Uninhibited by rising debt, Netflix is riding a tsunami of content in its push to stream to the world
On July 6, Netflix put out its first original series from South Asia. Set in India with mentions of Dubai, Egypt and Pakistan, Sacred Games is a spiralling saga of corrupt officials, gang mafia and politics in the subcontinent, based on Vikram Chandra’s critically acclaimed book of the same name released back in 2006.
And while it stars at least two of Indian cinema’s biggest names – Saif Ali Khan and Nawazuddin Siddiqui – there is nothing Bollywood about it. Freed from censorship, India’s version of Narcos is all about gratuitous violence, substance abuse, expletives, human trafficking and religious tensions in the country.
Sacred Games has been translated into English, Turkish, Spanish, and Arabic. The hope is that it will introduce a whole new generation of viewers to content from the Middle East and South Asia. And this is all part of Netflix’s global content strategy, something that so far has been unrivalled in terms scale and ambition, by any Film, TV or production company before or since.
“Great stories travel and they could be of many different types,” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings tells Digital Studio ME at a company event in Rome. “There’s still a taste for real storytelling. And quality content that’s widely distributed, helps us grow and grow.”
The shock, awe and star power of the series makes it “probably the most high profile content that has been made,” Girish Menon, who tracks media and entertainment for KPMG, told AFP. “Others have not been on the same scale.”
BUILDING A GLOBAL BRAND
Unlike any content company in history, Netflix doesn’t rely on syndicated content dubbed into local languages, or on feeding audiences a mix of their own local productions interspersed with ever reliable English content. Instead, its variety of content includes Korean soap operas that are then translated into Danish; Danish dramas into Arabic; and Arabic content into English. By doing so it is introducing an audience of more than 125 million, growing at roughly six percent per quarter, to a literal world of content.
Netflix now counts half of its audience, and its revenues, from international subscribers. However, that segment only amounted to about 137,000 subscribers in the Middle East until last year. Boosting those numbers is crucial to the company’s viability, as it is to any company that relies on subscriptions. In the Middle East, Netflix signed a deal with local pay TV giant OSN in February to provide the latter’s subscribers with access to the streaming platform’s content.
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