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Shows like Squid Game are creating ‘global watercooler’ moments. What does this mean for brands?

Shows like Squid Game are creating ‘global watercooler’ moments. What does this mean for brands?

Illustration by Nick DeSantis / Shutterstock / Netflix / Apple TV+ / The Current

When Netflix announced its third-quarter earnings in October, it revealed that Squid Game — the South Korean survival drama — was its biggest TV show ever. According to the streaming platform’s newly updated data, the show generated a staggering 1.65 billion viewing hours across 94 countries within the first four weeks of its release. “Great stories truly can come from anywhere and be loved everywhere,” the company said in its letter to shareholders.

Squid Game is just the latest and greatest example of how internationally produced content on streaming platforms is changing the TV ecosystem. Viewers are no longer defined by their geographical linear marketplace, which means a show like Squid Game can pierce the cultural zeitgeist around the world, not unlike a major international sporting event. For subscription and ad-supported platforms, as well as for global brands, the implications of this shift are huge.

"The success of global content — like Squid Game, Lupin, Dark, and even bilingual TV shows like Acapulco on Apple TV — shows that there is an audience in the U.S. that craves more diverse points of view than what we've seen in the past. This will only become more true as content platforms expand internationally and workforces become more distributed,” Alex Marsh, head of digital strategy at Badger & Winters, tells The Current. “The opportunity for brands is to seize these ‘global watercooler’ moments — whether responsively in social media or planned with native integrations — to breakthrough in shared cultural moments that happen on a global scale."

Foreign-language content is proving that it’s no longer niche, art-house fare in the United States but an opportunity for platforms to build up audience share in different geographical markets, from Denmark to the Philippines. Not surprisingly streaming platforms are getting strategic, investing in content that will drive market share locally and internationally. Netflix — which is leading the charge — is now producing local TV and film in approximately 45 countries. And others are following suit. ViacomCBS recently announced a plan to double its production of scripted Spanish-language content with a focus on large markets in Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Chile and Spain. “One thing is about the size of the audience that speaks Spanish, but the other element is about creating local content that travels internationally,’ commented Marco Nobili, SVP of marketing, growth, data & analytics for VCNI in a press release.

At the same time, major streaming platforms in Asia, such as Viu and iQiyi, are growing their international markets by investing heavily in “hyper-local” content, produced in local languages across the Southeast Asia marketplace (and have the potential to break out internationally). Platforms are fighting for attention in a region where 100 million viewers use ad-supported over-the-top (OTT) platforms.

The scale of this new, global marketplace is not lost on brands. Digital video viewership will hit 3.26 billion by the end of 2021, according to eMarketer. Even if that shift slows down after the acceleration of recent years, that’s still a lot of eyeballs. “I think there is a massive opportunity for emerging and established global brands to integrate with this ‘borderless’ content,” David Dykes, director of media at Baldwin&, tells The Current. “We’ll likely see more content produced outside of the U.S. as it’s cheaper to produce and helps grow subs in markets outside of America where legacy SVOD platforms are hitting a plateau. The ongoing acceptance of closed captioning helps remove any language barrier.”

And though the marketing opportunity begins on the streaming platform, that’s just the beginning of the halo effect that a big show can create. For Squid Game, Netflix noted that the show spawned a Saturday Night Live skit and memes and clips on TikTok that generated more than 42 billion views. Fandom is generating retail opportunities in every language and across every channel, not to mention Netflix’s partnership with Walmart to sell merchandise from some of its most popular shows.

When it comes to the share of global television demand, Netflix remains the dominant player, according to The Global Television Demand Report, published every quarter by Parrot Analytics. However, it notes that the platform’s demand share fell below 50 percent for the first time in Q2, as newer platforms (Disney+, Apple TV+, HBO Max, Paramount+) continue to grow more quickly. “We know that highly in-demand original content, often exclusive to platforms, is what’s driving people to sign up to their services,” Christofer Stadler, a marketing insights analyst, at Parrot Analytics, said during a webinar presentation. “The size of the streaming pie is still growing.”