Once, when America attempted to export its television pop culture around the world, there were built in limits. Foreign television networks were forced to buy programs and a lot of American stuff didn’t cut it.
Or, there were governments that kept foreign TV, with its foreign ideas, out. At television fests in Cannes, there was a brisk business in nature films. Why? Lions and tigers don't talk in foreign languages.
Netflix’s announcement on Wednesday that it added 130 foreign countries to its portfolio shows how much that is so, though a lot of the online video universe is already universal.
YouTube says 80% of its views come from outside the United States. It has launched in 70 countries and can be navigated in 76 different languages, which YouTube says covers 95% of the Internet population. As we know only too well, terrorists use YouTube as recruiting, too.
It’s not the only user-generated site out in the world. Dailymotion, from France, is the YouTube of Europe and beyond, goes out in 35 localized versions. And plenty of countries have their own substantial OTT offerings; cable brands have been more or less worldwide entities for decades.
Netflix has said it wants to be in 200 nations by the end of the year, which is only 10 more than it will have when the 130 newbies are added in. With about 43 million U.S. customers and about 27 million more worldwide, there’s obviously room to grow.
But Netflix CEO Reed Hastings knows it won't be easy. Netflix will have to be marketed differently in every one of those places, and the population's ability to pay is likely to vary wildly.
New sub starts have slowed in this country--Netflix raised its monthly rate for new subscribers last year--so the worldwide strategy is probably necessary. Especially because Netflix says it will spend $6 billion on programming this year, it needs a good steady stream of cash.
Still missing from Netflix’s goal of worldwide coverage is a very big target--China. It worked on a deal there with Alibaba, which decided to start its own movie service instead. But that would be quite the get, once, and if, Netflix gets it. (Rupert Murdoch, you’ll recall, tried with Star TV, accepting pretty clear cut censorship to get along. His company sold its minority stake in 2014.)
China won’t be a cakewalk.
Greg Stoller, a lecturer in the business school at Boston University, told StreamDaily.com, that Netlfix faces some steep challenges in China because pricing will have to be lower, making the “return on effort” tough to win. Plus, as in India where audiences will likely demand more Bollywood stars and features, Stoller says Chinese consumers prefer domestic companies.