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Here's one big way Netflix streaming habits changed in the pandemic

Money Heist
(Image credit: Netflix)

Interest in non-English language content has spiked 50% since the beginning of the year among US subscribers, Netflix has revealed. In addition, in the aftermath of Parasite's success at the Oscars last year, the US audience for Korean content on the streamer has increased by a massive 100%.

Netflix's co-CEO and chief content officer Ted Sarandos revealed this at the Banff World Media Festival, per THR. A number of non-English language shows have become a massive deal on the service, like French show Lupin, German sci-fi drama Dark and Spanish series Money Heist, with the streamer investing heavily in local content where it's trying to grow its presence. Another popular Spanish series, Elite, returned for a new season this week. 

Sarandos thinks the rapid change in circumstances helped encourage people's interest in shows they might not have normally watched.

"People during the pandemic had a lot more time on their hands and were more curious to see things and were denied the ability to travel, so they were more interested to see [content] from around the world," Sarandos says.

Sarandos also expects the overall hours we spend streaming to return to their pre-pandemic levels, as theaters reopen. “Things will get to normal in how people watch (content)," he said. 

"I do think people will be very excited to get back to movie theaters," Sarandos added. "I’m excited to see that come back as well." The executive noted that he expects theatrical windows – that is, the time between movies launching in theaters and hitting streamers – to keep shrinking as a result of the accelerated shift towards streaming we've seen over the past of the year.

Analysis: A weird year for streaming probably helped

Netflix's investment in high-quality international content is definitely commendable, and the audience trends here seem pretty healthy. 

At the same time, last year, when Netflix had to shut down many of its most famous originals due to Covid, it found itself having to delay numerous popular series. And as subscribers' time indoors spiked, they were bound to go deeper into the library to find shows they hadn't seen before – including international series. 

Sarandos' logic for people discovering these series seems sound. But we suspect it's likely a combination of the restrictions on travel, the overall quality of Netflix's output, and the absence of American series that would normally fill the gap. 

That last factor is why Cobra Kai – an acquisition from YouTube's premium service – also exploded in popularity last year. Still, hopefully this just means US viewers are more open to watching non-English series going forwards.

Samuel Roberts

Samuel is TechRadar's Senior Entertainment Editor, and an expert in Marvel, Star Wars, Netflix shows and general streaming stuff. He's previously spent six years at PC Gamer, too, so if you want to know which Command & Conquer is the best one, drop him a line.