Walter: Channel 4 takes on Netflix with 'box set' world drama service

Exclusive: More than 700 hours of the best foreign-language shows will be offered free of charge to a UK audience

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The Independent Culture

A foreign invasion which began with Scandi noir will now extend to Argentinian soaps and Turkish crime stories after Channel 4 unveiled a new service designed to bring the best of “box set” international drama to British viewers.

More than 700 hours of the best foreign-language shows will be offered free of charge to a UK audience through a new Channel 4 video streaming platform, given the unusual name Walter Presents.

Available through Channel 4’s new digital hub, All 4, Walter Presents will feature hand-picked titles from a wide range of territories including Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Poland, Israel, the Czech Republic, France as well as Denmark, home of The Killing, the BBC4 series which demonstrated that subtitled drama could reach a mainstream audience.

Viewers will be able to binge-view entire series, presented as “box sets” to stream. Other shows will premiere on the More 4 channel in a regular Friday night slot, with the most prized acquisitions running on Channel 4 itself.

Channel 4, which a leaked government paper this week revealed faces the threat of privatisation, believes the new initiative will demonstrate its remit to serve new audiences and advance diversity.

Walter Presents will allow foreign language-speaking communities in the UK to watch shows in their native tongue as well as broadening the range of high-quality international drama available to British viewers.

The platform launches next January with Deutschland 83, a stylish German thriller about a young East German border guard who is sent to the West as an undercover spy for the Stasi in 1983. The first German-language series to air on a US network, Deutschland 83 won acclaim when it aired on the SundanceTV channel.

Walter Presents takes its name from Walter Iuzzolino, the Italian-born chief creative officer of Global Series Network, Channel 4’s partner company in the new service.

Mr Iuzzolino will personally curate the service which promises to offer a constantly expanding slate of foreign-language dramas, ranging from Czech political thrillers to Belgian murder capers and Argentine family sagas.

Jay Hunt, Chief Creative Officer at Channel 4, said: “Walter sat in a room watching 3,800 hours of the best foreign drama to bring us the most intelligent, engaging shows so I asked him to ‘present’ the channel as its curator. We’re working out how to represent Walter on screen. It’s not about Walter versus Dave (cable channel).”

Ms Hunt added: “There is a large French-speaking community in the UK who might watch The Returned, an indigenous Turkish audience for Turkish thrillers and so on. Some dramas will get a bigger audience than others but the service will reflect the world back to a British audience and deliver our commitment to diversity.”

Mr Iuzzolino said he felt “elated and a little sick” when Ms Hunt told him the platform would take his name. “We live in a golden age of serial drama so we took a deep dive and uncovered some gems from surprising places,” he said. “It won’t just be crime thrillers. There’s historical costume dramas, family sagas and teen-friendly series. Our guiding principle is we are looking for glossy, mainstream drama, the biggest award-winning hits in their countries, not niche art-house material.”

There will be 12 series featured in the initial launch and Mr Iuzzolino has personally overseen new subtitling for each of them to avoid jarring translation errors. Series from South Korea, the Middle East and Africa will follow but Mr Iuzzolino said the “different language of emotion” displayed in some countries’ drama made it too great a leap to offer to British viewers at the platform’s infancy.

An unusual name can help a channel “cut through” in the competitive television marketplace. Dave has thrived since the UKTV G2 channel was rebranded in 2007, signalling its intention to target a young male audience.

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