Netflix is aiming to find an international audience for its Korean-language productions, as well as Bong Joon Ho’s multilingual Okja, according to David Lee, Netflix vice president, international originals.

Speaking at the KOFIC Global Forum (June 28-29), Lee said: “We are very excited about the possibilities for Korean production in the near future. Our guiding principles for international production are embracing the very local and betting on that there will be a global audience for it.”

He continued: “We now have over 80 million subscribers around the world and almost half our member base is outside the US. Our team is not really that model of making ‘Hollywood for the world.’ It’s an aspect, but it’s really this idea of connecting great stories and creators from around the world to the rest of the world.”

As an example of this strategy, Lee pointed to Spanish-language series Narcos, which was produced by French studio Gaumont with a Brazilian director and star, filmed in Columbia and streamed around the world.

“Viewing engagement for Narcos from around the world is huge – as big as any of our English-language shows. It’s an eye-opening case – seeing the possibility brought about by the internet. We think about simultaneous release all around the world in 20 languages and dubs,” said Lee.

He described the company as ‘just getting started’ in terms of international production with series such as Club De Cuervos from Mexico, Marseille with Gerard Depardieu from France and Bong’s English and Korean-language feature Okja, currently shooting in Korea.

Lee specified that Netflix wants day-and-date premieres online, with exclusivity on rights, for the original content that it funds and invests in. The streaming giant pays flat fees for the content it finances, but can be more flexible when licensing. 

Also speaking at the forum, the US studios described a different strategy that focuses on local-language productions that will work primarily in the local market, which is heavily skewed towards theatrical. 

Asked what kind of local-language productions Hollywood studios invest in, Warner Bros Korea head of local production, Jay Choi, said: “The target market is the Korean market, so it’s simple. We look for Korean films that will do well in Korea.” Taking the local-language productions to the global market is not a primary consideration.

Ivanhoe Pictures president of production Kilian Kerwin outlined the company’s deal with Fox International Productions, including co-investing in Na Hong Jin’s Cannes title The Wailing, which has clocked up almost 7 million admissions in Korea.

“We like to think we have the relationships and acumen, we love Korean cinema and could help export it to the US, but also, I read Koreans love going to the cinema so much they have the highest per capita films viewed in the world. We’re here because there is room in Korea,” said Kerwin.

Ivanhoe also has a deal with Blumhouse Productions and Korea’s Showbox for a slate of six to seven low-budget horror films, while affiliate SK Global has a deal with Korea’s CJ E&M for baseball movie Super Fan.

Noting that The Wailing is being distributed in North America by Well Go USA and not Fox, Choi went on to say that Warner’s upcoming The Age Of Shadows, directed by Kim Jee-woon, is also targeting first and foremost the local market. 

Warner Brothers Korea is producing and investing, handling distribution and ancillary rights, while Korea’s Finecut is handling international sales. Choi also said that he’s looking to develop Korean remakes of the extensive Warner Bros library.

Asia mobile trends

Meanwhile, Sam Cai, chief researcher at Tencent’s Research Institute, said: “Digital distribution is overtaking physical distribution these days as more and more people enjoy movies online. China has about 1.4bn people and more than half that use the internet. Of these, 90% are on mobile because even if some people in rural areas can’t afford [computers], mobile is changing the trends.”

Lee noted that while Netflix viewers in North America seemed to prefer big screen TV viewing, mobile devices were much more popular in Asia, including India.

Cai sad: “We found two trends – firstly, people prefer to enjoy content on mobiles and tablets. Secondly, people not only want content but they want to talk to other people about it. So we have interactive consumption services like Bullet Screen and big data and content creation.”

“With the wider availability of legitimate services, we are actually seeing piracy shrinking,” added Lee.

Cai noted a third trend: “VR is also a hot issue in China and maybe in three to five years it could also be very important as a future platform so we are doing research on how to protect IP in VR distribution.”