At his CES keynote today, Reed Hastings announced that Netflix was going live in 130 new countries. The list includes massive new audiences like Russia, India, and South Korea. It's a huge expansion of the company's footprint, with China the notable exception to major markets where you can now stream its content.
Today's announcement basically triples the company's distribution. "Today you are witnessing the birth of a new global internet TV network," said Hastings. "With this launch, consumers around the world — from Singapore to St. Petersburg, from San Francisco to Sao Paulo — will be able to enjoy TV shows and movies simultaneously — no more waiting. With the help of the internet, we are putting power in consumers’ hands to watch whenever, wherever, and on whatever device."
The company's stock, not surprisingly, surged on the news.
Netflix says that its service "won't be available in Crimea, North Korea, and Syria due to US government restrictions on American companies." And major series like House of Cards and Orange is The New Black may not be available in markets where Netflix doesn't own the distribution rights. But the company is increasingly moving to own those rights for its original content, with an eye toward maximizing the return it can get on paying to produce new films and series.
Netflix has big plans for original content in 2016. The company says it is going to create "31 new and returning original series, two dozen original feature films and documentaries, a wide range of stand-up comedy specials, and 30 original kids' series." Onstage at CES, Hastings did note that Netflix would have to navigate the differing cultural standards of its new countries when deciding what programming to release in each one.
In addition to going live in new countries, Netflix added Arabic, Korean, Simplified and Traditional Chinese to the 17 languages it already supports. It seems that Netflix believes it has a substantial Chinese audience despite the fact that its not technically available. Sarandos has said in multiple interviews over the past two years that he was pleasently surprised by how popular House of Cards was in China, implying the service is seeing substantial viewership there, perhaps by users finding a way around the great firewall.
At the Q&A that immediately followed Netflix's keynote address, Hastings and chief content officer Ted Sarandos provided more detail on the company's expansion. Hastings confirmed that Netflix is still committed to breaking even on a financial basis internationally by the end of 2016. Hastings was also asked about the potential for Netflix service in China, an immediate area of interest after the company's expansion was announced. "In China, you need specific permission from the government to be able to operate," said Hastings. "It's gonna take some time."