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What ‘Squid Game’ reveals about Netflix’s global strategy

By Oliver Darcy, CNN Business

A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

Netflix has — once again — changed the game.

When the company began to expand internationally, it exported Hollywood-made films and TV shows to other countries. Now, about a decade later, as it sits operating in more than 190 countries, the streamer is leveraging its global reach to do the opposite. And it is doing so with tremendous success.

Netflix announced Tuesday evening that the Korea-made “Squid Game” had become its “biggest-ever series at launch.” As CNN’s Frank Pallotta reported, the company said the dystopian series had been viewed by more than 111 million accounts since it debuted on Sept. 17. For comparison, “Bridgerton,” which previously had the top spot, was viewed by 82 million accounts in its first 28 days.

The series is the first ever from Korea to reach No. 1 status in the US. But it’s important to recognize that the show is a phenomenon across the entire globe, from Asia to Europe to South America. As Pallotta pointed out in his story, “Squid Game” is at the top of Netflix’s top 10 lists in 94 countries…

“Perfect evidence that our international strategy has been right”

Minyoung Kim, a Netflix VP who oversees the Asia Pacific, has cited the success of the show as proof the company’s global blueprint for content is working. “The reason ‘Squid Game’ has such great meaning for us internally is that it’s perfect evidence that our international strategy has been right,” she told THR this week.

That global strategy is about producing local shows that are genuine and true to the regions in which they are developed. As Kim explained, the company believes “the most locally authentic shows will travel best.” A project like “Squid Game” — which has been generating tons of press attention for the past two weeks — breaks down the barriers that previously existed between media markets…

It’s not just “Squid Game”

While “Squid Game” has unquestionably been the most successful international hit for Netflix, don’t forget about “Lupin” which also achieved remarkable success earlier this year. The French mystery series rocketed to the No. 2 spot in the US back in January and topped the charts in several other countries. At the time, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos said he believed the Netflix subscription model also plays a role in pushing viewers into being “much more adventurous about what they watch.”

“I think what happens is people say, ‘Hey, I don’t watch foreign language television, but I’ve heard of this show called Lupin and I’m super excited to see it. And it’s included in my subscription; I’ll push play.’ And 10 minutes later, all of a sudden, they like foreign language television. So it’s a really incredible evolution,” Sarandos added. “Bong Joon-ho said it so beautifully at the Oscars, that audiences have to get over the 1-inch wall to enjoy a whole another world of entertainment. And we’re seeing that at incredible scale already by watching — by having great stories from anywhere in the world to everywhere in the world on Netflix…”


— Speaking of “Lupin,” Netflix inked a deal with the show’s star, Omar Sy, on Tuesday. “The partnership will see Sy’s Paris and L.A.-based production company develop original films for Netflix, with Sy starring in and acting as executive producer on the projects,” Elsa Keslassy and Manori Ravindran report… (Variety)

— Now back to “Squid Game.” Not everyone is a fan: Mike Hale argues the series “doesn’t show or tell you anything you don’t already know…” (NYT)

— On Ari Melber’s MSNBC show, Jason Johnson said the success of “Squid” speaks “volumes about the state of economic distress that most Americans are living through today…” (Twitter)

— “Squid Game” director Hwang Dong-hyuk told Tyler Hersko the rise of tech giants and Trump played a role in the project: “Trump became the president of the United States and I think he kind of resembles one of the VIPs in the Squid Game. It’s almost like he’s running a game show, not a country, like giving people horror. After all these issues happened, I thought it was about time that this show goes out into the world…” (IndieWire)

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