CANCUN, Mexico — Arguably, from mid-decade, as Netflix, VP, international originals, Erik Barmack changed history. Passionate, and immensely connected and hard working, from Mexico’s “Club de Cuervos,” launched in August 2015, he spearheaded the U.S. streaming giant’s drive into original productions around the globe that not only resonated to Netflix national subscription bases but also sometimes commanded audiences worldwide. Think “Elite,” “Dark,” “The Rain” and “Sacred Games.”
The global reach of international shows has of course become one of the cornerstone philosophies and competitive advantages of Netflix, ever more embedded in key markets worldwide.
Now unplugged, launching in May his own production company, Los Angeles-based Wild Sheep – a nickname for his very young children – , Barmack delivered MipCancun’s keynote speech. There could be few better choices. Barmack not only talks the talk about the growth of international production; he has walked the walk. As the barriers fall between U.S. domestic and international, in his new role at Wild Sheep Content, he looks set to become a pedigree bridge between Hollywood and the world. Following, 10 takeaways from his keynote, plus conversations at MipCom and Cancun:
1. A Shout-Out for International
“What’s so interesting about international content is that is coming from anywhere and it’s going everywhere,” Barmack said at MipCancun. Now at Wild Sheep Content, that passion for international remains. “It’s not necessarily the case that the best TV is coming from the U.S.” Barmack said in his MipCancun keynote, interviewed by Anna Carugato-Guise, group editorial director, WorldScreen. “If you’d have looked at the 20 most important shows last year, you’d say five, six, seven came from the U.K. A lot of high-impact shows come from Spain and other markets. I don’t know if the goal anymore should be to replicate the U.S. model.”
2. Wild Sheep Content’s M.O.
The passion for international remains, but Barmack’s role has changed. “Having sat on the other side of the table, I certainly believe that packaging to pitch to global platforms is something that could be done better,” he said at Mipcom. “What I see is a real market opportunity to connect Hollywood to the world and the world to Hollywood,” he added at MipCancun. Wild Sheep’s goal is to “really focus on acquiring important IPs, assembling them with good producers actors and then come up with pitches that are pretty complete, eliminating steps or things that will lead to ‘no-es’ from the platforms.” He’s has now old six drama series projects into development at four different platforms, a highly impressive strike rate for just five months.
3. First Shows Up
Barmack’s slate already includes (very briefly) announced projects from Brazil (interactive “Swipe Right” and “Mila and the Multiverse,” which sounds like a standout dystopic sci-fi teen comedy, both with Boutique Filmes), the Netherlands and Spain: (docuseries “The Agent,” “Ronaldo, el Presidente”).There may be weighty announcements in the weeks to come.
4. The Road to Damascus Moment
How did Barmack come by his passion for international? Vision may be having a remarkable plan and executed it; it’s also recognizing an opportunity. So it’s not to Netflix’s discredit that it got into local-language content “a little bit by happenstance,” as Barmack put it in Cancun. By early mid-decade, Netflix’s challenge was to grow when all its revenues were from the U.S., he recounted. Ted Sarandos suggested trying out a show in Mexico, which became “Club de Cuervos,” Netflix’s first full foreign-language 100% Original Series ever. Other shows followed, such as Brazil’s first original “3%,”watched far more outside Brazil. “We knew that there was a possibility of having a big impact in the local market. But the big ‘aha’ moment was that the bigger, higher quality shows were going to travel as well as the American shows,” Barmack said in his keynote. “That was a big pivot from just doing shows for particular markets.”
5. Spanish-language Series: Huge Growth Ahead
The big debating point at this year’s MipCancun was not if Spanish-language scripted production would grow. It was by how much. Already, “this is a golden era of international TV and especially of Spanish-language content,” Barmack said, reminding his keynote audience that ‘La casa de papel’ [‘Money Heist] was watched by 40 million households in its first month “basically the entire American television-watching population in the U.S. on any given night.” That could be just a beginning, however. “The scope of what can be done with the platforms coming out is really immense and interesting,” Barmack said. “They’re going to see there’s only so much you can do to grow a global service without Spanish, local content.”
6. Readying for a Budget Build
That next-phase build cuts various ways, Barmack suggested. “These platforms that are emerging will be looking for big shows,” he predicted. “That is happening for sure over the next three, four or five years. IP is going to matter a lot. The global platforms are going to be looking for big books, big formats and other sorts of things, that will provide some structure to the storytelling.”
7. Scaling Up
A second scenario, said Barmack, talking about Spanish language content, is that : “There’s going to be a lot more competition for talent, with production values scaling up in very predictable ways: Taking more sound stages, more shooting days per episode, a little bit more time spent on development.” Inevitably, huge demand for Spanish content will drive up costs. “There’s a role we should get comfortable with: Eventually Spanish-language content is gong to cost $3 million, maybe $6 million, an hour. That time is not so far away.”
How should producers react to change? Asked to give one piece of advice to his audience, Barmack recommended “ambition.” “Producers here in Latin America have to presume that they are doing shows that are going to reach massive audiences, that the norm five years from now is going to be 30 million, 50 million people watching Spanish-language content. There are more people in the world speaking Spanish than English: the biggest shows in the world or at least in the region should be Spanish-language. I always ask: Are people thinking big enough? Sometimes a [lack of] confidence is holding people back from taking huge swings.”
9. What Travels
“I just have this desire to be in a world where you are entertaining first and foremost over Serious TV,” Barmack said in Cancun, adding he watched a lot of Turkish TV. “Genre, crime – ‘Sacred Games’ – sci-fi, young adult travel, but it’s more of an alchemy than a science. Some of the shows that have done particularly well just pop up, he added.” That said, Barmack recommended producers to study data.
10. How Barmack Claims He Got It (Partially) Wrong
When Netflix started to look for talent, especially in Latin America, it initially looked for filmmakers, especially in Latin American to differentiate Netflix from free-to-air. “We went around saying we’re really trying to do seven-or-eight hour movies and not, say, telenovelas. I think that position was overly stubborn,” Barmack said. He went on: “Things have changed a lot in the last four-to-five years: A lot of shows which are doing well are not just eight-episode premium shows but ‘Luis Miguel’ or [Colombian telenovela] ’La reina del flow,’ which have immense scope but are in more traditional formats.”