Netflix’s remarkable international growth will continue apace, a packed industry event heard at the European Film Market in Berlin this morning. It was standing room only at the buzzy session titled ‘From Idea to Screen: Developing European Content for and with Netflix’, which gave industry an insight into the streaming giant’s European commissioning and acquisitions strategy for original drama and film.
Taking part were Kelly Luegenbiehl, VP International Originals Europe/Turkey/Africa; Rachel Eggebeen, Director Content International Originals Germany, Austria & Switzerland; Kai Finke, Director Acquisitions & Co-productions Germany, Austria & Switzerland; Damien Couvreur, Director International Originals France; and Diego Avalos, Director International Originals Spain. The session focused primarily on drama series.
The volume of new content being commissioned by the international team is dizzying. Today the service revealed Norwegian horror series Bloodride and two German dramas: Biohackers, a thriller from show runner-director Christian Ditter; and Unorthodox, from Deutschland 83 show runner Anna Winger.
Luegenbiehl predicted steady international growth in coming years, “We will continue to grow. As you can see from our subscriber numbers we’re continuing to grow internationally. We plan to scale our investment in global series to match that growth. It’s still early days but there is a lot of momentum internally for building out our international series. [It’s only] the beginning.”
Netflix has around 139M subscribers globally with around 80M in international markets. Growth is rapid overseas: at the end of last year Netflix was adding around six foreign subs for every one in the U.S. The streaming giant has boosted its local language content in step with this growth and there are currently hundreds of shows in development in Europe alone. To date, major series hits have included La Casa De Papel (Money Heist) from Spain and Dark from Germany.
Executive ranks are swelling in step with demand. The service has around 300 staff in the European HQ in Amsterdam, another 70 or so in London and a new office and production studio is opening in Madrid. The Paris office is launching this year and German and Italian bases could be next. There are also around 300 staff in Singapore and offices in Japan and Mumbai, among other international outposts.
Discussion points today included the importance of making strong local shows with global appeal; how the European film and drama teams bounce content ideas off each other; Netflix’s high conversion rate for green-lighting development projects; its desire to build ongoing collaborations with filmmakers and producers; and and how the service is working to improve its dubbing process.
“Talent has no boundaries,” explained Avalos, who will move to Spain in coming weeks. “IP has no boundaries, and the way IP gets adapted and talent can travel throughout our territories is something we constantly speak to each other about.”
Each panelist was asked to give an example of a show they are excited about at the moment. Titles included upcoming German series The Wave, based on the Dennis Gansel film from 2008, and French-language YA sci-fi show Mortel. Among high profile English-language series mentioned were fantasy drama The Witcher from Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski, currently shooting in Budapest, and Damien Chazelle series The Eddy, due to shoot in Paris later this year. Returning shows currently in production include La Casa De Papel and Dark.
Finke said the service will be making more experimental shows such as Bandersnatch, the popular choose-your-own-adventure Black Mirror episode, “It was amazing to see how much joy it created for our members. We’ve seen demand in that area and we’re looking for more projects in that space.”
In response to a question about the extent to which algorithms and consumer data play a part in the green-lighting process, former ABC exec Luegenbiehl explained, “We always say it’s a combination of art and science. A lot of it is art. The science gives you information around the potential number of people who could like the show and it may inform the size of your investment, but data is only as good as the story you’re making.”
“Data is also only as good as what you have on the service,” added Avalos. “With La Casa De Las Flores, there was no indication that people would like a Mexican comedy worldwide. It goes back to vision, creatives and art. Data guides us but it is just one more piece of information.”
Finke said, “There wasn’t an algorithm to tell us that Dark, set in a small German town by a nuclear power plant, would be a huge global hit for us. After decades of German procedurals on prime time, that was a surprise. It was a great story for us and it’s reassuring that its success was about instincts.”
One producer asked Finke why Netflix was a better choice as a funding partner than a string of international distributors combined. “When I began in the industry 15 years ago we took projects to MIP for international sales,” he commented. “If we sold four or five territories that felt like a win at the time. If you bring a show to us today we can find a global audience in one go. That’s a very exciting thing for filmmakers.”