Why Netflix will never be the same

The benefits and challenges of sharing a planet-sized couch

"So this is honestly one of those misty-eyed, chill-in-the-spine days for Netflix. We've been working on this for a long, long time."

Todd Yellin works as Vice President of Product Innovation at Netflix, and the work he's referring to was yesterday's announcement that the service will launch in 130 countries in a dozen new languages and on millions of new devices.

Flipping the switch on a global network marks a new milestone for the service, similar in scope and importance to when Netflix switched from a DVD delivery company to a streaming video company, when it launched on LG Blu-ray players and Xbox 360 in 2008 or when it left the United States for the first time for the Canadian market.

And while this is clearly good news for the rest of the world (or bad news if you're concerned about productivity), it's also good news for the 70 million subscribers located in the US, UK, Australia or any other legacy market.

Sean Carey, Vice President of Content Acquisition a.k.a. the guy you can thank for greenlighting Daredevil, Narcos and Jessica Jones, explained it best: "We can find great storytellers in every corner of the world and bring those stories to the globe just as well as we can bring Hollywood content to the rest of the world … and now we can do that in 130 more countries."


One example Carey provided was a show called "Club de Cuervos," an original series Netflix produced in Mexico that's half comedy, half Spanish soap opera. While the show initially found success in its home market, it went on to find niche audiences in the US and the UK before making it to Germany. It's successes like this that will shape how Netflix produces and decides on original content going forward.

The hope is to launch the shows simultaneously in every territory.

These international series will constitute part of the 31 new shows Netflix promised at the end of 2015. The hope is to launch the shows simultaneously in every territory, which, thanks to Netflix owning the rights to its own content opposed to licensing the content from other publishing networks, seems like a real possibility.

Like content already on the service, these new international shows will get the appropriate metadata like "drama" or "sci-fi," as well as country-specific tags. In a demo of what the service will look like in India, for example, there was a specific row for Indian TV shows and movies. It's not farfetched to think that some of this content will make its way to the States and overseas and will be available in similar rows for fans of that international content.


The challenges ahead

But while the benefits of bringing new international content to the existing audience and existing content to the international audience became more and more apparent, the questions then shifted to exactly how Netflix planned on flexing its technical muscles to make it happen.

"Believe me, we've been at this a long time and have suffered many pains along the way. But we're working on more and more video and user interface features, like slideshows … as well as video autoplaying in the background while you're browsing," Yellin said.

"Some devices break down, though, depending what chips are in there. But we have a couple of strategies around this. One of them is going straight to the manufacturers for help. The other is that we've done really interesting things with strict limitations."

Netflix recently unveiled its plan to reduce the amount of data needed for flat-color shows, called "per title encoding." Using this technique, shows that are visually less complex (think My Little Pony or other children's cartoons) can be encoded to reduce the amount of data needed to store flat colors making it viable to stream 1080p video on 2Mbps connections and lower.


"Netflix will start streaming HDR content this year."

But while some countries are just entering into the smartphone era, others are further along and hungry for 4K resolutions and High Dynamic Range (HDR) content. Yellin hasn't forgotten about us, either: "Netflix will start streaming HDR content this year. For the shows I mentioned [Marco Polo and the second season of Daredevil which premiers on March 18] it will be this year. But," he warns, "it will be for a small amount of content at first."

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