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Squid Game’s Secret – The Rise in Global Entertainment

Squid Game, ring any bells? I can assume that most of you reading this have seen or heard of the viral South Korean Netflix drama featuring children’s games, matching green track suits, social commentary, and yes, lots and lots of death and violence.

Until this year, I, a white English-speaking TV fanatic had only seen a few subtitled TV shows and movies (mostly in college courses). Not because I wasn’t necessarily interested but because it wasn’t really an accessible, or frankly, bingeable option. Squid Game was a popular, story-driven show I just couldn’t miss. It became a key entry point into making subtitled content a foundational staple in my streaming habits, and as I scroll through Netflix’s current most popular shows, it’s clear I’m not alone.

Boon Joon Ho, Korean director of Parasite, 2020’s first non-English language film to win Best Picture, famously called subtitles the “one inch barrier” which has historically deterred most audiences from viewing films and TV from beyond their own borders or languages. That border, however, is collapsing – especially in the streaming world.

Netflix, famed for its viewer-driven approach for content strategy, is heavily investing in international markets with much of its $17.3 billion annual budget going to Germany, France, South Korea, and Japan. Meanwhile, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Max, Paramount+ and Apple TV+ are also upping their investments in international markets in the next year.

Clearly content produced outside of the US, not in the English-language, isn’t a new phenomenon. But I couldn’t help but wonder what has sparked its new, mainstream explosion in creativity. Why are Americans expanding beyond the Hollywood-led, English-only entertainment bubble?

Although the simple answer might be this content provides something new that reaches beyond the monotony of American storylines and themes (I feel pretty well versed in the ins and out of being a brooding, small-town detective), it also has a lot to do with relatability.

Consumers want to see themselves in the narratives they watch, to connect with characters and to feel the emotional gravity of different events and situations, all while being entertained. While Squid Game has an array of cultural references, slang, and social commentary specific to Korea, at its core it’s a story about regret, connection, and oppression. Specific cultural importance meets universal truths – check and check.

However, universal relatability can be difficult to achieve. Universal content has historically meant something that’s easily consumable for the majority audience – but that definition is shifting. Consumers now desire genuine, diverse entertainment, and thus, diverse creators and cast are expanding the typical American media narrative.

So, how can content brands engage in this rising trend around global content? As brand strategists at Egg, we contemplate questions like this all the time. Here are some ways to navigate this evolving space:

  • Balance Universal and Local Relatability – There must be a balance between
    universal values, and culturally specific relevance. In order to not risk pandering
    or being unrelatable on the local level, it’s important to understand local nuance
    and cultural sensitivity when making something accessible to the whole world.
  • Don’t Cut Corners on Language – The nuance of language is valuable to
    consider and ultimately part of the tapestry of creative expression. While English-
    only speaking consumers might miss the details in the subtitles, it’s still important
    to use native slang and cultural relevance, lest it present as performative.
  • Behind the Camera – For content to be authentic, behind the camera
    representation is key. Not only is the representation of the cast important, but it’s
    important for writers, crew, and producers to be true cultural representatives and
    ambassadors, not just masquerading to fit in the universal mold.

Here at Egg, trends like these – those at the intersection between culture and global media – are exactly the sort of phenomena we help our clients explore and leverage. We’re keeping the dialogue going as our eyes span the globe for interesting and engaging content.