It's not TV, It's Netflix

By Rupert Burnham | November 29, 2018

Hit shows on Netflix are hardly a rare thing, but where they’re acquired from and why may surprise you. Barely a month passes without there being another runaway successful show on Netflix — not that they’re all popular, just look at Iron Fist. One of the latest series that has been streamed and received with great acclaim is the Spanish language and produced heist series, La Casa de Papel (Money Heist as it’s also known).

Data collected from Nahuru’s Proprietary software from the BitTorrent Network.


Such was its success that the show was Netflix’s most-watched foreign-language series ever and surprisingly — from January to May 2018 — was the most popular show in the world and the most downloaded show via BitTorrents based on average downloads: beating all English language programmes in the popularity stakes.

Making this all the more remarkable is that the show was initially intended as a limited series originally premiering on 2 May, 2017 on the Spanish broadcaster Antena 3. Antena 3 distributed the first two parts of the series in Spain, before the series was acquired and streamed by Netflix in December 2017, who edited the nine 70 minute episodes into 13 episodes. Netflix released the second part worldwide on 6 April 2018, with the same edits made to the episodes as in the first part. On 18 April 2018, Netflix renewed the series for a third part, which is expected to be released in 2019. The third part will be exclusive to Netflix and released worldwide.

Constructing a hit

But why is this show in particular so popular, is it the show itself pulling in these impressive figures, or merely the fact that it’s being streamed by Netflix? Or is it in fact a bit of both? Let’s start with the show. As a recent Variety article suggested, there are five elements to La Casa del Papel that make it a ratings winner.


First up, it’s female dominated with a strong cast; four of the main protagonists are female, there’s a female narrator and the story is told from a female perspective. This automatically sets the show apart from most, but particularly in the heist genre, which is more male skewed than most. Such a strong female cast and perspective is likely to make it more appealing to a female audience as well as a male audience.


Next up, pace. In a sense mimicking an actual heist, the pace of the series is frenetic with plot twists aplenty. The two series total 1,000 minutes, and the heist occurs in the 14th minute.


Another key thing that sets the show apart is the strong story and appealing characters. Unlike many Western series, La Casa del Papel strongly focuses on its characters — particularly their emotional development. This serves to give the viewer greater empathy for the show’s main female protagonists and their particular circumstances: in addition to this, multiple authority figures — all men — are portrayed in a negative light. This type of framing serves to give the show a strong anti-authority, social edge, and in turn, a large nod of sympathy to today’s disaffected and disenfranchised youth.


The show’s narrative and use of flashbacks also sets it apart. The show is narrated by one of the protagonists from an indeterminate, but near future. Cleverly, this allows the narrator to describe the sentiments of the other characters regarding their past actions and motivations, and build a richer story in the process.


One final element that the show’s success has been ascribed to is the tight control that was kept over the creative and production process. Pina and Martínez Lobato, the producers, partially through necessity and budget constraints decided to create a small series where they’d be able to keep control of throughout the entire creative and production process.


So the show is original, extremely well scripted and female focused, but is this enough alone to explain its resounding popularity, or is it the beneficiary of a well considered Netflix expansion strategy?

World domination?

It has been suggested that the streaming giant may have reached saturation point in the US in terms of subscriber acquisition. If this indeed is the case, then in order to further grow, it needs to look further afield. Furthermore, if it wants to expand and also to reduce expenditure on acquisitions, then it needs to look more to inhouse production — a clever move because producing original content allows Netflix to avoid studio fees.


In its bid to expand, Netflix has been ploughing investment into European Productions. In 2017 almost $2 billion was invested in European productions by Netflix, and this year the figure has risen to $8 billion worth of content. As part of this huge level of investment, Netflix is launching its first European production hub in Madrid, targeting Spanish-language production and potentially drama series, which are a priority and a large source of success for the streaming giant. Given Spain’s rich history of innovative content this is a canny move. Spanish is the fourth most spoken language in the world, so any Spanish language productions will have appeal to countries with Spanish speaking populations — particularly South America — served by Netflix and its global platform, after all, not everyone wants to watch US series. It’s worth pointing out, that approximately, only 5% of the global population, some 360 million people speak English as their first language.

