Netflix takes water cooler chit-chat to global level

As the streaming service continues its roll-out, how long can we afford not to be part of the international conversation?

Sally Newall
Thursday 10 December 2015 19:30
Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones in Marvel's new Netflix superhero series
Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones in Marvel's new Netflix superhero series

Struggling with your Christmas shopping this year? I have a suggestion for you: Netflix. Well, only if the recipient isn’t part of the estimated 4.4 million households in the UK who are already subscribers to the streaming service. Netflix is notoriously secret about figures, but at the most recent count, there were 69.2 million subscribers worldwide in 50 countries. The brand's continuing on its global rampage into more of Asia – Japan got the service in September – and the company is making plans for a China roll-out. South Africa is also in its sights. Like it not, with so many viewers often able to watch the same shows at the time, Netflix, and the likes of Amazon Instant Video are forming part of the “international conversation”.

You know, that phenomenon that used to be known as the “water cooler moment” (did anyone ever actually stand around the water cooler?), then the national conversation, telly-wise. And now that viewers from Brazil to Budapest can watch the likes of Marvel’s Jessica Jones at the same time – it’s become global chit-chat.

And it’s the big-budget Netflix Originals, global series like Narcos – a drama made by a French production company, portraying, with the help of Brazilian actors, the rise and fall of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and with over two-thirds of the dialogue in Spanish - that get people talking. At a conference this week, Netflix’s head of content acquisition claimed that Narcos might be the most-watched programme in the world (it's currently rated behind HBO’s Game of Thrones) if all streaming devices were taken into consideration. Of course he’s going to blow his own show’s trumpet but you’ll find commentators from all corners of the globe weighing-in on the show.

Wagner Moura as Pablo Escobar in the Netflix Original Series "Narcos."

Netflix also announced this week that its number of original shows would rise from 16 this year to 31 next year. What began with House of Cards in 2013 has grown exponentially – as have the budgets – upcoming show Iron Fist, part of the service’s partnership with Marvel is set to be the most expensive so far (costing in excess of $100m a season). Netflix is spending big money in the UK, too, including a reported £3m an episode on Royal drama The Crown.

Kevin Spacey as Francis Underwood in ‘House of Cards’

Make no mistake, I will always, always champion our fantastic broadcast tv. Both the big shows – the BBC’s upcoming War and Peace and Troy: Fall of a City (said to cost £2 million an episode) - alongside smaller, low budget, risk-taking shows. But I will also continue to pay the £5.99 for Netflix a month, and my Amazon Instant Video subscription. That way I can cherry-pick my own smorgasbord of the best stuff – and stay part of that conversation.

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