Netflix to boost original series, films in and from Asia

SEOUL, South Korea – Netflix plans to expand its Asian offerings to subscribers around the world by tapping more creators in the region, including “Snowpiercer” director Bong Joon-ho, its chief said Thursday.

CEO Reed Hastings said the U.S. streaming service company is looking at many projects throughout Asia, including original series by Asian creators, following its investment in the South Korean filmmaker’s new movie “Okja.”

Hastings did not elaborate. He said more details will be announced later this year.

“Okja” is Netflix’s first investment in a Korean film project. The latest work by Bong currently being filmed at a remote village in eastern Korea is slated for launch next year on Netflix.

Bong is one of the best known South Korean directors. His works “Snowpiercer,” ”Mother” and “The Host” gave him critical acclaim and commercial success. Local media reported that Netflix invested $50 million, among the largest amounts in the South Korean movie industry.

Netflix’s growing focus on Asian content comes after its business in the region suffered some setbacks this year. In January, it launched its service in 130 more countries as part of its efforts to boost international subscribers to offset slowing growth in the U.S.

In the same month, Indonesian state telecommunications company PT Telekomunikasi Indonesia blocked the internet video service because it lacked a permit to operate in the Southeast Asian country.

In South Korea, Netflix struggled to add subscribers amid competition from existing streaming services and its dearth of local shows. Netflix officials said some original shows for Korean audiences are in the pipeline, and that it had spent the first few months learning the preferences of local viewers.

The service is available in 190 countries to 81.5 million subscribers but not in China, the biggest market for South Korean TV series and films.

Netflix is aware that its absence in China may be a letdown for local creators.

“China is part of a very important business model for K-drama, sometimes realizing even more revenues for the K-drama in China than realizing in Korea today,” Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, said, referring Korean drama series. “We continue to look at China as an opportunity, but it’s a very complicated one.”

While its service in China is yet to be available, it is spending more to deliver Korean drama series elsewhere in the world. The company bought rights to distribute “The Descendants of the Sun” in the U.S., Canada and Latin America, which will launch on Netflix this summer.

The Korean drama series about a romance between a surgeon and an army officer in a war-torn country was a blockbuster hit this spring in China, where it was launched simultaneously with South Korea. The move is part of efforts to increase subscribers overseas.

The company’s global expansion will likely bring more diversity to Hollywood and TV screens in the U.S.

Netflix officials believe that it is doing a much better job than Hollywood where the racial diversity issues, from casting white actors for Asian roles and the lack of diversity at the Oscars, have generated scandals.

“I’m very proud that Netflix shows are among the most diverse shows in the world,” said Sarandos. He highlighted “Marco Polo,” an epic drama set in Kublai Khan’s court in 13th-century China and “Masters of None.”

“They got enormous Asian casts and the shows are being watched and loved from around the globe,” he said.

He also praised its original series “Orange is the New Black” for showing “faces, sizes of people you don’t typically see on the televisions.”

“In every one of our shows we got a very high level of diversity that we think accurately reflects the populations not just the view of the typical Hollywood casts. So we’re absolutely doing well and pushing to do better in terms of diversity for the world,” the top content officer at Netflix said.


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