Netflix’s big bet on foreign content and international viewers
As a child growing up in Italy, I remember watching the American TV series “Happy Days”, which chronicled the 1950s Midwestern adventures of Fonz, Richie Cunningham and other local teens.
The show, combined with other American entertainment widely available in Italy in the 1970s and 1980s, shaped my perception of the United States long before I set foot in the country. Today I am calling the United States home and have developed my own understanding of its intricacies. I am able to see “Happy Days” as a nostalgic rebirth of an ideal, conflict-free small American town.
“Happy Days” was a product of Hollywood, which is arguably still the epicenter of the global entertainment industry. The recent announcement that the streaming service Netflix is opening an Italian office and will begin to massively fund original local content with the intention of distributing it globally on its platform – following a strategy already launched in d other European countries – hit me.
It could be a game-changer for global entertainment. And it might even change the way the world views, well, the world.
Learn by watching
I have explored the global media landscape from the vantage point of Los Angeles for the past 15 years.
Television and movies are a way that people, as we move through life, make sense of the world, drawing on records of our personal experiences and opinions of other places.
In the absence of direct experience with a people or a nation, we speculate on what we don’t know. This process involves a variety of sources, including reading, Google search, and the accounts of someone we trust. But often it’s the media that expose people to other cultures, beyond our own.
Television and movies fill knowledge gaps with powerful images and stories that inform the way we think about different cultures. If the media messages are consistent over time, we can come to understand them as fact.
But media representations may well be inaccurate. Of course, they are incomplete. This is because movies and TV series aren’t necessarily meant to portray reality; they are designed for entertainment.
As a result, they can be misleading, even biased, based on stereotypes and perpetuate them.
For example, Italian and Italian-American stereotypes abound in American entertainment. From the award-winning ‘Godfather’ saga to the less critically acclaimed ‘Jersey Shore’ television series, Italians are often portrayed as tasteless, uneducated, linked to organized crime – or all three.
Media is a window to the world
But the way people are exposed to media entertainment is changing. Today, streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV + and Disney + collectively have 1 billion subscribers worldwide.
As a newcomer to original content production, Netflix can’t rely on a large library of proprietary content to nurture its 204 million paying members in over 190 countries like former Hollywood gamers can. So he creates more and more original productions, including a number of non-English originals from places such as Mexico, France, Italy, Japan and Brazil.
We could call this an example of “entertainment glocalization” – a company operating on a global scale, tailoring its content to meet the expectations of local audiences around the world.
This is already the modus operandi, for example, of many popular reality TV shows. “American Idol” is an American adaptation of European “Pop Idol”. “The X Factor”, “Big Brother” and “Dancing with the Stars” have similar international origins.
Now, however, with glocalization comes a twist: Netflix intends to distribute its localized content internationally, beyond local markets.
It is not the global reach of the Netflix platform per se that would shatter old stereotypes. French critics criticized the US-produced and internationally distributed Netlix series “Emily in Paris” for its cliché and fictionalized portrayal of the city.
Foreign television executives must create shows for Netflix that both appeal to local audiences and have international potential, while remaining authentic in their portrayal of their country. If the Italian Netflix team thinks “The Godfather” is what international audiences expect from Italy, international audiences can tune in – but Italians cannot.
To become truly international, Netflix would also need to foster the development of original local ideas not only in European countries with well-developed cultural industries, but also in smaller countries and those with emerging entertainment industries, such as African countries.
The Netflix Opportunity – and the Challenge
A side effect of this strategy could be that Netflix upsets the traditional way the media informs our understanding of foreign peoples and lands by more accurately depicting these places.
But it is a tall order, and of course it is not guaranteed.
Netflix’s transformative potential comes from empowering local creatives to tell stories about their own cultures and then truly distribute them internationally. This will depend on the company’s willingness to implement this strategy in a coherent, sustained, inclusive and thoughtful manner.
Over time, widespread exposure to a wide range of international media content could change the way people in the United States and around the world think and experience other cultures they never, and may never, have. , get in direct contact.
It only takes one click – a choice to watch, perhaps even without knowing it, a series produced abroad.
The way Netflix works, using algorithms to suggest content as viewers make selections, can prolong initial exposure and interest in foreign content. Artificial intelligence meant to feed us more of what we love can become a surprising force for change, causing us to rethink what we thought we knew.
Paolo Sigismondi, clinical professor of communication at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, is the author of this article.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.