In a world dominated by personalized algorithms and an endless supply of content, a South Korean series as vaguely named as “Squid Game” is currently the most-watched fiction in 90 countries and is on its way to becoming Netflix’s biggest hit.
The television platform, which usually keeps its audience data with great secrecy, has already advanced that its new fiction “has a good chance of becoming its most important show,” according to its chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, at a conference organized in Beverly Hills last week.
According to this forecast, “Squid Game”, which debuted on September 17, could add more than 82 million viewers (subscriber counts) in its first month and thus beat “Bridgerton”, “Lupin” and “The Witcher”, so far the Netflix series with the best debut.
It is a success that a few years ago seemed unthinkable for a format filmed entirely in Korean, without international stars and which narrates an imaginative contest in which 456 people burdened by debts compete for life or death for a juicy amount of money.
Ecuador, Spain, Qatar and Oman are among the 90 countries where it remains at number one on Netflix.
According to Google metrics, searches related to the series eclipse those of any other title, the Vans sneakers worn by its protagonists have increased sales by 7,800% and a South Korean internet operator has asked Netflix for compensation for the increase in bandwidth usage after the premiere.
America adapts to subtitles
In the United States it took only four days to reach the top, overturning the myth spread among Hollywood studios that American audiences are incapable of following formats shot in a language other than English.
“It’s a wild growth spurt. We produce local content all over the world and we want them to have an impact in the countries where they’re made, but every once in a while one breaks around the world,” Sarandos analyzed.
The platform co-founder’s words may have helped boost the format, but its potential certainly caught Netflix off guard, which only promoted the launch of “The Squid Game” in South Korea and didn’t even offer press passes in the United States.
Squid Game, a “Made in Korea” phenomenon
As sudden as this phenomenon may be, “Squid Game” is yet another medal in the excellent cultural export strategy that South Korea has developed over the last decade.
From “Gangnam Style” dancing to BTS fever and “Parasite’s” historic Oscar win, South Korean movies and music have managed to penetrate mass consumption in the West, which until now only paid attention to Asian countries with Japanese video games and animated fiction.
“The stories and problems of the characters are extremely personalized, but they also reflect the problems and realities of Korean society,” said creator Hwang Dong-hyuk.
The series opens with Seong Gi-hun, a man in debt who contacts the organizer of a competition that could be the solution to all his problems. There, he will find 455 people from different social classes who share the same red numbers and will struggle extremely to fix them.
The plot portrays the same social division of “Parasite” or “Burning”, a 2008 independent film that won the critics’ prize at Cannes.