Is This What the “Globalization of Storytelling” Looks like?

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When I wrote my deep dive on “Myth of the Global Streaming Hit” for the Ankler last week, I knew what was going to happen. It’s almost inevitable that the next time Netflix has a global hit, someone will be like, “What about [future global hit], Entertainment Strategy Guy? You’re wrong!” (I even predicted this in a tweet the day before.)

What I didn’t expect was that, on Twitter, a few folks would ask…

What about All of Us Are Dead and Extraordinary Attorney Woo?!?!?!?

Well, first off, you might be like, “What’s Extraordinary Attorney Woo?” And fair enough. It’s a “global” hit for Netflix…that failed to chart in the U.S. Or Europe. (So I’d call it a “regional” hit.)

But those two shows—if they are indeed hits, see below—don’t really invalidate my point. Obviously, Squid Game was a global hit last year! What I’m really arguing is that Netflix (and soon, other streamers) won’t make enough global hits to justify their (massive) investments (building out film studios in dozens of different countries across the globe). Two broadly popular global hits doesn’t invalidate that argument. 

As often happens when I write on a big, meaty, complicated and nuanced topic, I go long. So today I’m going to offer some additional thoughts on “foreign film failures” and “Myth of the Global Streaming Hit” to explain my thinking and add a key visualization that I cut for space last week: the massive list of foreign films that were NOT global hits, or at least not hits in the U.S.

To clarify my position on global hits, what I’m arguing is…

– The global success of foreign-language/international titles is over-hyped.
– Foreign titles still don’t perform well in America. When Squid Game was at its height, quite a few outlets predicted that Americans would embrace global shows now; the data doesn’t show this to be the case.
– Americans aren’t unique, though. Global viewers prefer watching TV shows and films in their native language or, related, from their native region.
– Netflix’s hit rate on all their foreign language titles (meaning how many TV shows and films they have to make to get one hit) is abysmal.
– Netflix probably isn’t getting the ROI on this strategy that they need to. 

I write for the entertainment industry at large, but business executives first and foremost. Looking at the data over the past year, if I’m an executive determining my company’s future strategy, I’d be much, much skeptical about committing to a global, 180-country-wide production strategy.

What Does Netflix’s Foreign Output Look Like?

Here’s what I wrote in my Ankler article:

Since August, by my rough tally (I try to find every foreign title I can, using three or four different sources, but I’ve probably missed some), Netflix has released at least 56 foreign-language films in America. Only 11 of those films scored above a 6.5 on IMDb in customer ratings — around 18 percent — and only five films scored above a 7.

As a reminder, anything between a 6.5 and a 7 is “average” on IMDb. To be blunt, something like 80 percent of Netflix’s foreign films that came out in America are below average.

But that doesn’t really get the point across, does it? What does 56 films look like? To really get a sense of scale of the foreign film problem, I’ll show you: 


In particular, though, focus on those horrible IMDb scores. And unlike American films, you can look at both the rating and, more importantly, the number of reviews; both are abysmal. 

I use IMDb ratings because they are the one data point we can use to compare global performance across streamers, whether they make the ratings charts or not. If a Netflix show (or any streaming show) fails to make any ratings chart, IMDb scores are the only data point we have left. In the last quarter, only 1% of Nielsen’s lists were foreign titles. Even less shows made TV Time. In today’s world, flops don’t have ratings, so all we can use as a proxy for interest is IMDb scores. (Longer term, I am working on adding Wikipedia page views and Google Trends as other examples for shows that don’t have ratings, but in general, they are correlated with IMDb anyways.)

And the IMDb scores prove that most of Netflix’s foreign-language films are bombs. Less then 500 IMDb reviews means a TV show or film was a huge bomb. Twelve films fell under this very, very low bar.

In fairness, as I wrote in The Ankler, Netflix’s foreign-language TV shows do much better, in terms of reviews, than their films. Here’s that list:

But even though these shows have better ratings, foreign-viewers still aren’t watching them. This is almost worse! Only forty of these shows have more than 1,000 IMDb reviews. (And less than 10,000 reviews for a TV show isn’t very good either. That’s still low.)

This also gets to my first rebuttal to the folks pointing at All of Use Are Dead or Extraordinary Attorney Woo. Instead of pointing to the successes, folks should also point out just how many foreign titles it took to get those two “hits”. That’s the point: judging the success of foreign titles in America, you’d say the hit rate is really, really, really low.

This is my semi-annual reminder that “the availability heuristic” is easy to understand, hard to practice. The availability heuristic is the famous idea from Kahneman and Tversky that things that are easy to recall—like wildly successful South Korean TV shows—skew our perspectives if we don’t know about counter examples—like the literally dozens of South Koreans shows that aren’t Squid Game that you can’t name.

Everyone knows the hits; few people try to figure out how many shows it took to find that hit. (It’s cool though; that’s what you have me for!)

The Media Hype Cycle

My ulterior motive for writing this article today is that I want to step back and talk about the larger media “conversation”, which can be tedious at times, but I think it matters here, especially for the entertainment press/entertainment business press. 

Basically, last year, after Squid Game’s massive success, there were countless articles, in all of the industry trades, hyping this success as a “game changer”. This changes everything! Entertainment is global now! People declared Squid Game’s success to be the story of the year.

Just look at these headlines: 

That first article, from Bloomberg, is pretty emblematic of what I’m talking about, and it’s not just the over-the-top headline. Lest I be accused of making a “straw man” argument, here are some quotes:


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The Entertainment Strategy Guy

The Entertainment Strategy Guy

Former strategy and business development guy at a major streaming company. But I like writing more than sending email, so I launched this website to share what I know.


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