Netflix Adapting to Japan’s Special Circumstances

Success isn’t going to come quickly for Netflix in Japan, where the service debuted on Sept. 2.

Speaking at a seminar Tuesday at Tokyo’s Japan Content Showcase 2015, Netflix Japan vice president David Lee outlined a strategy of decades-long investment in the market and proactive development of original content.

“We entered with a more aggressive stance in terms of licensing and creating Japanese originals,” he said. “I think that has paid off.”

He cited the popularity of “Terrace House,” one of two original series produced by Japan’s Fuji Television that premiered exclusively on Netflix. The show is the continuation of a reality TV series that aired on Fuji TV from 2012 to 2014.

“It’s not typically something we would want to do as an original series,” Lee said, emphasizing that adaptation was the key to survival in this market.

“The view was that Japan would be very unique, and very different than almost every country we’ve launched in to date, and that’s actually proved now in the data.”

Although the country is technologically advanced, streaming video has been slow to take off in Japan. Commentators point to consumer preferences for packaged media, lack of innovation from providers, and resistance from TV broadcasters to allow series to be screened on platforms other than their own.

Lee said that Japanese films and TV series are hampered by the “inefficiency of the current distribution model.”

As Netflix expands its global coverage, Lee said this would create opportunities for Japanese content producers seeking a wider audience. The company aims to release original content simultaneously worldwide, with support for multiple languages, as it did with Cary Fukanaga’s “Beasts of No Nation” last week.

“I would encourage people to think broadly, globally, bigger, and in a more ambitious way about the possibilities for getting your movie or your show watched by a global audience,” he said.

While acknowledging that Japanese TV dramas have traditionally struggled to find a foothold beyond Asian markets, he noted the “robust” international demand for anime.

“There are clear opportunities, and there are less clear opportunities,” he said. “Anime is a clear one.”

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