Yesterday morning at 9:01 a.m., just after he was scheduled to address CES, the largest technology event in the world, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings walked onstage at The Venetian’s Palazzo Ballroom in Las Vegas, Nevada, wearing blue jeans, a blazer and a neatly tucked purple button-down shirt, looking every bit the Silicon Valley executive. And why not? Since Hastings co-founded Netflix in 1997, the Los Gatos, California-based start up has grown to employ 2,189 full-time workers, amassed nearly 70 million subscribers, and today accounts for roughly 35 percent of all Internet traffic in North America alone.
But 45 minutes into the flashy keynote address, which teased forthcoming shows The Crown and The Get Down, and also saw appearances from Will Arnett (Arrested Development) Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones), and Wagner Moura (Narcos), Netflix made its big announcement — and, all of a sudden, got a whole lot bigger. “Today, I am delighted to announce, that while we have been here onstage at CES, we switched Netflix on… in 130 new countries,” said Hastings to an eruptive ovation. “Today, right now, you are witnessing the birth of a global TV network. And I do mean birth.” With news that Netflix is available to subscribers in nearly every country in the world — 190 out of 195 countries — the company’s shares proceeded to spike 9 percent by the end of the day.
One of the big questions hanging over the Netflix’s global expansion rests on China, which is among the few markets left uncharted by the tech company. “In China, you need government approval to operate,” said Hastings in an interview yesterday with Re/code, a subsidiary of Vox Media. “You could be like Apple, where [China is] one of their biggest, most profitable, fastest-growing markets in the world, or like Google, where they’re banned for some number of years,” he went on. “We want China, but it’s not the center of what we’re doing.” At least not yet.
Also in question is how the global push will affect Netflix’s recent agenda to produce more original programming, specifically at the local, or regional, level. “I think that’s one of the most exciting aspects of ‘global Netflix,’” said Ted Sarandos, head of content acquisition for the company, in response to a Tweet at a Q&A following the keynote. “To be able to find a local or regional storyteller and give them a platform to tell their stories around the world. The more places we are, the more likely we are to meet those storytellers.”