Netflix’s bet on global TV could change how we see the world

As a child rising up in Italy, I keep in mind watching the American TV collection Happy Days, which chronicled the Fifties-era Midwestern adventures of the Fonz, Richie Cunningham, and different native youngsters.

Glad Days was a product of Hollywood, which is arguably nonetheless the epicenter of the global leisure trade. So current information that the streaming service Netflix is opening an Italian office and can start massively funding unique native content material with the intent of distributing it globally on its platform—following a technique already launched in different European international locations—struck me.

The present, mixed with different American leisure broadly accessible in Italy in the Seventies and Nineteen Eighties, formed my notion of the United States lengthy earlier than I ever set foot in the nation. Right now, I name the U.S. residence, and I’ve developed my very own understanding of its complexities. I’m able to see Glad Days as a nostalgic revival of an ideal, conflict-free American small town.

This could be a probably game-changing transfer in global leisure. And it would even change how the world perceives, properly, the world.


Studying by watching

I’ve explored the global media landscape from the privileged vantage level of Los Angeles for the previous 15 years.

TV and flicks are a method that folks, as we undergo life, make sense of the world, constructing on the archive of our personal experiences and opinions of other places.

Absent direct expertise with a folks or nation, we speculate on what we have no idea. This course of includes quite a lot of sources, together with studying, Googling, and accounts from anyone we belief. However typically it’s media that expose folks to different cultures, above and past our personal.

TV and flicks fill the information gaps with highly effective pictures and tales that inform the method we take into consideration completely different cultures. If the media’s messages have consistency over time, we may come to understand these as facts.

However media portrayals could be inaccurate. Actually, they’re incomplete. That’s as a result of films and TV collection aren’t essentially meant to depict actuality; they’re designed for leisure.

Consequently, they are often deceptive, if not biased, primarily based on and perpetuating stereotypes.


For instance, there isn’t a scarcity of Italian and Italian American stereotypes in American entertainment. From the award-winning Godfather saga to the much less critically acclaimed Jersey Shore TV collection, Italians are sometimes depicted as tasteless, uneducated, linked to organized crime—or all three.

Media are a window to the world

However the method persons are uncovered to media entertainment is altering. Right now streaming platforms comparable to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV Plus, and Disney Plus collectively have 1 billion subscribers globally.

Being a relative newcomer in producing unique content material, Netflix can’t rely on a big library of proprietary content material to feed its 204 million paid members in over 190 countries, as legacy Hollywood gamers can. So it’s more and more creating unique productions, together with quite a lot of non-English-language originals from locations comparable to Mexico, France, Italy, Japan, and Brazil.

A snippet of Netflix’s worldwide lineup on April 2, 2021 [Screenshot:]

We’d name this an instance of  “glocalization of entertainment“—an organization working globally, adapting its content material to fulfill the expectations of domestically located audiences throughout the world. That is already the modus operandi, for instance, of many popular reality-TV shows. American Idol is an American adaptation of Europe’s Pop Idol. The X Issue, Large Brother, and Dancing with the Stars have equally worldwide origins.

Now, nevertheless, glocalization comes with a twist: Netflix intends to distribute its localized content material internationally, past the native markets.

It isn’t the global attain of Netflix’s platform per se that might break down outdated stereotypes. French critics panned the American-produced, internationally distributed Netflix collection Emily in Paris for its clichéd, romanticized portrayal of the metropolis.

Overseas TV executives should create exhibits for Netflix that each enchantment to native audiences and have worldwide potential, whereas remaining genuine of their portrayal of their nation. If Netflix’s Italian workforce thinks The Godfather is what worldwide audiences anticipate from Italy, worldwide audiences might tune in—however Italians received’t.

To develop into actually worldwide, Netflix would additionally must foster the improvement of unique native concepts not solely in European international locations with well-developed cultural industries but additionally in smaller international locations and people with rising leisure industries, such as African nations.

Netflix’s alternative—and problem

A facet impact of this technique could be that Netflix upends the conventional method that media inform our understanding of overseas folks and lands by extra precisely representing these locations.

However that’s a tall order, and it’s not, after all, assured.

Netflix’s transformative potential comes from permitting native creatives to inform tales about their very own cultures after which distributing them actually internationally. It’s going to rely on the firm’s willingness to implement this technique in a constant, sustained, inclusive, and considerate vogue.


Over time, widespread publicity to a various array of worldwide media content material would possibly change the method folks in the U.S. and worldwide assume and really feel about different cultures they’ve by no means, and should by no means, come into direct contact with.

All it takes is one click on—one alternative to look at, maybe even unknowingly, a foreign-produced collection.

The best way Netflix works, utilizing algorithms to suggest content as viewers make picks, can delay an preliminary publicity to and curiosity in overseas content material. Synthetic intelligence meant to feed us extra of what we like might find yourself a shocking power for change, making us rethink what we thought we knew.

Paolo Sigismondi is a scientific professor of communication at Annenberg Faculty for Communication and Journalism, College of Southern California. This text is republished from The Conversation underneath a Artistic Commons license. Learn the original article.