Non-English Language Content Continues to “Troll” Hollywood

As we close out 2022, the entertainment industry remains in search of the a “new normal.” Avatar: The Way of Water appears not to be the savior of cinema some promised it would be. Despite a $435M global opening, it was 24% less than last year’s Christmas blockbuster, Spider-Man: No Way Home. Estimates suggest it needs to gross more than $2B worldwide to break-even, and there will much handwringing over the next couple of holiday weekends. Deeper in the headlines was the announcement that Tubi struck a deal with CJ ENM to add 75 Korean films, dramas, and K-POP series to the service. Tubi claims that Korean programming viewership has grown 25% year over year on the platform.

The Hallyu Wave Continues to Surge

Korean content, with its huge successes from 2021’s Squid Game and BTS, continues its assault on the global entertainment industry. Netflix claims that 60% (134M) of its subscribers watched K-content in 2021. Squid Game remains Netflix’s most popular non-English TV series, with 1.6B hours viewed in its first 28 days, more than double its nearest competitor. Zombie drama All Of Us Are Dead is at #4 and Extraordinary Attorney Woois at #6. In between those titles was Spanish language hit Money Heist, seasons 4 and 5. Keeping things in the extended family, the Korean language version of original Spanish language hit, Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area rose to the top spot in six countries.

Other Asian nations, specifically Japan, have also continued their success on Netflix, as they reported in the spring that more than half of Netflix’s global subscribers watched anime in 2021. In fact, the global market for anime hit an all-time high of $20B in 2021, expanding 13% versus the prior year. Even movies, struggling elsewhere, grew 9%, with global hits such as Jujustsu Kaisen 0: The Movie, Belle, One Piece Film Red, and others.

Netflix Original Content OG: Norway

Opening to much less press and pressure on December 1st was Netflix’s Troll, a Norwegian action-adventure film that has become its most-popular non-English language film. Similar in concept to the grandaddy of all Kaiju films (Godzilla), Troll focuses on a large monster, awakened from a deep slumber, threatening Oslo, the capital of Norway. With a running count of 128 million hours view, Troll is topping the charts in 93 countries worldwide, including the US and the OG of Kaiju films, Japan.

The famous breakout original title for Netflix originals was House of Cards, debuting in 2013 for a five-year run. Lesser known is that that House of Cards was an adaption of the 1990 BBC series of the same name. Even less well known is that House of Cards was not Netflix’s first original series, a title that belongs to Lilyhammer,which first premiered on Norwegian TV in January 2012 to a record almost one million viewers, one-fourth of Norway’s population, and in the US in February of the same year. Cancelled after three seasons, Lilyhammer also started the tradition of releasing all episodes of a season at the same time, which continues through 2022, although currently under threat. Lilyhammer blended the use of English and Norwegian throughout the series, an approach duplicated in the much more successful Narcos, which debuted a few years later.

The Future is Global

Gen Zs, poised to changed America’s media habits in a big way, do not see geographical borders the same way as older generations do. Raised as digital natives, 76% of Gen Zs and late millennials in the US and UK have watched foreign language or TV shows, versus 56% of early millennials and baby boomers. As viewers flock to online TV, which is expected to pass linear in gross viewing by the end of 2022, finding non-English language content will become easier. As the streaming subscription growth in the US fades, there will be more pressure to grow overseas. In fact, Netflix gained 100,000 subs in Q3 2022, with APAC contributing 1.4 million, which balanced out US losses. Global streamers will continue to make titles in local markets to gain new subscribers. In terms of demand, the most popular countries remain Japan, Korea, and Spain. However, other territories are aiming to capture part of this business.

Hurray for Bollywood

And, of course, Bollywood. Long known as having the world’s most active cinema goers, Hindi language films command the largest share of demand around the world with the exception of the US, where Japanese content tops the list. The battle for Cricket streaming rights saw a heated battle between Disney and Paramount. Amazon and Netflix have invested heavily, and it can only be matter of time before some Indian productions make it above the fold and onto American screens in larger numbers.

Who is Next?

Other Asian countries including Taiwan, Indonesia, and Thailand are also hoping to find success with media in foreign markets. The Taiwan Creative Content Agency (TAICCA) had a booth at the Toronto Film Festivalfor the first time, showcasing 82 different projects including Goddamned Asura, Taiwan’s official entry for Best International Feature for the 95th Academy Awards. Indonesia, with the fourth largest population in the world, could be a dark horse, with 141 million people reaching the middle class in 2021.This large number of eyeballs could provide fertile ground in developing homegrown productions that could succeed elsewhere.