Netflix to produce more Japanese shows

TOKYO • Netflix intends to produce more original Japanese television shows after the series it introduced earlier this month beat the company's expectations by drawing viewers from Brazil to Germany and the United States.

The 10-episode production Hibana is showing that Japanese content can draw global audiences, Mr Greg Peters, president of Netflix Japan, said in an interview. The drama is subtitled in 19 languages.

"Half of the viewing of this story is coming outside of Japan," he said. Hibana is a Japanese story, yet based on universal themes of friendship that are appreciated everywhere, he said.

Netflix has set aside US$6 billion (S$8 billion) this year for buying and producing films and television series as it vies with Amazon and Hulu to expand globally, adding more than 130 new markets this year after entering Japan last year as its first in Asia.

Hibana, the story of a 20- something comedian's struggle to become famous, stars Kento Hayashi, 25, winner of a Japan Academy Prize in 2008.

Mr Peters declined to give any viewership or subscriber figures for Hibana or for Netflix Japan, though he did say that the success of original content created in Japan shows the benefits the platform holds for Japanese TV and film performers. "We can actually take that story and give them a huge global audience - much bigger than the historical form of content distribution has been able to give them," he said.

Netflix has yet to penetrate one of the largest overseas markets, China, where local video streaming providers such as Baidu's iQiyi, Alibaba's Youku Tudou, Le's LeTV and kankan.com are entrenching their brands.

"The only impediment we have in China is the particular regulatory environment that's there," said Mr Peters. "We're eager to launch our service in the market."

He declined to comment on whether censorship was an obstacle or to elaborate on the regulatory hurdles the company faces in China.

He also did not give any timeframe for starting services in the country.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2016, with the headline 'Netflix to produce more Japanese shows'. Print Edition | Subscribe