A huge part of Netflix’s pitch to investors, which has helped propel its stock up and up, is that it will become the first truly global TV network.
Getting worldwide rights to original shows and movies, and delivering them by internet data, means that Netflix can zap a marquee release like “Stranger Things 2” into the eyeballs of subscribers all over the world on release day.
And Netflix’s reach is gargantuan. Todd Yellin, Netflix’s VP of product innovation, said that while its subscriber base recently crossed 100 million, its total number of viewers (including families, password sharing, and so on) is north of 300 million. The first season of “Stranger Things” was even watched by one viewer in Antarctica, Yellin said.
But while being a global TV network sounds good to investors, who are hoping for continued subscriber growth for years to come, it also presents Netflix with a set of challenges: How do you prepare a show to be consumed all over the world at once?
Demogorgons and Eggos
Besides the obvious technical challenges to ensure people don’t get hit with a dreaded “buffering” icon, there are a host of other ways Netflix has to make shows ready for international viewing.
One big element is “localisation” — things like subtitles and dubbing — which often involves translating words with pop culture meaning attached.
The visual references in “Stranger Things” should feel familiar if you love the work of Steven Spielberg or Stanley Kubrick, or films like “Stand by Me” or “E.T.” Tim Ives, the director of photography for “Stranger Things,” said the team is “continually inspired” by Spielberg’s work in the 80s. You can feel that, no matter what language you speak.
But words and phrases are a different beast.
Take the “Demogorgon,” a term the “Stranger Things” kids crib from Dungeons & Dragons, and use for the monster that comes from the Upside Down. Finding the right word in each language for “Demogorgon” wasn’t as easy as transliterating it, Netflix’s head of localisation, Denny Sheehan, said in an interview.
“Demogorgon,” like much of the nostalgia-filled “Stranger Things,” is meant to reference a cultural touchpoint from someone’s past. So to translate it, Netflix had to go back and see how the original Dungeons & Dragons translated it at the time — in every language. Netflix also had to see how Eggo waffles, a favourite of “Stranger Things” character Eleven, appeared in the Middle East. It’s about continuity.
Netflix had to not just capture the words, but also the “zeitgeist,” Sheehan explained.
The ‘taste community’
After trying to make sure its international subscribers get the references, and won’t experience any awkward dubbing or subtitling, Netflix has to figure out how to market each show to each individual.
One big factor is choosing what thumbnail image (or clip) to show you.
Netflix used to pick the “winning” image on a country-by-country basis — in other words, all of Sweden would see one image, Yellin said. But now Netflix has personalised that image based on 2,000 distinct “taste communities” it has identified. These “taste communities” don’t have to do with geography, but rather, with your previous viewing habits.
If you are drawn more to action or horror movies, you might get a scarier thumbnail, while if you go for comedies, it might be funnier.
But for that thumbnail to catch your eye, you need to see it. Yellin said that placement is key to getting someone to watch, since even if they are in “discovery mode,” they will only scroll over an average of 40 to 50 titles. You can’t bury it down the page.
The upper left is the most valuable real estate on the Netflix homepage, and you can bet that for many people that will be exactly where Netflix sticks “Stranger Things 2.”
Canada leads the way
Ives is mum on what we can expect in “Stranger Things 2,” but he did say that the photography is a bit more colourful, with 90s influences like “Terminator 2.”
And while the binge-watching will no doubt spread quickly across the world, there is one place that will probably be extra excited: Canada.
When Netflix crunched the data, Yellin said he found that Canada was the country where the first season of “Stranger Things” went viral the fastest.
“Canada wins the race,” he said.
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