Will Netflix change Hong Kong's viewing landscape?

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The American streaming service Netflix has just launched in HK. Arthur Tam finds out how this might change our city’s viewing landscape and whether or not we’ll have our own original content. Illustration by Stanley Chung 

Chill like you’ve never chilled before. Netflix went global this past January 6 when CEO Reed Hasting announced that almost the entire world (excluding the likes of North Korea, Syria and China) can now watch the American streaming service without needing to bypass country restrictions. 

This could be the moment Hong Kong’s television viewing culture changes, shifting from traditional platforms to apps and online streaming. There’s the potential for Netflix original content to include talent from Hong Kong and the rest of Asia. Already Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 2 is slated to be released on February 28, directed by legendary martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-ping and starring Michelle Yeoh and Donnie Yen. “We carry a very substantial amount of Hong Kong content on Netflix globally,” says COO Jonathan Friedland. “It’s very, very popular and we’re looking and hoping for more opportunities.”

Yet, according to Professor Anthony Fung, of CUHK’s School of Journalism and Communications, Hong Kong might not be prepared to jump on the bandwagon just yet. “In Asia it’s not clear if it will be successful,” claims Fung. “There haven’t been any particularly successful online paying platforms [for TV], excluding mainland China. You can watch Korean dramas in Hong Kong for free on many channels, through DVDs, or via the internet for free. So it’s very difficult to run a successful online paid platform for TV in Asia because the audience hasn’t developed the concept to use it. Also, it seems Netflix is targeting audiences that mostly watch English TV and that audience is limited here.”

This hasn’t deterred the Netflix operators, however. “Three-and-a-half years ago we went into Latin America and it was like nobody had ever heard of streaming down there,” recalls Friedland. “They didn’t have any devices, nobody had reoccurring payment for a service like ours and we had no original content. In those days it was a really alien thing. Now I go to Singapore and I’m listening to radio and they’re talking about ‘Netflix and chill’ [laughs]. People really love great stories and they love great stories from wherever. What we try and do is come into a market, explain the value proposition and all the amazing original content available.”

This is what Netflix wants its new target markets to know about. With Netflix originals, viewers can break away from the restrictive structure of television. No longer do shows need to be confined to lengths of 22 minutes or 45 minutes because of advertisements or recaps. Not to mention that you can binge an entire series or watch whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want, at your convenience, be it on your TV, your phone, with or without supported subtitles in traditional and simplified Chinese. The cost is absorbed through membership fees, ranging from $63-$93 per month. 

For those concerned about the pricing, Friendland has this to say. “It’s basically like the price of a beer once a month, and you can unsubscribe at any time. But look, we don’t compete on price. We compete with having great shows that people want to see by having a user interface that’s amazing and convenient. All of these attributes make for an attractive package.”

What we look forward to now is seeing Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Andy Lau kick ass in a Netflix original. But what should be even more interesting is to see whether Netflix can stimulate competition from local networks. If that happens, we can sit back and enjoy even more quality programming.

HK Netflix originals (maybe)

Chai is the New Black Coffee
Wake up to Hong Kong’s first daughter as she exhausts herself shopping. She demonstrates to her haters her privilege as she tramples over them to fulfill her dream of becoming the next Chief Executive. Oh Chai-yan, you cray gurl. 

House of Real Estate
Get a real look at how property managers and tycoons stick it up people’s asses. As the greedy get greedier the more compact our lives become. It’s a shady business in Hong Kong’s real estate market.

Wet Market Rumbles
Everyone is out to get their fair share of good meat, but one man (played by Tony Leung Chiu-wai) wants it all, and goes to great lengths to become the neighbourhood el jefe. Expect flying cleavers and blood running into the gutter. It’s not pig’s blood.

Moody Detective 
Andy Lau plays a cop that does what needs to be done, regardless of the law. He yum chas by day, but hangs criminals by night like a line of salty fish. A female character of some kind will come and try to bring him back from the depths of self-destruction.

Inside Out 2: The LegCo edition
Watch as the pro-Beijing faction walk out, and in, and out again. This musical comedy follows their kooky filibustering antics in songs like I Dreamed a Red Dream.

Netflix netflix.com/hk-en.

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