Netflix presents a bigger stage for international shows
Once hidden gems prove to be popular titles
When people think of Netflix, what’s the first show that comes to mind? One of them would obviously be Tiger King. But the other show they’re probably thinking of is Money Heist. It was the fourth most popular show on Netflix on April 14, and it’s rated 90 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. But it’s from Spain. It’s entirely in Spanish. It was clearly made with Spanish audiences in mind, yet it’s taken the whole world by storm, along with other foreign films.
Money Heist isn’t the only international TV show on Netflix right now. One of 2020’s most anticipated shows was Messiah, which featured actors from the US, Belgium, Syria, and Israel. 2018 had India’s Sacred Games, which featured some of Bollywood’s most famous actors but didn’t have any of Bollywood’s unrealistic clichés. The Last Kingdom has British, Danish, Irish, and German (among others) actors. As the world moves towards ideals of diversity, Netflix is one of the agents leading that movement. Directors from all around the world can reach unprecedented numbers of people—remember when a Korean film won Best Picture?
Just five years ago, this would have been surprising. Non-English language shows were usually only watched in the countries where they were made. But today, audiences are watching critically acclaimed TV shows from all around the world. Netflix’s first Indian original, Sacred Games, had two thirds of its viewers from outside India. It was also nominated for best international drama at the 2019 Emmy’s. Lead actor Saif Ali Khan said Netflix originals “…encourage you [to] tell your story the way you do but in an international way, to an international audience.”
Netflix rarely discloses official viewing figures, so there’s no certain way to know how many people are watching a show. But they did say 34 million people watched Money Heist in 2019. Kingdom, a Korean original, was released in 190 countries, and Netflix even used extremely advanced technology to make the show’s Korea-specific nuances more accessible to foreign viewers.
But there are other ways to measure success. In terms of word of mouth, international shows have received rave reviews. Dark—the first German Netflix original—is similar to Stranger Things, but some reviewers say it’s even better. And there are so many shows from the Nordic countries that they form a genre of their own, complete with their own tropes, characteristics, and aesthetic. Google Scandi-drama and articles and recommendations from places like Glamour and the Guardian will pop up. Netflix also encourages international co-operation, such as the joint British-Japanese crime drama Giri/Haji. It showcases both British and Japanese culture and familiarizes viewers with the traditions of both countries.
The last factor is Netflix’s algorithm. If Netflix users add just a few well-known international shows to their list, the site will start recommending more shows and they will soon have several hours worth of content. They will also learn a lot about the customs and philosophies of the various countries making these shows.