Anna Winger’s “Unorthodox,” based on Deborah Feldman’s 2012 memoir about a young woman leaving the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in New York to start life anew in Berlin, was not intrinsically designed to be an international darling.
The mandate of Netflix’s German television group, says co-CEO and chief content officer Ted Sarandos, is simply to “make great TV” for the subscription streaming service’s German audience. But one function of Netflix over the years has been broadening the American palate for television and movies, offering non-U.S. programming from international creators to acclaim from both casual viewers and critics alike.
“If you think about the history of German television, which is probably the most subsidized and also probably, outside of the U.S., maybe the biggest economic model for television in the world — can you name another show from Germany that [people are] talking about, or that’s been nominated for eight Emmys this year?” he says.
(The limited series ultimately won one Emmy, for Maria Schrader’s directing.)
Sarandos believes that that “flattening of the Earth,” so to speak, is still in its infancy.
Focusing on productions made in other countries for local audiences has been a major growth market at Netflix in recent years as it looks to bolster its 193 million-strong subscriber base. The company has set its sights beyond the U.S. and built out production hubs in Madrid and outside London, and has even stopped using the term “international originals” in favor of “local-language originals” to better reflect its global, less America-centric stance as a studio and distributor.
Outside Germany, the mandate for Netflix’s other local-language originals teams across the globe is similar: make sure the shows are relevant to the territory they’re created for, first and foremost. While the global success of “Casa de Papel,” otherwise known as “Money Heist,” has been welcome, Sarandos believes that it was critical for the series to first play well in its native Spain. Likewise, young adult soap “Summertime” homed in on the strengths of modern Italian storytelling.
Sarandos believes Netflix has made U.S. audiences more comfortable watching shows and movies with subtitles, first through its licensed foreign-language programming, and then through its own original content.
“I think if you’re feeling a little adventurous and want to try something [new], you’re much more likely to do it in the subscription model, where if you don’t like it, you just turn it off,” he says. “And I think we basically give people an adventurous experience with content to try things.”