Multilingual Boom at Netflix

An update with Katell Jentreau

INTERVIEW BY STEFAN HUYGHE

Multilingual Boom at Netflix. An update with Katell Jentreau

INTERVIEW BY STEFAN HUYGHE

Katell Jentreau

Regional Globalization Manager, Netflix.

In 2012, she arrived in the United States and led the globalization effort at Box to late 2015, before joining Netflix’s globalization team as the company was getting ready to launch globally in January 2016. As a Regional Globalization Manager, Katell works on improving and expanding the Netflix localized experience for members around the world, with a focus on Latin America and Asia-Pacific. From 2013 to 2015, she was also on the board of Women in Localization, a global community for the advancement of women and the localization industry.

International entertainment is key to Netflix’s global expansion strategy. And with foreign-language hits like Squid Game on the company’s hands, that strategy is starting to pay off.

Katell Jentreau, Regional Globalization Manager at Netflix, is one major reason for that success. Originally from France, Jentreau has over 20 years of experience in localization, both on the vendor and client sides. In 2012, she arrived in the United States and led the globalization effort at Box to late 2015, before joining Netflix’s globalization team as the company was getting ready to launch globally in January 2016. As a Regional Globalization Manager, Katell works on improving and expanding the Netflix localized experience for members around the world, with a focus on Latin America and Asia-Pacific. From 2013 to 2015, she was also on the board of Women in Localization, a global community for the advancement of women and the localization industry.

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Before Katell’s arrival, Netflix was available in just 30 countries worldwide. Netflix first expanded outside the US in 2010, when its streaming offering became available in Canada. Between 2010 and 2015, Netflix expanded to a series of European and Latin American countries. After the global launch in 2016, Netflix accelerated that effort to about 130 additional countries. For the first time in TV history, international shows are being released worldwide in a plethora of languages simultaneously. Even more amazingly, high-quality programming produced in smaller markets is getting a chance to break through worldwide.

Katell took time from her busy schedule to discuss Netflix’s approach to globalization, its recent successes, and what comes next.

Can you give our readers an idea of the scale of your localization expansion and its acceleration over the last decade? What are your international language objectives?

We believe that great stories are universal, and that they can come from anywhere and be loved everywhere. Our goal is to not let language be an obstacle in experiencing new voices, cultures, and perspectives. We have a dedicated team that works on subs and dubs, which is a work of art that blends innovation with human craftsmanship, helping stories translate meaningfully to other cultures. We now include subs for titles in 37 languages, and dub titles in more than 35 languages. This work is nuanced, and we continue to work hard to keep making it better.

How have they evolved over that time?

Our service that reaches more than 190 countries around the world — combined with our subbing and dubbing — means French shows like Lupin or Spanish stories like La Casa de Papel
(Money Heist in the US) or Korean stories like Squid Game have gone on to become the top 10 most popular TV (non-English) shows based on hours viewed in their first 28 days on Netflix.

  • Squid Game: 1,650,450,000 hours viewed
  • Money Heist: Part 4: 619,010,000 hours viewed
  • Lupin: Part 1: 316,830,000 hours viewed

We want to reach our members wherever they live and give storytellers the ability to reach audiences all around the world — it’s why we have accelerated our efforts localizing our service
over the last five years.

What have been some of the biggest surprises in your localization endeavors?

Our goal is to produce stories that are authentically local and will work in that country — so that more people from different parts of the globe can see themselves represented on screen. When these titles connect locally, we’ve seen that they are more likely to be well received in other countries — two examples are Call My Agent from France and Squid Game from Korea. We love it when audiences around the world discover local stories from a new country, but that doesn’t mean every show and movie will travel like that. Some stories are hyper local, and therefore tend to be watched mostly by a local audience.

For the longest time, it was assumed American viewers were not interested in foreign language programming. Shows like Squid Game, seemingly, have turned that notion on its head. Do you agree? What changed? Or did we just misunderstand all this time? How has that impacted your approach?

We always knew Squid Game would be popular in Korea, but we couldn’t have predicted it would be this big a hit around the world. But in recent years we’ve seen that audiences are becoming more receptive to shows from other countries — Lupin, La Casa de Papel, and Who Killed Sara? are all huge global hits. There’s also been increasing audience interest in K-Dramas, up 200% in the US in the last two years (2019-2021), even before Squid Game! We are constantly innovating our product experience so that members can discover these amazing stories from other countries.

Before Katell’s arrival, Netflix was available in just 30 countries worldwide. Netflix first expanded outside the US in 2010, when its streaming offering became available in Canada. Between 2010 and 2015, Netflix expanded to a series of European and Latin American countries. After the global launch in 2016, Netflix accelerated that effort to about 130 additional countries. For the first time in TV history, international shows are being released worldwide in a plethora of languages simultaneously. Even more amazingly, high-quality programming produced in smaller markets is getting a chance to break through worldwide.

Katell took time from her busy schedule to discuss Netflix’s approach to globalization, its recent successes, and what comes next.

Can you give our readers an idea of the scale of your localization expansion and its acceleration over the last decade? What are your international language objectives?

We believe that great stories are universal, and that they can come from anywhere and be loved everywhere. Our goal is to not let language be an obstacle in experiencing new voices, cultures, and perspectives. We have a dedicated team that works on subs and dubs, which is a work of art that blends innovation with human craftsmanship, helping stories translate meaningfully to other cultures. We now include subs for titles in 37 languages, and dub titles in more than 35 languages. This work is nuanced, and we continue to work hard to keep making it better.

How have they evolved over that time?

Our service that reaches more than 190 countries around the world — combined with our subbing and dubbing — means French shows like Lupin or Spanish stories like La Casa de Papel
(Money Heist in the US) or Korean stories like Squid Game have gone on to become the top 10 most popular TV (non-English) shows based on hours viewed in their first 28 days on Netflix.

