If you have been even a casual consumer of online entertainment in recent weeks, it will come as no surprise that streaming is having its moment. With HBO Max as just the latest to make the jump in a long list of “channels” now available for subscription streaming, the greatest surprise is no longer that so much content is available on demand but rather that consumers are willing to purchase it from so many competing providers simultaneously.
As streaming gains traction as the primary medium for accessing film and television, though, it is worth noting the role it has tended to play traditionally within the broader entertainment industry. Seen in this light, it emerges as yet another case of a secondary product or service becoming the primary service in its sector as its appeal with consumers lends it sticking power beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unbeknownst to many, streaming has long been a bastion of the mid-budget film industry, playing an almost logistical role in bringing titles that fall short of blockbuster status to the audiences that can monetize them. Such movies, rarely found in theaters nowadays, are neither low budget indie movies nor big-budget Hollywood hits. Recent examples include the star-studded Knives Out, Jordan Peele’s sophomore production Us, and the horror movie Glass, all made for under $60 million. While a daunting investment all the same, these films still make the cut for the mid-budget category.
Theaters simply don’t have enough screens to put these movies on, and studios tend to think of them as dicey investments. As a result, mid-budget movies are often sold straight to streaming services, where, unlike theaters, the audience is easier to capture, broader, and multilingual. Some distributors, like Paramount and A24, now even have deals to produce certain original movies exclusively for streaming platforms.
During the pandemic, content made for or sold exclusively to streaming platforms has gained unprecedented international viewership numbers. The fact that audiences are now almost universally mandated to shelter in doors is good (if unexpected) news for film producers with global ambitions.
In 2018, Netflix’s Chief Product Officer declared that Netflix wanted to produce shows in different languages and cultures, and market them to international audiences. The comment implied that Netflix was developing a strategy to fund more high-quality foreign films, which has since proven to be true. European shows like Dark, Babylon Berlin, Money Heist, have done incredibly well globally, with up to 90% of their viewers watching from outside their country of origin.
In an earlier age, before streaming services, films had little hope of doing this well internationally, especially in the US market. Parasite’s historic Oscar win this year, whose closest parallel is the 20-year-old Ang Lee film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, highlights how unreceptive Americans have been to foreign language films as a consumer group. With technology has come the advent of subtitling, dubbing, and media localization — not only as an accommodation for negligible theater-going audiences in other countries, but as a profitable strategy for filmmakers and distributors.
For films that never see theatrical release (and, in the time of COVID-19, that’s every film), streaming services can net an equally large audience. As covered in our previous post on localizing The Tiger King, language services with a heavy focus on transcreation are vital to adapting culturally nuanced entertainment for overseas markets and foreign consumers. CSOFT International’s expert linguists bring a combined talent for language and culture to providing high quality subtitling and dubbing in over 250 languages. With a large network of in-country linguists and cutting-edge translation tools and processes, CSOFT can help breathe new life into films going global on the increasingly popular streaming platforms now coming into their own.