Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Despite global ambitions, Netflix gives TV an American accent

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In the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the robbers played by Paul Newman and Robert Redford find their profitable operation interrupted by a ruthless gang that refuses to be pushed off their trail. “They are starting to get on my nerves. Who are those guys? “Tomboy he complains.

The rise of Netflix and other US streaming platforms like Disney Plus and HBO Max is scaring both movie studios and television stations around the world in the same way. Instead of looking at old niceties and ways of doing business, streamers are interrupting the fun.

It’s starting to get on Hollywood’s nerves. Jim Gianopulos who expelled this week as head of Paramount Pictures by its owner ViacomCBS, who wants to put more movies on his Paramount Plus streaming service. Oscar-winning director Christopher Nolan is Moving to Universal, having criticized WarnerMedia for favoring its HBO Max platform during the pandemic.

Streamers are spending huge amounts in other countries as well. Netflix this week signed a partnership agreement with Anna Winger, the Berlin-based writer and producer behind the series Germany 83 other Heterodox. “The worldwide success of German content is truly incredible,” Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, said In Berlin.

The notion of German-language series subtitled or dubbed into English (and other languages) that attract a global audience not long ago would have been unlikely, but it is no longer foreign. Lupine, a French-language drama starring Omar Sy, was Netflix’s most-watched series in the first quarter of this year.

There’s more at stake for Netflix than supplementing its core US audience with international viewers, Hollywood-style. Netflix now has 209 million subscribers, but the total fell slightly in the US and Canada in the second quarter of this year, as new streaming platforms expanded. The company could soon have more clients in Europe, the Middle East and Africa than at home.

In many ways, it is the best time for the global television viewer. What is known as Peak TV In the United States, the flood of new investments in high-quality dramas and documentaries continues to increase in other countries. Disney is this year I expected to spend $ 30 billion and Netflix $ 17 billion, in media content such as movies and television series.

That’s bridging the long-standing gap in production values ​​and sophistication between major US cable TV dramas, such as The sopranos other The wireand the cheapest rate on European and Asian television. The characters speak other languages ​​and the settings are different, but many of the new global dramas reach a similar level of quality.

But it squeezes something else out: the experience of seeing something completely distinctive, which could only have been conjured in one place. That was my feeling when I saw Lupine. It was very entertaining and sophisticated but despite his French staging, it felt strangely American.

A Greek tragedy would remain a Greek tragedy even if it took place in Spain, and it is impossible to get rid of English from Shakespeare’s plays despite their universal appeal. Changing locations is easy, but the sensibilities and storytelling tradition are deeply ingrained. There is a similar immutability in Hollywood movies and in the narrative arcs and twists of American television.

The streaming economy fuels globalization. A series that attracts a devoted audience solely in its home country helps build subscribers there and has a purpose. But streamers are always looking for what Greg Peters, Netflix’s chief operating officer, calls “Take advantage of that local investment” – programs that will travel.

“Some of them appear to have been intelligently generated by a streaming algorithm to maximize their target audience globally.” remarked John Whittingdale before losing his job as broadcasting minister in a UK government shakeup this week. National stations such as the BBC, with its annual income at £ 5bn, they face a well-financed onslaught.

In principle, this does not have to matter. Those stations could continue to do what Whittingdale called “distinctively British” (or French or German) programs while US stations produce their alternative. Viewers are able to see and appreciate the variety: live the difference, as a Lupine the character could say.

But money talks, and Netflix and others have attracted some of the best creative talent. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is as British as anyone on screen, but the writer and actor is hired to Amazon Studios instead of the BBC. The danger is a talent drain that turns domestic markets into minor leagues.

The UK government now wants to insert a “distinctively British” content requirement into the responsibilities of public service broadcasters. Good luck writing that, and any judge who has to rule on the matter. Lupine It may not sound completely French to me, but I doubt anyone can disprove his identity in court.

It will be difficult to get streaming platforms out of your way globally, legally or financially. As Butch and the Kid discovered on their own, tradition doesn’t always protect you.

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