In 2013, I pondered what international markets Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) might hit next. The most obvious targets are falling like dominoes, starting with an ambitious launch across several European nations. And now, Netflix has officially announced a launch in Australia and New Zealand in the coming spring.
The arrival of Netflix Down Under is hardly a surprise. For one, these are industrial countries in the mold of Western cultures, and conveniently English-speaking to boot -- with charming accents, even. Netflix even imports plenty content from Australian film and TV producers. Culturally speaking, it's a gimme.
Furthermore, about 200,000 Aussies already access Netflix's services via technical workarounds. When there's a will, there's a way -- and many Australian consumers want Netflix so much that they jump through networking hoops in a murky legal area just to get their hands on video feeds intended for American or European audiences.
Oh, and Netflix staffers have been seen around Sydney, negotiating local streaming rights for Hollywood content. So, yeah, you saw this market coming from a mile away.
But this won't be the only overseas Netflix launch in 2015. Speaking at a recent industry conference, Netflix CFO David Wells said as much:
You should expect that the next year markets are a sizable expansion, so something on the order of this year, or even potentially a little bit more.
That's an ambitious statement. The total population in the new Netflix markets added in 2014 adds up to nearly 200 million people.
Australia plus New Zealand? That's less than 28 million addressable customers. And I don't see Wells exaggerating the expansion plans wildly, or he wouldn't have added that snippet about "potentially a bit more" than 2014 levels.
So there are at least 150 million potential Netflix customers missing from this equation. The true bulk of Netflix's expansion plans in 2015 must lie elsewhere.
Punch my ticket to Johannesburg, please!
A couple of large and very obvious target markets are still missing from the roll call I made last year. South Africa would be another low-hanging, often English-speaking fruit, adding 53 million people in a society whose modern quality of life might surprise many Americans.
The country offers one of the most advanced Internet infrastructures in Africa, which in turn is the fastest-growing Internet market in the world. Tapping into South Africa while the explosive growth is going on would make all kinds of sense.
That's why South Africa is my top pick for Netflix's next expansion announcement. Expect this one to hit the newswires in 2015.
But that's still not enough. David Wells hinted at more than 100 million more potential subscribers. And we're running out of large, English-speaking nations. So let's turn to some additional evidence.
Decoding Netflix job postings
As always, Netflix is looking for language specialists. As the company expands, Netflix needs people to translate its media and marketing into whatever languages are used in the new markets. And, the company keeps updating which languages it needs help with next. So let's take a look at that job posting again.
Right now, Netflix wants specialists in "Arabic, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Italian, Polish, Spanish, and Hungarian."
Last November, the company was looking for "Arabic, Vietnamese, French, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, Korean, German, Swedish, Polish, and Hungarian."
A few tongues dropped off the list. Netflix got its fill of French, German, and Swedish speakers. The Brazilian effort also rounded out its last translator positions, probably in the local marketing department.
Interestingly, Netflix isn't looking for Polish linguists anymore. The company may have backed off of its plans to explore Eastern Europe -- or perhaps a Polish launch is just around the corner, with all the local language barriers being broken down by Netflix specialists as we speak.
Poland could add another 38 million consumers to the tally. This market could also serve as a beachhead on the edge of all the Slavic-language markets. The Balkan states are home another 40 million people, and Mother Russia is just a linguistic stone's throw away.
Political issues will probably delay the Russian launch for years, though. Let's settle for Poland itself, and perhaps a partial chunk of the Balkan territories. Kind of like how Netflix launched in the Netherlands first, adding the other Benelux nations later on.
Call it 60 million potential Netflix subscribers in 2015, leaving another 40 million not accounted for.
But wait -- there's more!
On the flip side of the missing Polish listing, Netflix is now interested in Italian language specialists.
Italian is one of the three official languages in Switzerland, where Netflix already serves digital video streams. The company could simply be looking to serve its Swiss customers better.
But even if that's the case, Netflix would be silly not to look south of the Swiss border next. There are 60 million Italian speakers in Italy itself, which would make a natural extension of the efforts in Switzerland.
That would be enough to boost Netflix over David Wells' promise to match or beat the 2014 expansion effort. It's a patchwork of disparate territories, but that's par for the course when you look back at Netflix expansions in previous years.
That crucial job posting holds even more clues, such as an unmet need in Hungary (10 million consumers), an ongoing interest in Arabic resources (about 300 million native speakers altogether), and a deep interest in Southeast Asia.
Netflix looks destined to hit Japan and South Korea eventually, addressing about 180 million of the world's most connected people. But those countries are also home to some of the most important consumer electronics businesses in the world, which means that Netflix needs to talk technical details with local engineers on a regular basis.
The cultural differences are deep enough that I'd expect Netflix to take its time before launching in Korea or Japan. Japanese consumers are already sampling Netflix in much the same way the Australians do, via intercontinental network tunnels. I'd still be surprised to see a 2015 Netflix launch in the land of the rising sun.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings does want to market his services to the entire world, including China. But that's a long-term goal and not something you'll see in 2015.
All things considered, I'm looking for Netflix to cover Australia, New Zealand, and almost all of Europe by the end of 2015. A foothold in South Africa should follow, with an outside shot at opportunities in the Arabic-speaking Middle East.
The rest of the world will just have to wait for another expansion wave.