Op-Ed

Branching out to different language programs

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

We are in the golden age of television with channels like HBO, Showcase, AMC, and Netflix vying for the top awards year after year.

Netflix has found yet another successful formula in Narcos. The captivating drama focuses on drug lord Pablo Escobar, and the war on drugs in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

One thing that distinguishes Narcos from some of its counterparts is that 75 per cent of the dialogue is in Spanish. This isn’t the first time Netflix has aired shows that feature other languages aside from English. Attack on Titan, an extremely popular anime show, has made its way on Netflix and is completely in Japanese with English subtitles. Another example is the now cancelled Lilyhammer, a Norwegian comedy.

So why should Netflix make more of an effort to appeal to non-English speakers? Having a diverse repertoire of shows can  help a network gain a greater following, and gives actors, directors and producers outside of Hollywood more exposure. It also introduces different themes to audiences who are sick of the cliche cop drama, high school saga, and the same recycled subjects.

North American talent has dominated the market since televisions entered people’s homes en masse in the 1950s, so why not give a chance to people outside the North American bubble, or those within it who speak a different language?

Growing up in a Francophone household, I often faced an inferiority complex when it came to pop culture. I thought that my favourite, artists, shows and actors weren’t as cool as English ones, who were more well known than their French counterparts. At times it made me question if they were as talented, but in hindsight it’s clear that they just had a smaller audience. Netflix now features very popular Quebec dramas like 19-2 and Unité 9.

If Netflix had streamed these shows or other French shows as I was growing up, it would have encouraged a feeling of acceptance for myself and other Francophones. Pop culture tends to dictate many people’s perceptions of what’s cool, and when you can’t find ties to your own culture within it, it’s pretty easy to feel like an outsider.    

Whether it’s by providing an original show like Narcos, or one from another country like Lilyhammer, Netflix and other streaming services can only gain from having more international shows.

More viewers will opt for Netflix shows if it helps them connect to their own languages and cultures. 

These other markets could also prove to be very profitable. There are 41 million native Spanish speakers in the United States, according to Reuters, who now have quality programming provided in their native language.

Some shows in Quebec have tried the multilingual approach recently and so far have met nothing but success. Ces Gars Là, a comedy featuring comedian Sugar Sammy, has dialogue in four languages; English, French, Punjabi and Hindi. The show’s first season has been streamed over 800,000 times and averages over 500,000 viewers per week.

Having options in different languages will help Netflix and other streaming services tap into even larger audiences.