tell the stories of people from all backgrounds.
Through a new form of content creation, distribution and consumption, Netflix is pumping fresh blood into the entertainment industry by reinventing stale ideas and foregrounding innovative ones. Ironically, the American company’s legacy may well be its deconstruction of the American dominance of film and TV, replacing the stale status quo with a contemporary form of media equipped to cater for the 21st century and its diverse and increasingly demanding populace.