How America became a key market for foreign-language TV drama

Some say it was a Venezuelan terrorist who opened the door for foreign-language television in the US. Others credit a Colombian drug lord. Either way, Carlos, the multilingual 2010 miniseries screened in the US by Sundance TV, and Narcos, the English- and Spanish-language Netflix series that made its debut in 2015 — plus a growing list of other shows — have helped turn the US into an increasingly significant market for subtitled non-English-language drama.

And the transformation is creating fresh opportunities for producers, sellers and platform operators from Europe and elsewhere.

US viewers “are becoming accustomed to the fact that alongside the big American blockbusters there are these other [foreign-language] shows of the same quality”, says Walter Iuzzolino, co-founder of Walter Presents, the foreign drama streaming service that expanded from the UK to the US in early 2017. Subtitled shows, Iuzzolino predicts, “will become more mainstream. I think there’s a very sizeable audience in America.”

The most consistent US buyers of foreign-language material are niche SVoD services such as Vibrant TV, Eurochannel and MHz Choice. The latter, an offshoot of the MHz Worldview public television network, counts Italy’s Detective Montalbano, Gallic drama A French Village and German comedy Crime Scene Cleaner among its hits and has high hopes for Polish crime series Wataha. “I try to give our audience what they want and then I try to pick up a few things to challenge them,” says Lance Schwulst, MHz Networks vice-president of content and programming.

Read more: Screen Daily

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