Younghee, the giant robotic doll featured in the Netflix thriller Squid Game, was exhibited at the Olympic Park in Seoul, South Korea. Squid Game was a global hit and remains the most-watched Netflix series of all time.
Chung Sung Jun | Getty Images
Netflix is spending $2.5 billion on Korean content and sees opportunities beyond Asia, said Don Kang, Netflix’s vice president of Korean content.
In the next four years Netflix will invest $2.5 billion in different types of Korean content Kang narrated to CNBC’s show “Squawk Box Asia,” which spans TV series, movies and Saxony programs. He said it will double the number of Saxony programs produced, from about four in 2022 to at least eight this year, reflecting Korean audience demand for variety shows.
These include the reality show Physical 100, released earlier this year, which pits a hundred contestants against each other in a series of physically demanding challenges.
“I think it was really the first non-fiction show that was seen around the world that really got people excited,” he said. Korean competitive or non-fiction shows don’t typically spread very far beyond Korea and the Asia-Pacific region, but Kang said the success of Physical 100 is a “really positive sign.”
“Physical 100” topped Netflix’s weekly viewership for non-English language TV shows for two weeks in 2022. Another Korean variety show to hit global success in 2022 was reality dating show Single’s Inferno, which made the global top 10 list, according to Kang.
Expanding to a global audience
Kang said he worked on international distribution of Korean series before joining Netflix in 2018. “Back then, it was mostly romantic comedy that caught on,” he said. Due to language and cultural differences in other regions, distribution is limited to nearby countries like Japan and other Southeast Asian countries, he added.
But Netflix is investing in localization through subtitles and dubbing, which removes language as the first barrier to entry and “makes a big difference,” he said.
“You can’t underestimate the… different tastes that people around the world have,” said Kang, citing the thriller series “Squid Game” as an example. Netflix had considered changing its title to something with more context for international viewers, but ultimately kept its original “catchy title that sparks curiosity,” Kang said.
Netflix’s List of Korean content The series previously announced for this year is also diversifying away from romance and, in addition to non-fiction, also includes genres such as drama, apocalyptic, as well as social commentary and intrigue.
Kang said Korea has the ability to tell stories that convey its unique culture but also appeal to the universal emotions of global viewers. “If a show is loved by a Korean audience, there’s a very, very good chance it’ll be loved by audiences … around the world.”