The adage “think locally, act globally” has never applied more to a Hollywood programming executive than it does to Bela Bajaria, Netflix’s global head of TV.
A big part of her job overseeing content for Netflix’s more than 200 million subscribers in 190-plus countries is “allowing storytellers all around the world to export their stories,” Bajaria said during her keynote conversation presented Tuesday as part of Variety‘s Virtual TV Fest presented by Amazon Advertising, which runs through June 10.
In a wide-ranging conversation with Variety senior TV business writer Elaine Low, Bajaria discussed the juggling act that is required by producing so much local-language content for so many markets. But Netflix has been gratified by how widely shows from specific territories have been sampled by other markets including in Hollywood’s backyard. Bajaria pointed to recent hits ranging from Spain’s “La Casa de Papel” to Germany’s “Barbarians” to France’s “Lupin” to Mexico’s “Who Killed Sara?”
Netflix has been buoyed in recent months by buzzy scripted dramas including “Bridgerton” and “The Queen’s Gambit” and a growing roster of unscripted series that indicate the streamer has found the way to do reality TV for an on-demand audience. More than anything else, Netflix prizes examples of shows that have cultural resonance beyond the screen.
“If you look at a show like ‘Queen’s Gambit,’ and the amount of chess sets that were sold and chess clubs that had never had so much interest in subscribers before,” she said. “It shows that people love and they resonate with them, and they enjoy them, and then there’s also even a further connection that sort of really pierces a culture in a specific way.”
“Bridgerton” was a home run that underscored the importance of Netflix’s investment in eight- and nine-figure deals to bring showrunners such as Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy and others into the streaming tent.
“It was fun to see Shonda do a show in ‘Bridgerton’ that really shows she knows how to (blend) romance and relationships, and interesting multi-dimensional strong women, and choices we make, and gender expectations,” she said. “And to see her do that in a reimagined Regency-era London is really exciting to see.”