Netflix’s New Focus on Foreign Content

Katie Busby, Staff Writer

During a 2018 Web Summit in Portugal, Chief Product Officer for Netflix, Greg Peters, made a keynote presentation that would signal a new wave to come of entertainment made outside of the United States. He talked about Netflix’s plans not only to diversify their shows, but also to diversify where they are being produced. He placed a focus on producing content around the world, and making it more readily available to Netflix’s global audience. 

Netflix’s emphasis on shows outside of the United States is a contrast to a global entertainment space that Hollywood has long dominated. The movies and shows that come out of Hollywood are all produced in one place, in a cluster of studios. The biggest movies are all in English, and the biggest theaters prioritize Hollywood releases. However, the entertainment industry is changing: Netflix has followed through with their vision, introducing more foreign shows and breaking away from the norms of traditional entertainment with much of their new content.

“Borgen”, a Danish political drama series, was one of the first Scandinavian shows that made its way into mainstream British TV and subsequently audiences in the United States. As the show’s main character aims to become the first woman prime minister, the show touches on themes that are relevant worldwide, like abuse of power, discrimination in politics, and government corruption. Currently, there are three seasons available on Netflix, with dubbing in a number of languages. The next season is set to come out in 2022 and feature 8 new episodes. 

“Cable girls”, or ”Las Chicas del Cable”, was the first non-American Netflix original show to reach 5 seasons. It is a period piece set in Spain during the late 1920’s that chronicles the challenges a group of women face while working at the first telephone company in Madrid. The show conquers themes of sexism and personal freedom that are relatable to a wide audience. Its prolonged success was an early indication of the economic viability of producing shows in other countries and languages.

Netflix stands in a powerful position that has allowed them to take risks. They operate in 190 countries, and as one of the largest and most popular streaming services worldwide they have the ability to put small projects in front of millions of viewers. “My Life as a Zucchini,” a Swiss stop motion film based on a novel by French writer, Gilles Paris, found success on Netflix. This heartwarming film about a small boy growing up in an orphanage received a nomination in the 2017 Academy Awards for best animated feature. It starts as a story of pain, and turns into one of healing, managing to take on big issues and present them delicately. Films like “My Life as a Zucchini” contribute to the larger trend of diversification that popular entertainment is seeing. 

Increased access to foreign language content also brings more diverse stories to a broader audience. “Midnight Diner” is a Japanese show that follows a mysterious chef as he serves varying Japanese dishes to a rotating cast of clientele. Each client brings a new story to the diner and viewers are given a window into the worlds of the characters’ lives as they navigate the urban chaos of Tokyo. As the viewer digests these snippets of the characters’ lives, a larger picture begins to form of what life might be like for someone living on the other side of the globe in the most populous city in the world. “Midnight Diner” began as a breakout success in Japan and was given a platform in the United States when Netflix released “Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories”, continuing the narrative of the original and bringing it to a larger viewer base. There are 3 seasons of “Midnight Diner” and 2 seasons of “Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories” that are available to stream on Netflix now. 

“It doesn’t matter where you live or what languages you speak — this is about great storytelling,” Peters said in his keynote. With the goal to bring unique storytelling to an audience worldwide Netflix is changing the way entertainment is produced and consumed.