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Netflix’s ‘Squid Game’ Is Boosting Viewing of Dystopian Japanese Series ‘Alice in Borderland’

Squid Game - Netflix
Noh Juhan/Netflix

Japanese death game series “Alice in Borderland” had already been a success for Netflix. But, with the global crossover triumph of similarly dystopian South Korean show “Squid Game,” the streaming giant seized on a chance to make “Alice” a hit all over again.

Executives from the company gave participants a look under the hood, at its algorithms and recommendation strategies, at a seminar held Tuesday at TIFFCOM, the rights market attached to the Tokyo International Film Festival.

Sakamoto Kaata, VP in charge of Japanese content, said the company seeks projects with the “3 Cs” of “content, choosing and conversation.” These shows can be enjoyed anywhere and should generate positive word-of-mouth, with “social media being a main source of interaction,” Sakamoto explained.

Michael Smith, Netflix’s Tokyo-based manager in charge of product innovation, said that the company aims to tailor the viewing experience for each member. He cited “Alice” as an example. The 2020 sci-fi action series, set in an abandoned Tokyo where drafted players participate in life-or-death games, is based a best-selling comic and is directed by action specialist Sato Shinsuke. It launched on Dec. 10, 2020 and reached Netflix’s top ten in nearly 40 countries and territories.

“We personalized the images and video artwork [of ‘Alice’] we used for each member,” said Smith, in addition to dubbing and subbing the show into more than 30 languages. “Some members saw it under ‘Japanese TV shows,’ some discovered it under ‘TV shows based on manga’ and others saw presented it under ‘suspenseful TV thrillers’,” Smith said.

Following the launch of “Squid Game” in September 2021, Netflix cross-promoted “Alice.” “Squid Game” has a similarly fatal premise and an action-packed storyline.

“We were thrilled to see that many members who discovered and watched ‘Squid Game’ also started discovering ‘Alice’ for the first time,” Smith said. “Our service picked up on this connection and started recommending ‘Alice’ to more members who hadn’t already seen the show.”

The result was what Smith describes as a “sizable uptick in global viewing” for “Alice.” “It landed back in the top ten series ranking in more than fifty countries around the world, more than nine months after its initial launch,” he said.

But sometimes, shows can defy the algorithms, and break out unexpectedly.

Smith admitted that the international success of Korea romantic drama series “Crash Landing on You” was a surprise. The show, about a female business executive who is sheltered by a North Korean man after straying across the border in a hang gliding accident, was carried by Netflix from December 2019. It became an internationals hit even without pre-launch marketing.

“It also shows that, even without an official marketing campaign, or an existing built-in audience, films and series can become huge hits here in Asia and all around the world,” said Smith.