For a couple of years now I’ve been posting often about Netflix’s Asian library. They have steadily been increasing investment in South Asian and particularly East Asian content. And their Korean programming is especially successful. It seems like there’s a new series out of Korea premiering on Netflix every week. Space Sweepers, Korea’s first space blockbuster was Netflix’s top movie in at least 16 countries the week it came out and while there wasn’t much coverage about it in the western media, Netflix has been steadily expanding its subscriber-base beyond English-speaking audiences and their Korean catalogue is a big part of that effort.
Korean superstar Song Joong-ki is one of the stars of Space Sweepers and he’s also the lead in another super popular Korean drama that premiered on Netflix in February: Vincenzo, also currently my obsession. This show is bonkers, I f-cking love it, and it’s a major title in a lot of markets right now outside North America and the UK. The show airs Saturdays and Sundays in Korea and those new episodes are also added to Netflix immediately, at which point it often starts trending on Twitter in several countries. BTS has even been namechecking Vincenzo lately as they dropped an inside joke from the series in a couple of their promotional videos a couple of weeks ago. As you can imagine, as soon as BTS’s ARMY realised that the band was watching the show, that probably led to a spike in viewership.
My point is, Asian content is one of Netflix’s major assets, strengthening its position as a global streaming service, and its competitors are stupid if they’re not paying attention. Which brings us to HBO.
The Hollywood Reporter ran a story today about HBO Asia acquiring two new original series, one from China and the other from Taiwan. HBO Asia has been around for a while now but I’m not sure how much priority was given to original production in the territories it serves. It’s a vehicle to show content licensed from major Hollywood studios but I wonder if now there’s more of a push to work with international storytellers to produce shows and movies that can be distributed from Asia to the rest of the world the way Netflix has been modelling.
Netflix seems to have taken the lead with Korean creatives and it’ll be interesting to see if other media companies, like HBO and Amazon and Apple, move in on that territory. HBO’s two new Chinese acquisitions could mean they might be interested in exploring more from China and Taiwan. But working with China may not be as creatively … ummmm…efficient as Korea in terms of censorship and interference. There was another interesting THR piece published a couple of days ago about Derek Tsang’s Better Days, nominated for the Best International Film Oscar, but not getting much support from China or from Hong Kong, where Derek was born – for opposing reasons. And the challenges of working within Chinese government guidelines can be a creative barrier. At the same time, Chinese creatives deserve to be supported. Wonder what impact this will have if Hollywood continues to invest in entertainment beyond North America. And, looking back maybe a decade from now, whether or not art might be looked back on as soft diplomacy.