Some of us are old enough to remember that once upon a time, we in India used to watch local Indian football matches on TV and on the ground. Then the 1986 football was broadcast live from Mexico. After that, audiences for Indian football matches dwindled rapidly – even if you were a diehard East Bengal fan, your heart was not in it anymore after watching Maradona’s magic in Mexico on your TV screen.

Netflix is having a similar impact on TV channels and on local cinema content the world over. And as this long read in the New Yorker explains, this is by design, not accident – Netflix’s programs are for, say India, are intended to 4-5 years AHEAD of what Indian TV channels or Bollywood producers are working on. Even more interestingly, the person in charge of this global machine is a former Miss India Universe, Bela Bajaria whose life seems to be straight out a movie: “Bela Bajaria, Netflix’s global head of television, follows a similar routine whether she’s visiting Mumbai or Berlin or Seoul or Stockholm or any of the company’s twenty-six foreign outposts. A black car brings her from the airport to a luxury hotel, perhaps the Four Seasons. She checks in and furiously answers e-mails from Los Angeles until it’s time for a breakfast or a dinner or a midday meal with executives and creators. She wears her favorite “travel blazer,” a designer jacket bejewelled on the breast pocket with the words “Art is truth.” And, though she often stays “in country” for only a day or two at a time, she likes to schedule a “slate meeting” so that the local development team can fill her in on upcoming programs.”

The global machine that Ms Bajaria is running seems to be (still) working on massive budgets with a big appetite for high quality local content: “…she left the team with a blunt exhortation to continue scaling up: “It’s not a science. It’s a big creative endeavor. But it’s about recognizing that people like having more.”” As the article piece, this strategy of manufacturing large quantities of high quality content has been at the heart of Netflix’s strategy since 2010.

Ms Bajaria, who was elevated to a global role in 2020 at the expense of a rival exec, Cindy Holland, with this strategy of world dominance in mind, has a perfect CV for leading this global charge: “Bajaria had come up in the industry through the high-volume, high-spectacle world of network-TV movies and miniseries, working for two decades at CBS and at NBC Universal. When she joined Netflix, in 2016, she led the company’s first forays into reality TV and brokered deals to rapidly expand the platform’s catalogue. In 2019, she began leading non-English TV programming as well. Sarandos told me that in Bajaria and Holland he had “two unbelievably strong candidates” but that he went with the one who he felt best embodied Netflix’s “breadth of programming” and increasingly global focus. Netflix won’t disclose any internal financial figures, but one former executive told me that the choice was “not shocking” from an economic perspective. “Some of Cindy’s shows were tough. People made them for prestige, and for their friends,” she said. Bajaria’s team more readily embraced the company’s new objective, the executive said: not only to compete with cable but to “replace all television.””

Under Bajaria’s charge Netflix has produced global megahits like Squid Game (1.65 billion hours watched globally) and the Heist. “The entirety of “Squid Game” reportedly cost only $21.4 million.”

So how is Netlfix dealing with the impending recession in the West? Answer: by going global and reducing its dependence on the West: “Its projected content budget for 2023 is the same as last year’s—seventeen billion dollars…According to a recent study by the streaming-analytics firm Antenna, only fifty-five per cent of U.S. Netflix subscribers who signed up last January stayed on for more than six months. Netflix does not, like some of its competitors, have a deep back catalogue of globally popular intellectual property, and companies once willing to license their content now withhold it for their own streaming services. Nor does Netflix have another lucrative business arm, the way Apple or Amazon does, to offset spending on content. What it does have is a head start in the large swaths of the globe that are still dominated by traditional “linear TV.” Netflix made its first foreign-language original, the Mexican fútbol satire “Club de Cuervos,” in 2015. Two years later, Hastings acknowledged that “the big growth” for the company lay abroad. Netflix today offers streaming services in more than a hundred and ninety countries. According to one study, in the third quarter of 2022 alone it released more than a thousand episodes of original streaming television globally—at least five times the number of any other streaming service. Almost seventy per cent of Netflix’s two hundred and twenty-three million subscriptions now come from outside the U.S. and Canada.” And that helps explains in part why Ms Bajaria spends so much time on a plane.

You should read the New Yorker article in full in understand the how and why of Indian talent is now central for companies who want to rule the world: “…Upstairs, Bajaria showed me her office…It was a sunny space decorated with a large figurine of the Hindu god Ganesha and, as an homage to both Bajaria’s itinerant job and her multinational upbringing, seven clocks set to the local times of cities across the globe.

Bajaria’s parents, Rekha and Ramesh, met and married in Kenya but moved to the U.K. for her birth, in 1970…”

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