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Netflix Uses ‘Squid Game’ Playbook for Untapped Southeast Asia

(Bloomberg) -- Netflix Inc. is ramping up local production in Southeast Asia, aiming to boost its subscriber base in the populous region even as US rivals are pulling back.

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The world’s largest streaming TV service is increasing the number of titles available and the number of shows it produces in the region in an effort to reach more viewers, Minyoung Kim, vice president of content for Asia excluding India, said at a company event in Jakarta.

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“It is on us to make sure that these stories find audiences not only within their home country but also beyond domestic markets, enabling audiences around the world to discover the stories that they will love,” Kim said.

Asia Pacific is currently the smallest market for Netflix, accounting for about 11% of revenue in 2023. But a large, young demographic also presents a significant opportunity for growth.

Following the success of original shows from South Korea, such as Squid Game, and Japan’s pirate series One Piece, Netflix is adopting the playbook in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines. In Thailand, the company plans to release 10 original titles this year, up from six in 2023. That’s the most of any country in the region. Indonesia will also see an increase in original titles and a bigger production budget.

Localized content is especially crucial in Asia, since about 80% of premium video engagement is powered by such titles, according to Media Partners Asia.

Netflix’s push in Southeast Asia contrasts with major rivals that are pulling back amid shareholder pressure to stop chasing subscriber growth at the expense of profitability. Walt Disney Co. has paused original content creation and increased subscription prices in the market. Amazon.com Inc.’s Prime Video has also retrenched.

Netflix only recently started to pump out original series and films in the region, after launching in some Southeast Asian countries in 2016. Its Thai thriller Hunger and Indonesian series Cigarette Girl, both released last year, were global hits and rare successes for Southeast Asian programming created by one of the global streaming services. The company wants to make that a more regular occurance.

In Indonesia, Netflix is betting on big-budget shows that would be distinctly different from local streaming service Vidio, which is focused on sports and shorter dramas. Supernatural sci-fi series Nightmares and Daydreams, which debuted this month, and upcoming action film The Shadow Strays, starring a 17-year-old female assassin, are two recent examples. Netflix is also producing Indonesia’s first large scale zombie horror series, Abadi Nan Jaya (working title), which is set to be unveiled in 2025.

While horror and crime thrillers play well in Indonesia, Thailand is open to programming on a wider variety of topics — ranging from comedy to sexual genres, reflecting the cultural background of a nation that’s set to become the first Southeast Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage.

Thai creators working for foreign platforms have more freedom than those in neighboring countries because they submit their projects for approval to tourism officials, rather than the culture ministry, which has stricter guidelines, said Kongdej Jaturanrasamee, director of Doctor Climax, a Netflix original drama about a skin doctor who turns into a sex columnist.

“Indonesia still tends to have more conservative themes as it’s a Muslim country,” said Dhivya T, lead analyst at Media Partners Asia. “Thai content is more accessible and travels bit more in the Southeast Asia region with its universal story lines as well as production values.”

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