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For Netflix, Local Content Is King in Asia

A study by U.S.-based Parrot Analytics, published two years ago, just as Netflix was launching in Japan, suggested that Japanese audiences had far less interest in Western series such as “Orange Is the New Black,” or “House of Cards” than folks in North America or Western Europe.

That was a statement of the obvious to industry executives based in Asia, and was a lesson already learned by the global streaming giant, which opened for business in Japan and Australia ahead of its global rollout in January 2016. Local content is key to success in Asia.

Among the deals in place at launch was a pact with broadcaster Fuji TV to extend a Fuji reality TV series “Terrace House” with episodes that would premiere on Netflix. Since then, Netflix has added further partnerships with talent agency-producer Yoshimoto Kogyo and giant ad agency-financier Dentsu.

Netflix Japan VP David Lee previously acknowledged the unique difficulties of the Japanese market. Streaming initially struggled to take off as consumers clung to packaged media; nevertheless some 30 local platforms emerged as competitors, but TV broadcasters were reluctant to collaborate.

Since then, however, state broadcaster NHK has picked up Netflix’s Dentsu-Yoshimoto-produced drama series “Hibana: Spark” about two struggling comedians. NHK and Netflix also struck an unusual partnership to broadcast four-part prestige drama “Tokyo Trial,” produced by Don Carmody TV and the Netherlands’ FATT Prods.

While some content will be watched largely by Japanese audiences, Japanese animation is a commodity that Netflix can export across its global platform. It has acquired and commissioned some 20 series, like “Knights of the Zodiac: Saint Seiya” from Toei Animation and “Cannon Busters” from the Satellight studio.

Netflix’s approach in South Korea is largely similar, but has put more emphasis on feature films. It acquired global rights to NEW’s nuclear disaster movie “Pandora” and carved out a wide theatrical release in South Korea. It also financed the $50 million production of ace Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s “Okja,” which premiered in competition in Cannes. Bong praised Netflix’s auteur-friendly role, but the streaming service raised hackles in France and South Korea, where the film was boycotted by major multiplex chains.

With Korean dramas seeing massive success locally and regionally, Netflix plunged into that sector in January, ordering contemporary romance series “Love Alarm,” scripted by animator Chon Ki-young. It commissioned “Kingdom,” an eight-part series combining popular zombie and period thriller genres, from Astory and the team behind hit movie “Tunnel,” with a view to international distribution.

In India, Netflix has signed a library and first-look deal with superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies Entertainment. That was followed by agreement on its first original series, “Sacred Games,” to be produced by Phantom Films. With a view to global play, it recently struck deals for cricket-and-corruption series “Selection Day” and female-led detective series “Again.”

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