Sep 9, 2019 - Technology

Netflix, the cultural exporter

Camera rolling

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As Netflix continues to expand its presence around the globe, it is increasingly investing in the production and distribution of localized, foreign-language content designed to woo international audiences.

Why it matters: Hollywood has long been seen as the global cultural force, shipping both American values and the English language worldwide. Now, Netflix's household ubiquity and deep pockets are pushing back on that stranglehold, granting users easy access to foreign content that they may have never considered in the past.

Driving the news: The newest season of "Terrace House," a Japanese reality show about 6 housemates who try to find love while going about their daily lives, will be released internationally tomorrow.

  • It has spawned a rabid Anglophone fanbase — some of whom have taken to creating English subtitles for its pre-Netflix 98-episode first season.
  • Worth a read: The Ringer's Brian Phillips wrote a glorious examination of the show back in March, proclaiming it "one of the great TV shows of our sad, young millennium."

The big picture: The streaming service isn't just concentrated on one part of the globe, making significant investments across Europe and Asia to bolster its content libraries.

  • The 2017 time travel series "Dark" was Netflix's first German-language original production, garnering comparisons to fan favorite "Stranger Things." It also made a significant investment in "Money Heist," focused on a robbery at Spain's Royal Mint.
  • Back in June, it announced a significant expansion in its South Korean production facilities, making a play in one of Asia's hottest markets. It also nabbed the global streaming rights for the Chinese big-budget thriller "The Wandering Earth" — currently 2019's 8th-highest grossing film worldwide, per Box Office Mojo.

The streaming giant also staked its Oscar hopes last year on Alfonso Cuarón's "Roma," a black-and-white film based on the director's childhood in Mexico City.

  • While it ultimately lost Best Picture to "Green Book," Netflix may have dropped as much as $60 million on its Oscar campaign, per Vulture, proving that the platform is willing to bet the house on foreign content it believes in.

The other side: In the U.S., Netflix's English-language content still vastly outperforms foreign-language content with users, per Investor's Business Daily.

  • A Netflix survey last year found that its U.S. users dislike foreign-language content, according to CNET, but chief product officer Greg Peters said the service "ignored" that "super depressing" result, finding Americans were more amenable to dubbed shows over subtitles.

The bottom line: With the European Union already considering local content quotas for streaming platforms, expect this trend to continue to ramp up as governments realize they can incentivize streaming services to rake in investments.

Go deeper: The evolution of media consumption

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