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Netflix Goes Spanglish in Narcos

By Rick Munarriz – Aug 27, 2015 at 7:06PM

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The leading video service introduces a new serialized drama that should appeal to English- and Spanish-speaking audiences.

Source: Netflix.   

We're now just hours away from the debut of the latest original series to be added to growing vault at Netflix (NFLX 1.53%). Narcos offers a gritty look at Pablo Escobar and Colombia's drug cartels of the 1980s.

Reviews have generally been positive, and that's a good thing since the 10-episode series is already in the can. True to Netflix's binge viewing-friendly policy, the entire series will become available for streaming on Friday morning.

"A well-crafted blend of The Wire and Goodfellas," The Verge writes in its review, and that's pretty good company for those not familiar with the true crime series or mafia movie.

Netflix couldn't have timed this any better. Rival HBO re-established the market for dark crime shows with True Detective last year. Critics panned the second season that concluded on HBO earlier this month, leaving fans of the original season hungry for more.

A distinctive feature of Narcos is that it features a strong cast of popular Latin American actors, and as The Verge points out, "much of the dialogue is subtitled Spanish, making Colombia and its people the focus of the story."

The heavy emphasis on subtitles could be a deal breaker for some stateside subscribers, but we also can't forget that having a series that is at least partly in Spanish should fare pretty well through Latin America with subtitled English dialogue. 

International growth has been a big part of the Netflix growth story, and Latin America was the service's second expansion market after being introduced in Canada. RBC Capital analyst Mark Mahaney singled out the improving prospects of Netflix's penetration in abroad markets as a key reason for boosting his price target on the shares from $125 to $140 yesterday.

Right now, 65% of Netflix's streaming audience and 69% of its streaming revenue is coming from its home country, but Mahaney sees more than two-thirds of the platform's eventual market consisting of international users. 

We're already seeing the shift in acquisitive action with 9.45 million of the 15.5 million net streaming additions over the past year originating outside of the U.S. market. Entering new territories involves more than simply flipping on subtitles for established stateside entertainment. Netflix needs to be aware of local tastes, and that means locking in native programming. This has led to Netflix expanding how it approaches some original franchises.

We saw this start to happen late last year when Netflix announced a deal to bring Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend -- the sequel to Ang Lee's wire-fu classic -- to its streaming customers just as it hit some theaters. The move was seen as a way to curry favor with Chinese audiences for its inevitable entry into the world's most populous nation. Both events were supposed to take place this year, but the movie and the China expansion have been pushed out to next year. 

Expect more original content like Narcos in the future. Domestic audiences may very well enjoy the shows -- and judging by the early critiques that appears to be the case here -- but they may not be the intended audience. Netflix is a global media distributor, and it's hours away from acting like one. 

Rick Munarriz owns shares of -- and The Motley Fool owns and recommends -- Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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