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Netflix global TV head Bela Bajaria dishes on 'local impact strategy'

The streamer’s India operations took localisation a step ahead with Monika Shergill’s appointment.


KOLKATA: Among a host of over-the-top (OTT) platforms in India, Netflix has always been considered as the “premium” one in terms of pricing and content. To break the stereotype, the streaming giant has taken several measures like launching a mobile-only plan. Netflix global TV head Bela Bajaria said the platform wants to “please many more members” with its diverse content offering as well.

Speaking on day one of APOS 2021, Bajaria, who smilingly disclosed her “personal bias” for the market because of her ethic roots, remarked that the platform wants to have a wider breadth of offerings for the country. She pointed to the much-hyped slate of more than 40 originals which consist of different categories of originals.

“I think sometimes when we’re in a country, we make the first couple shows people externally and even sometimes [viewers] internally perceive us as just a platform having premium or edgy dramas… We want to please many more members than that,” she said during the discussion with Media Partners Asia executive director & co-founder Vivek Couto.

Of all its Indian originals, Masaba Masaba really struck a chord with audiences. She also spoke of the recently launched women centric Bombay Begums, and the upcoming season of the highly acclaimed web series Delhi Crime that she believes will be compelling for viewers. She went on to reveal that more exciting shows would be launched in Q3 & Q4.

Considerably, she noted the presence of family drama in Netflix’s upcoming slate. “I think it was important because we still want to have everybody’s favourite show. We want to have a show you could co-view with your family,” Bajaria commented.

While Netflix is highly focusing on staying true to local stories, having a strong local team is really important, as is being part of the local ecosystem. For any local market the focus is always on “massive local impact”, not on making shows popular across markets. Netflix India took its localisation a step ahead with Monika Shergill’s appointment.

“People sometimes think we want to make a show global or international. The most important thing is we make it the most authentic and specific vision in that country and it has the most local impact and people love it in that country. If people love it in that country, other people will love it too,” she stated.

However, local shows like La Casa De Papel, Barbarians, Lupin, Who Killed Sara? and Space Sweepers have seen global success. In its home market, non-English viewership has grown by 50 per cent as the viewership of anime has increased by 100 per cent, while Korean drama consumption has tripled.

“Traditionally, Hollywood has exported stories. Now what we are doing is we are exporting local authentic stories and shows everywhere around the world. All of these stories are different in point of views, from different lenses and very specific to the cultural lens,” she stated.

Netflix has grown exponentially in other Asian countries too. South Korea has been the most prominent market for the streamer. It has a mix of licensed, regional, the original film in the market. While some of the licensed shows like K-Dramas have performed well, Korean shows in other categories also travelled. More importantly, Netflix could continue its production in Korea the whole time during the pandemic. Hence, the OTT platform has a “pretty solid” slate in Korea for 2021.

The streamer is gearing up its efforts in Japan by building studios and partnering with local talent. Along with investing in anime which is very successful for the platform, it is also betting big on live-action and non-fiction in the Japan market.

“The strategy is always going to be, we want to have the best shows. If the best shows are original shows, that’s great. If the best shows are a combination of acquisitions and partnerships and co-productions and originals, then that’s what we do,” Bajaria contended.

To build a solid global footprint of Netflix, the other goal is it wants to be a part of the creative community in each country. There will be new places the platform starts making more original content in, she added. For instance, it was only a year and a half ago it started doing originals in Africa.

“We’ve barely scratched the surface. There are so many great storytellers in so many parts of the world. There are great stories that can be told on a global scale in so many places,” she said.

The media executive has worked across mediums, starting her career with millennial TV, spending a chunk of it at Studios. She has seen the growth and progression of the M&E business, especially the rapid change in the last three to five years. It has always been very important to create a supportive environment for creators and for executives to do the work.

“I think what has been interesting about working at Netflix is typically the speed. The speed of decision making. There are not many layers like other traditional media companies I worked in. What I had to learn is to move very quickly,” she signed off.

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