'Maison of Cards'? Netflix greenlights first French original show

Netflix, ahead of a push into mainland Europe next month, plans to produce its first original series based and created in France, one of its biggest new markets.

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Netflix plans to enter France in September, and it will bring plans for its first French original series with it. Getty Images

Original French TV fare? Mais oui, says Netflix, commissioning its first French original series as it prepares to enter the country next month in an important expansion into mainland Europe.

"Marseille," which the company describes as "an eight-episode tale of power, corruption and redemption set against the rich backdrop of the French port city," will debut in all Netflix territories late next year after it begins shooting earlier in 2015.

France, along with Germany, are the two largest markets Netflix will enter next month in its biggest international expansion to date by subscriber potential. International growth is one of the streaming-video company's top priorities.

So far, that focus has been paying off. Netflix added 1.1 million international members in the latest quarter, compared to the 570,000 new streaming customers in the US. Moving into new countries abroad is an essential tactic for the California-based company to sustain its growth rate as its wide reach in the US slows down momentum, simply because of its size and the shrinking pool of remaining opportunity.

Foreign programming is important as Netflix enters its next international regions. Though the Internet has broken down territorial barriers in entertainment, cultural differences persists in, well, different cultures. Blockbuster films are released globally at the same time as a matter of course after a history of doling them out to regions progressively, and US television companies like CBS report international syndication revenues greater than ever before. But even with pervasive English-language skills, Germans for example prefer their entertainment to be in their native tongue more so than, say, Swedes.

The streaming service already operates in the UK, Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands, as well as across Latin America and in Canada. Earlier this month, researcher IHS projected Netflix will add 5 to 6 million new subscribers from mainland Europe by the end of the year, which would represent a fifth of its total subscribers at that point.

Netflix, a data-rich tech company at heart, takes keenly calculated risks with its originals -- especially as it's embarking on something new -- and "Marseille" follows that pattern. The company knows genres that already resonate with loyal subscribers from its data mine, and it tends to favor original entertainment that has been tested before: "House of Cards" was based on a British series of the same name, for example.

Though set in an entirely different country, the story of "Marseille" may sound familiar to fans of "House of Cards." The series follows Robert Taro, mayor of the city for 25 years, in a face-off with an ambitious young politician who challenges him in coming elections. Netflix describes it as a tale of revenge and power, punctuated by maneuverings among drug lords, politicians, unions and other influencers in the city.

 

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