APOS: Netflix’s Bela Bajaria Pinpoints the Duality of Local Authenticity on a Global Platform

Naman Ramachandran
·4 min read

Netflix head of global TV Bela Bajaria says that staying authentically local is key to global success for the giant streaming platform.

Speaking at the opening day of the annual Asia Pacific focused APOS conference, a virtual affair for the second year in a row due to COVID-19, Bajaria said that the localization process is led by on-ground leadership.

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Bajaria described “extraordinary empowered, local decision makers,” who “make the decisions in their own time zone in their own country and in their own language.”

Bajaria said that traditionally, Hollywood has exported stories around the world, but that model is changing. “Now what we’re doing is exporting local authentic stories and shows everywhere around the world,” Bajaria said. “All of these stories are different points of view, a different lens and very specific cultural lens.”

This approach is being adopted in Asia as well. “(It) is very important to us is to be part of the local ecosystem,” Bajaria added. “We are not trying to come in and do American things in Asia, or try to do a different model.”

“The shows that have been the most successful globally have been the most authentic and the most specific,” said Bajaria. “To do that and to do it well, you have to have a local team on the ground which has great taste, great relationships and knows how to back those visions.”

Bajaria pointed to the global success of culture-specific shows like “Barbarians” from Germany, “Lupin” from France, “Who Killed Sara?” from Mexico and “Space Sweepers” from Korea as shining examples of the local global. The executive also highlighted how international viewing of anime has grown by 100%, viewing of Korean dramas has tripled, and how non-English viewing in the U.S. has grown by 50%. “So it’s not just one country’s shows that travel,” Bajaria said.

Bajaria said that the pandemic affected production at different times in the 20 countries where Netflix is making shows. “Certain countries or certain linear networks (suffered when) everything’s shut down at the same time in the country. We didn’t have that. We were sort of staggering where countries started shutting down and when countries started coming back up,” she said.

Korea was one of the best early responders to the pandemic and Bajaria said that production continued there. She said that the firm’s Korean slate is “pretty solid” and the streamer is ahead of schedule for 2021 content from the territory.

Regarding Japan, Bajaria said that in addition to anime, the streamer is investing in live action, such as “The Naked Director,” and also in non-fiction. “We’re very excited about also really expanding more into original content and the non-fiction side in Japan,” Bajaria said.

Bajaria has ethnic Indian roots, said confirmed a “personal affinity” towards India. She remarked that India did not have the kind of strong local team like other territories until Monika Shergill was hired to build a diverse local series slate in 2019. The company was hitherto best known for crime drama “Sacred Games.”

“I think sometimes when we’re in a country, we make the first couple shows people externally and even sometimes internally perceive us as just (producing) premium or edgy dramas,” said Bajaria. “We want to please many more members than that.” The executive points towards the robust, slate of more than 40 Indian titles unveiled in March, and talks up women-centric drama “Bombay Begums” and the upcoming second season of International Emmy-winning series “Delhi Crime.” She also spoke about having a wider breadth of shows from India, including those suitable for family viewing.

“For all of this local content, to be honest, the focus is always massive local impact, that’s the most important thing” Bajaria said. “And if it travels, that’s great, but we really want to make sure we are super serving the local audience.”

Bajaria was in conversation with Vivek Couto, executive director & co-founder of consultancy firm Media Partners Asia, organizer of the conference.

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