Over the last few years, I’ve been writing about Netflix’s strategic push into East Asia and the overwhelming success of that decision given the still-increasing popularity of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean scripted and unscripted programming. As the New York Times reported last month, “Netflix is the best-positioned media player for the strikes".
Beyond having a huge head start on streaming, the company also has a vast network of international studios to draw on that aren’t affected by the Hollywood stoppage. Its investment in Korean productions, for instance, has bolstered its business in that country — and some of that content has since found audiences worldwide.”
So Netflix is counting on its extensive catalogue and its robust library of East Asian shows to carry it through Hollywood’s work stoppage. But if the impasse between the WGA, SAG-AFTRA, and the studios is about compensation and better workplace conditions and equity in Hollywood, are creatives from outside the Hollywood system being fairly compensated?
Earlier this week, the LA Times published a piece about how “South Korean actors in Netflix originals want better pay” but “the company refuses to meet with their union”. This isn’t surprising. If they’re not even meeting with the Hollywood unions, there’s even less chance they’ll entertain the requests from a much less powerful union from a different country – even though they have profited so much from those creatives.
Per the LA Times:
“The actors union, echoing similar concerns from South Korean writers and production workers, says that Netflix has long profited from a system that underpays supporting actors, and that better compensation is long overdue.
A Netflix spokesman declined to say whether the company would meet with the union. In a written statement, the company said it follows all local laws and regulations and that as a streaming service — and not a broadcaster — it is not required to pay residuals.”
There is common ground between what South Korean performers are asking for and most of the actors that SAG-AFTRA is representing with its 160,000 members. The big stars are just a tiny fraction of the union and you can’t make a movie or a series with just stars. Supporting actors, day players, and background actors are an essential part of the process. They are who the union is advocating for, and this is also the issue with the South Korean union.
In South Korea, Netflix’s expansion into their entertainment ecosystem has been beneficial to the top talent. But not to everyone else:
“A-listers negotiate their own deals and oftentimes treat any foregone residuals as baked into their one-time payday, which industry insiders estimate have now broken $400,000 an episode — about on par with the cast of HBO’s “Succession.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, per-episode rates for supporting actors — who receive neither residuals nor premiums — start at about $300.”
The average length of a Korean series is 16 episodes. That is not a lot of money for 16 episodes and it’s even less money when you consider that it’s not like the supporting actors are booking jobs week after week. Sometimes that one series is the only job they’ll get that year. But balance that pay rate against how critical they are to the story. Take Squid Game, for example, and the supporting cast that was required to make that show what it became. Basically all the other players in the game in addition to the three main stars. Squid Game would have been impossible without the entire ensemble.
And yet, with all this in consideration, what will be the impact as Netflix continues to lean on its East Asian influence to boost its content library? They announced yesterday that they’ve acquired five new Japanese reality series as part of its effort to grow its reach in that country. There are also 15 Japanese reality shows in development.
If the South Korean example is any indication, Netflix will see a return on its investment. The money will come in. (They’re already expecting to SAVE $1.5 billion this year in part because of the strike.) But how much of that money will be distributed to the artists? It’s not like the artists in the west are sharing the wealth so what are the chances for the artists in the east?
Yours in gossip,