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The ‘Squid Game’ effect

The ‘Squid Game’ effect

Good morning! This Thursday, "Squid Game" goes viral, GitLab goes public, and Amazon finally finds success with New World.

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The Big Story

The new rules of going viral

The most popular piece of entertainment in the world right now is a South Korean dystopian series about income inequality. That says as much about the state of global society as it does about Netflix, which bankrolled the program and then convinced more than half of its 209 million subscribers to check it out in its first month.

We're talking, of course, about "Squid Game," writer and director Hwang Dong-hyuk's survival drama first conceived in 2008 but deemed too unsavory until it landed in front of Netflix a decade later. Released on Sept. 17, Squid Game is now the most popular series in the platform's history, No. 1 in 94 countries around the world and, as of this week, the most popular debut of any show on Netflix with more than 111 million viewers so far.

"Squid Game" is forcing us to rethink what it means to go viral. Plenty of Netflix shows have become viral sensations in record time; "Stranger Things," "Bridgerton" and "The Witcher" all broke through past viewership ceilings at the time of release. But "Squid Game" is an altogether different beast.

  • "Squid Game" is a foreign-language show, beating out French heist series "Lupin" as the most-watched on Netflix to date. It's also not based on an existing piece of source material. Those factors make its breakout success even more anomalous, and it's forcing the industry to rethink all its formulas.
  • Much of the success of "Squid Game" is organic; it's spreading by word-of-mouth and critic and audience praise. But behind the scenes, Netflix's closely watched Top 10 list and its curatorial ability to direct unprecedented numbers of eyeballs toward new content in real time is crucial to the show's meteoric rise.
  • "When all is said and done, Netflix's greatest impact on pop culture will not be allowing us to 'binge watch,' or stream TV on-demand. It will be globalizing the entertainment business, creating a platform for people from more than 190 countries to watch stories from all over the world," argued Bloomberg's Lucas Shaw last week.

Netflix has been playing the long game with K-drama for years now, and the mind-boggling popularity of "Squid Game" has reinforced the platform's global content strategy. Even Jeff Bezos felt compelled to praise the show in a tweet earlier this month, calling its success "impressive and inspiring."

  • Netflix is smartly riding an international cinema and TV series wave it helped create with hits like "Narcos," "Money Heist" and "Dark," as well as a staggering investment in anime.
  • Netflix has invested over $700 million in Korea, and it's seen a more than 200% jump in K-drama consumption in the U.S. over the past two years. It said earlier this year that it planned to invest $500 million more in Korea.
  • "When we first started investing in Korean series and films in 2015, we knew we wanted to make world-class stories for the core K-content fans across Asia and the world," Minyoung Kim, Netflix's vice president of content for Asia Pacific, told CNN yesterday. "Today, 'Squid Game' has broken through beyond our wildest dreams."

The viral recipe of "Squid Game" is nothing short of perfect. The show blends a classic dystopian tale steeped in Asian "battle royale" genre media with modern aesthetics and social commentary. In retrospect, it's no wonder it's taken over the world.

  • The show's colorful palette and disturbing setting — with its now-iconic guard costumes, player jumpsuits and children's playground games — has created unrivaled meme fodder, Halloween costume ideas and even a fast-growing Roblox trend.
  • The show's cast features a mix of established Korean talent like Lee Jung-jae alongside fresh newcomers like Jung Ho-yeon, whose "Squid Game" role is her first-ever acting credit. She's now the most-followed South Korean actor on social media and the internet's biggest new crush.
  • Building on a socially conscious trend helped along by 2019's Oscar-winning Korean film "Parasite," the show's blunt message is hitting on the right notes at the right time, as South Korea battles a personal debt crisis of epic proportions and much of both the East and West reckon with record economic inequality.

"Squid Game" won't be the last show to completely capture the global zeitgeist. But the sheer speed and scope of its virality is a reminder that entertainment today has no borders or language barriers. It just needs a platform and viewers ready and willing to go along for a ride, even one they don't recognize, so long as Netflix has given it its stamp of approval.

