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Netflix Originals: Cultural Challenges Producing Local Content

Erik Barmack
Former Vice President, Head of International Originals, at Netflix

Learning outcomes

  • Challenges Netflix faced entering new regions and cultures to create local content

Executive Bio

Erik Barmack

Former Vice President, Head of International Originals, at Netflix

Erik was responsible for the strategy, team management, and production of Netflix Originals outside of the US. He managed over 40 production and finance executives and led the production of various critically acclaimed shows such as Dark and Casa de las Flores. He was a key figure in scaling Netflix globally to regions such as India, Mexico, and Europe where Netflix now produces tens of local language shows. Erik joined Netflix in 2011 as Global Content Director after spending six years leading ESPN Business Development. He left Netflix in April 2019 to launch his own development and production house of shows outside the US. Read more

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Interview Transcript

What are some of the biggest challenges you faced at Netflix?

I would say that the more different the market is, then you can get caught if you’re not very sensitive, locally. We had a show in India, Sacred Games, which is great and it did really well for us, but there’s this scene where this gangster, early on in his life, puts a chicken bone in the rice of a vegetarian restaurant, as a way of telling the restaurant owner that he was done with his job. When we were premiering that show in Mumbai, I remember the audience gasped. It was, literally, a scene that I’d watched over and over again and thought it was kind of funny. As an outsider, you don’t appreciate the nuance of it all. Luckily, the show did really well for us. But you can just misunderstand what is either culturally relevant or culturally offensive.

You’re making decisions, with producers, that are, essentially, extensions of who you are, as an executive. You can definitely bet on the wrong people, who can end up either spending money poorly, or taking money out of the show. There is a constant bit of work that you have to do, regarding who do you trust and all of that.

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