Local to global

And this is one the exciting things about Netflix — it’s able to provide a global platform for shows that previously would only have been viewable within the borders of the country that produced them. One of Netflix’s stated aims is to amplify local voices and bring new, diverse and never-before-seen stories from Europe, the Middle East and Africa to the rest of the world. As Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer at Netflix said Our belief is that great storytelling transcends borders. When stories from different countries, languages and cultures find a worldwide platform where the only limitation is the creator’s imagination, then unique, yet universal, stories emerge that are embraced by a global audience”.


Sarondos’ comments were echoed Netflix's Chief Product Officer, Greg Peters at the recent Web Summit 2018 in Lisbon. As far as Netflix is concerned story is everything and authentic storytelling is what the audience want. To this end, where the story actually comes from or what language it is in is irrelevant, because as Peters points out, Netflix currently provides subtitles in 26 different languages and dubbing in 10. Not only that though, good transcreation is a fine art, and the subtitling and dubbing that Netflix is able to provide is of such an exceptionally high quality, that a foreign language offering is no longer the niche product it was once presumed to be. Netflix has realised that in order to attract an audience, the devil is in the detail, and the quality of the sound, the video playback, and the dubbing. If the product is flawless and the experience is seamless so to speak, then the crowds will come flocking. As Peters says “Great stories can come from anywhere and they can travel everywhere”.


La Casa del Papel is a case in point as to the success of this strategy. Having achieved modest success on its domestic broadcaster, the show was moved onto the regional version of Netflix, before later being added to Netflix’s global offering. Then shortly after that it become a worldwide phenomenon, going on to become the most viewed non-English-language series on Netflix.


In a previous post we remarked on the positive effect that Netflix’s acquisition of the British series Black Mirror had had, and in La Casa del Papel we have a direct comparable. A local, but popular series boosted globally by its acquisition and streaming on Netflix.

What’s next?

Netflix’s prefered strategy of acquiring shows no signs of abating, as it’s recent acquisition of the international rights for the British smash hit The Bodyguard shows. Though as the data shows, the show was already widely popular without Netflix’s intervention, something posited to the fact that it was broadcast in a linear fashion on a weekly basis, creating a so called “water cooler” moment — proving that traditional broadcasting has legs in it yet. But at the same time, Netflix’s rampant acquisition strategy blurs the line between the shows it creates and the ones it acquires, branding every new acquisition as a “Netflix Original” and using its financial muscle to dominate the market.

Data collected from Nahuru’s Proprietary software from the BitTorrent Network.

It’s not TV, it’s Netflix

This raises a questions, should we be considering Netflix as a marketing tool, as well as a delivery channel? Is Netflix becoming a more effective yardstick for a show’s success and quality than more “traditional” measures? And with the success of shows like the Spanish language La Casa del Papel, might we see the dominant language on the platform change in time?


Or is it the case that we should be looking at the effect of the brand that Netflix has cultivated for itself, and that it now appears to be successfully exporting around the world? Netflix has cultivated this brand based on the quality of its content and its ability to provide a different product. Simultaneously, it has been able to successfully leverage content of a lower quality in its efforts to capture market share of the vast global market. In doing so, Netflix is demonstrating an acute understanding of the global landscape, and accordingly is buying and creating shows that cater for specific audiences — La Casa del Papel being a case in point. In building such a strong brand, Netflix are successfully building trust. People trust Netflix, their content and their approach, which gives them ever greater options. At the same time this gives Netflix even greater scope and ability to acquire content new and old. This brings to mind HBO. HBO also sell their own brand of TV, and used to have a marketing campaign under the slogan “It’s not TV, it’s HBO” implying that they were offering something more than mere TV shows. Netflix appear to be doing much the same, offering a different product that is not TV. Perhaps it’s time to dust off the slogan and repurpose because increasingly it seems to be the case that it’s not TV, it’s Netflix.


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