Non-English Drama Exports Escalate Across the Globe

Has the media entertainment industry accepted that 95% of the world’s population speaks a language other than English?

European, notably non-English speaking dramas, continue their acceleration across the globe, many finding success both locally and internationally. In the not too distant past, foreign language content was essentially destined for its country of origin. The advent of streaming platforms, however, have collapsed borders and barriers bringing opportunities previously unimagined.

The trend for scripted content has shifted from prime-time slots on major TV networks for U.S./English-speaking dramas to binge-watching from anywhere (and in any language), anytime and on any device. Today, the huge volumes of high-quality content produced in the UK, France, and Turkey, in addition to the highly popular Latin American telenovelas, means that European broadcasters are less dependent on U.S. shows to survive.

The number of cross-cultural and cross-platform partnerships announced at MIPCOM 2017 bear witness to the sign of the times. Indeed, this change is here to stay as companies across the media entertainment value-chain embrace “glocal” strategies: “MIPCOM has confirmed that barriers are tumbling throughout the TV and digital industry. New partnerships are being formed between established television companies and digital platforms. Major groups are embracing change and taking a long-term approach by investing heavily in new content destined for all devices. And there is an increasing acceptance that great content, tailored for different audiences, will be a key to success in the future,” said Reed MIDEM’s Laurine Garaude.

In an article published by Screen Daily, French producer Pascal Breton — founder of Paris-based Federation Entertainment which produced the first French Netflix Original, “Marseille”, as well as successful export “The Bureau”,  explains that: “global platforms immediately understood as they started spreading their wings beyond the US that half their market was not English-speaking. I was speaking recently with one of the heads of Netflix and he said, ‘We have to come to terms with the fact that only 5% of the world’s population speak English as their mother tongue.’” According to Screen Daily, Breton believes the next big linguistic target markets will be French (thanks in part to Francophone populations in Africa), Mandarin, Hindi and Russian.

From what we have witnessed as a media localization service provider, China seems to be the next region both for localization and content production. The number of people speaking Chinese (combining native and non-native speakers) is almost at 1.1 billion. Other major languages that are gaining momentum are Hindi, Spanish, Arabic, and Russian. Spanish continues to keep its strong position both as an export market for foreign content but also in the production of local Spanish content. The potential of this one language, when taking into consideration the combination of content produced in Spain with that created across Latin American countries, is huge.

Of course, we must be realistic and not forget that the volume in each language fluctuates depending on market saturation. Today, the European market has a relatively strong share of VOD services. As this market matures we are noticing the increased development of VOD services across Asia, namely the expansion of streaming provider - Iflix. Naturally, this expansion creates demand for Asian content given that the region is more receptive towards Korean and Chinese series.

The same can be said for the increase in good Bollywood content: This year alone saw the Indian fantasy epic “Baahubali 2: The Conclusion” break box-office records, becoming the highest-grossing Indian box-office release of all time. It is my belief that the next wave will be for African French and English as Africa experiences its boom in the media entertainment sector.

As emphasised by Albin Lewi, Artistic Director for the newly launched CANNESERIES who was interviewed by Variety last month: “It’s a perfect time for international. As I said before, foreign shows now travel. Two examples just from France: “The Bureau” and “Spiral.” Ten years ago, they wouldn’t have been seen by U.S. audiences.”

Nevertheless, we must not hurry to say, “The King is dead”. Even if native English speakers are only 5% of the world’s population, the total number of people across the globe communicating in English is approximately 1 billion, falling behind Chinese. This means that no matter what, English and consequently content produced in this major language will continue to be in high demand.

Related Reading:

Making Foreign Language Drama Successful Across International Markets

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