Netflix’s $2.5 billion investment in Korean content targets global audience


Younghee, the giant robot doll from the Netflix thriller “Squid Game”, was displayed at Olympic Park in Seoul, South Korea. “Squid Game” was a worldwide hit and remains the most-watched show of all time on Netflix.

Chung Sung-jun | Getty Images

netflix spends $2.5 billion on Korean content and sees opportunities beyond the Asian region, said Don Kang, vice president of Korean content at Netflix.

Over the next four years, Netflix will invest $2.5 billion in various types of Korean content spanning TV series, movies and non-fiction shows, Kang told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia.” It said it will double the number of non-fiction shows it produces from about four in 2022 to at least eight this year, reflecting Korean audience demand for variety shows.

These include the reality show “Physical 100” released earlier this year, which features around 100 contestants competing in a series of intense physical challenges.

“I think it was really the first non-fiction show to be seen around the world, which really got people excited,” he said. Korean competitions or non-fiction shows don’t usually travel very far outside of Korea and the Asia-Pacific region, but Kang said the success of “Physical 100” is a “really positive sign.”

“Physical 100” topped Netflix’s weekly viewership for non-English TV shows for two weeks in 2022. Another Korean variety show that achieved global success in 2022 was the reality show “Single’s Inferno”, which Kang said was in the top 10 in the world.

Expand to a global audience

Kang said he worked on the international distribution of Korean shows before joining Netflix in 2018. “Back then, it was mostly romantic comedies” that were on the rise, he said. Distribution was limited to neighboring countries like Japan and other Southeast Asian countries due to language and cultural differences in other regions, he added.

But Netflix is ​​investing in localization through subtitles and dubbing, which removes language as the first barrier to entry and “makes all the difference”, he said.

“You can’t underestimate the…diverse tastes that people all over the world have,” Kang said, citing the thriller series “Squid Game” as an example. Netflix had considered changing its title to something with more context for international viewers, but ultimately stuck with its “original catchy title that sparks curiosity,” Kang said.

by Netflix korean content list announced so far for this year is also branching out away from romance, including genres like drama, apocalyptic as well as social commentary and intrigue alongside its non-fiction shows.

Kang said Korea has the ability to tell stories that convey its unique culture, but also resonate with the universal emotions of viewers around the world. “When a show is liked by a Korean audience, it has a very, very high probability of being liked by audiences…all over the world.”

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