I’m going to join every other person in the world and talk about Squid Game. I’m probably about two weeks late to the conversation but you’ll have to forgive me — my MBA has been taking up a lot of my time and watching a show with subtitles takes more focus than your average ‘background’ show.
It’s actually relevant to this conversation that I’m doing my MBA. The case study we did this week in my disruptive strategy class was Disney. We had to look at the different strategic pillars Disney’s former CEO Robert Iger put in place to make it a global powerhouse. One was “International Expansion”. As I said to my group, while Disney is a “global” brand, they do a terrible job at bringing international and global stories to their audience. Their competitor Netflix is much better at driving their global audience to global shows with hits like Spain’s Elite, Sweden’s Young Royals, France’s Lupin and The Hook Up Plan, Japan’s Terrace House.. and so many more (those are just some of my favourites!).
Disney doesn’t have a “foreign language” smash. It has “English” stories set in different countries that lack the authenticity they need. So one of my ‘recommendations’ was for Disney to commission stories from creators around the world and allow for these authentic stories. I pitched this in class and a lot of my classmates agreed. We all know and love Frozen – but we don’t need Olaf retelling Disney classics. We need new stories.
Queue Squid Game.
I’ll be honest – I didn’t love the show. I really struggled with the main character for the first half of the show and found the whole thing to be bit much. It felt like an adult Hunger Games.
But what I do love is this growing audience and appreciation of non-English stories. Netflix has proven over and over that people will watch these shows. Fair warning – this is going to be a little bit rambley because I have a lot of different thoughts here.
There is a big debate if people will watch them with dubbing or in the original language but I don’t know if that matters so much. If you prefer dubbing, great. If you can read subtitles, awesome. I like that there are options to get people into the stories. I could go on about this but I’ll just drop this article from IndieWire: Subtitles Vs. Dubbing: The Big Business of Translating Foreign Films in a Post-‘Parasite’ World.
What does matter is that the English market is now more open to watching things that are not in English. This is MASSIVE.
As a Canadian, I’m hoping this trend will inspire more English-Canadians to watch French-Canadian shows and movies. The Québécois film industry is massive and although I don’t speak French, I really want to watch their shows. I really wonder if CBC Gem will stream more Radio Canada content in a post-Squid Game world. Sure they are trying to launch Mauril – an educational tool that is trying to teach Canadians French and English through TV shows and movies – but I just want to enjoy French content. I didn’t watch Squid Game to learn Korean, I watched it because I just wanted to…
Let me step away from this train of thought.
I also want to talk about why I wanted to watch this show. There were a few reasons. A colleague at work recommended it and generally I’ll watch shows to connect with the people around me, so I wanted to check this out to keep talking about it with him. I also knew this show was “the number one show in the world” and that made me endlessly curious.
I love reading Hannah Sung’s At The End Of The Day newsletter. Two weeks ago she wrote about Squid Game: “Anytime there’s a big pop cultural phenomenon, its sheer popularity is a siren song. I needed to see for myself — what is the deal?”. I completely agreed.
I needed to see it for myself. What is the big deal? IMO – it was interesting. It just wasn’t 100% for me. We’re not surprised by this. I love rom-coms, reality tv, and period shows about the Royals. A show about people getting killed might fall under my love of a cozy murder mystery or procedural crime show – but this was not that.
This was a viral hit show and I wonder how many of us helped make this show a viral hit because they told us it was a viral hit…
It feels very chicken-or-the-egg to me. What comes first? A good show that grows over time or a show that becomes the number because someone told us it was number one. I’m again super curious about Netflix’s ranking system.
We had another MBA case study about Netflix earlier in the term and one of the advantages Netflix had over Blockbuster was its algorithm that would push viewers to specific titles. You liked this… check out this!
Did Netflix push us all towards Squid Game by saying it was number one? If they did then that’s interesting. I think it proves that Netflix can make anything a hit. Schitt’s Creek is another great example of this. No one really cared about tthis show while it was “just” on CBC. Only when Netflix anointed it as a cool show and pushed it out to people did it gather the buzz that should have been there the whole time.
These are the conversations I want to have.
We can talk about Squid Game and lots of people are – but I want to talk about why we’re talking about Squid Game.
I don’t love that Squid Game is THE show that is getting us to have these conversations. But I’m glad we’re having these conversations and that the number one show in Netflix’s history isn’t an English show. It opens up so many doors for so many other creators and that’s something I can get behind.