  • Squid Game: 1,650,450,000 hours viewed
  • Money Heist: Part 4: 619,010,000 hours viewed
  • Lupin: Part 1: 316,830,000 hours viewed

We want to reach our members wherever they live and give storytellers the ability to reach audiences all around the world — it’s why we have accelerated our efforts localizing our service
over the last five years.

What have been some of the biggest surprises in your localization endeavors?

Our goal is to produce stories that are authentically local and will work in that country — so that more people from different parts of the globe can see themselves represented on screen. When these titles connect locally, we’ve seen that they are more likely to be well received in other countries — two examples are Call My Agent from France and Squid Game from Korea. We love it when audiences around the world discover local stories from a new country, but that doesn’t mean every show and movie will travel like that. Some stories are hyper local, and therefore tend to be watched mostly by a local audience.

For the longest time, it was assumed American viewers were not interested in foreign language programming. Shows like Squid Game, seemingly, have turned that notion on its head. Do you agree? What changed? Or did we just misunderstand all this time? How has that impacted your approach?

We always knew Squid Game would be popular in Korea, but we couldn’t have predicted it would be this big a hit around the world. But in recent years we’ve seen that audiences are becoming more receptive to shows from other countries — Lupin, La Casa de Papel, and Who Killed Sara? are all huge global hits. There’s also been increasing audience interest in K-Dramas, up 200% in the US in the last two years (2019-2021), even before Squid Game! We are constantly innovating our product experience so that members can discover these amazing stories from other countries.

I watched the Netflix Q4 2021 Earnings Interview on YouTube, which has a lot of broad financial and growth information. But our readers are specifically interested in your global language efforts. Can you share what percentage of your revenue comes from outside of the US, for example? How has that percentage evolved?

Netflix’s business is healthy, and engagement is strong. Of the 222 million members we have around the world, over 129 million are outside of UCAN/North America, and growing (please refer to our Q4, Earnings letter for additional information).

We would also love to know a bit more about your internal localization mechanics. How do you handle translations from originals in Turkish or Brazilian Portuguese that need to be translated into other languages?

Netflix commissions stories from around the world (ie: like global hits from Turkey like The Protector, or Brazil’s 3%)in many different languages, because we want to reach our members no matter where they are, what language they speak, or what device they watch on. In order to scale, we closely partner with our content team to define clear language strategies and engage with media localization partners globally to provide the best resources to our non-English as well as English-language films, shows, and specials. Operationally, we use direct language pairs when possible and when it makes sense (e.g. Korean to Japan), but using English as a pivot language remains a powerful scaling tool.

How do you decide what shows will be localized in which languages? Do you test programming first? Is there a standard policy? Does it get determined primarily by licensing agreements? Are there other factors that come into play?

As we bring content from around the world to our members in their language, we work hard to localize titles. At the same time, we do not have a one-size-fits-all approach, and we do not sub and dub all the titles in all languages all the time. We continue to work hard in our efforts around subs and dubs so that members have more choices about how they view our titles.

Are shows like Undercover, produced in a tiny market like the Benelux, made with international distribution in mind? How does that impact production? Do you adapt shows and make editorial changes for different markets?

Our belief is that any story can travel anywhere in the world and reach any audience. The work we do in subs and dubs, coupled with the power of our product experience, enables our members around the world to discover and enjoy new shows, films, and specials, no matter where they are produced.

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Can you divulge anything about your localization outsourcing model? MLVS versus SLVs? How do you select your language partners?

We want to work with the best partners and resources in the business to provide the best localized Netflix experience for our members. Across Netflix we work with a variety of LSPs and partners, whether it’s to support the overall product experience, shows/films, or our recent investment in games. Some of them are global MLVs, others are local SLVs — it depends on the needs of the language and of the content we are localizing for our members.

The age-old debate of subtitling vs. dubbing always generates a lot of passion on both sides. What kind of stats can you share about viewer’s preferences on Netflix? Do you see preferences shifting?

Many of our members have varied preferences, so we continue to work hard in our efforts around subbing and dubbing to give them more choices about how they watch shows, films, and specials on our service.

In my native Flanders, nobody would watch a dubbed show. In your native France nobody would watch a subtitled one. How is that developing in the US where there has never been a solid foreign-language watching tradition?

Conventional wisdom says that US audiences won’t watch foreign language content. But in the US, consumption of non-English language stories was up over 70% in 2021 compared to 2019. Only 5% (371 million) of the world’s population are native English speakers, so as a business that reaches 190 different countries, it’s incredibly important for us to make sure our content resonates with people in their local language or language of choice.

Do you have statistics on who is watching in what language in the US? How many foreign-language shows are watched by native English speakers versus households with a native tongue other than English? How does that play in your programming choices?

We do not break out language preferences by household.

What kind of language priorities have you set for localizing content? What does that localization process look like?

Netflix makes entertainment accessible around the world and helps members discover new stories by doubling down on localization.

  • Most common languages we dub in: French, Italian, German, Turkish, Polish, Japanese, Spanish (Spain), Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish (Latin America), English. Kids titles are often dubbed in the most languages, but Squid Game was dubbed in more than a dozen languages.
  • Viewing of non-English titles by Netflix members has more than tripled between 2018 and 2021.
  • Depending on the type of content (film or series), the availability of the actors, and a number of other factors, it can take on average 10-20 weeks to dub different content.
  • Since 2012, availability and consumption of dubbed content has constantly and progressively increased. On average, availability of dubs has increased by 27% year on year. Dubs consumption has also grown on average by over 120% year on year. 

Stefan Huyge is a staff writer for MultiLingual.

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