— Nick Statt (email | twitter)

A version of this story first appeared on Read it here.

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People Are Talking

William Shatner said his space trip was out of this world:

  • "I hope I can maintain what I feel now. I don't want to lose it."

On Protocol: The link-in-bio market is growing, and it's all about catering to creators, Koji's Dmitry Shapiro says:

  • "The brand is the creator. We're just the infrastructure that facilitates the creator engaging and making money."

Dan Dees said Goldman Sachs is all in on tech investment:

  • "[We're] trying to treat technology the way the economy treats technology, which is having it be pervasive in all of our groups and infiltrate every group."

Bank of England's Jon Cunliffe says crypto regulation is needed ASAP:

  • "A collapse is certainly a plausible scenario, given the lack of intrinsic value and consequent price volatility, the probability of contagion between cryptoassets, the cyber and operational vulnerabilities, and of course, the power of herd behavior."

On Protocol | Gaming: New World's success will only help Amazon grow its entertainment ambitions, Amazon Games chief Christoph Hartmann said:

  • "If any company is investing in entertainment and sees entertainment as one of their pillars of the future, you can't be without games."

Making Moves

Evan Sharp is leaving Pinterest. The company's co-founder and chief creative officer is heading to LoveFrom, Jony Ive's design firm.

SeatGeek is going public through a SPAC. The online ticketing company is expected to have an enterprise value of $1.35 billion in the deal.

GitLab is going public today. The DevOps software company is targeting an $11 billion valuation.

Trans Netflix employees will reportedly stage a walkout next weekalong with some co-workers. They're opposing Netflix's decision to release Dave Chappelle's comedy special.

Nicola Mendelsohn is replacing Carolyn Everson as VP of Facebook's global business group. Mendelsohn had been leading the unit on an interim basis for a few months.

Adam Kroll is Lordstown Motors' next CFO. He'll replace Rebecca Roof, who has been the interim CFO for a few months.

Justin Judd is leaving Adobe for BambooHR, where he'll serve as CFO. Judd last served as the CFO of Adobe's Digital Experience Business unit.

In Other News

  • Facebook is trying to prevent more leaks, according to an announcement that leaked to The New York Times, because of course it did. The company is making some internal discussion channels private, including ones that discuss platform safety and election protections.
  • The Senate is planning another swing at self-preferencing. A group of senators is reportedly getting ready to introduce a bill that would outlaw Amazon using sales data to decide which products to copy or Apple prioritizing its apps in App Store searches.
  • Snapchat went down for a few hours yesterday morning. It wasn't as big as Facebook's outage last week, but some users may have lost their beloved streaks.
  • On Protocol | Workplace: It may be the end of in-office mandates as we know them. Execs have been hellbent on bringing everyone back to the office, but employees' wishes to work wherever seem to be winning out at some companies.
  • Facebook updated protections for public figures. Journalists and activists can now get the same protections as other "involuntary" public figures, and the company will remove "severe sexualizing content" aimed at public figures, among other changes.
  • On Protocol | Workplace: Tech workers are organizing by using tools designed for other purposes, such as Slack and Discord. And there's nothing that employers can really do to stop it.
  • What if AirPods could check your posture? Apple is looking for the answer to that question, among a few others, as it figures out whether AirPods could be used as a health device, sources told The Wall Street Journal.
  • Be careful paying influencers: If a company is deceptive about endorsements, the FTC could slap them with a fine. Hundreds of companies, including Facebook and Google, got letters from the commission with the warning.

One More Thing

Learning cybersecurity from the experts

Information security is confusing and very often overwhelming. InfoSec expert Christina Morillo breaks it all down for you in the book "97 Things Every Information Security Professional Should Know," which was released today.

The book includes tips from a range of cybersecurity professionals on everything from protecting upcoming tech to taking control of tangled data webs. It may be a helpful read if you don't even know the first questions to ask about cybersecurity.


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