Stareable Film School

Beyond Hollywood: The Rise of International Television Markets

Beyond Hollywood: The Rise of International Television Markets

Ajay Kishore

February 19, 2024

Beyond Hollywood: The Rise of International Television Markets


2023 saw massive disruption to the US television industry. The dual WGA and SAG strikes shut down both development and production for close to six months. Fears of a recession impacted the advertising market, which is a major revenue driver for traditional and cable broadcasters. And as we exited the year, many hoped with the strikes behind us and recession fears fading, we would see a return to “normal” levels of content spending. The truth, though, is that the golden days of “peak” US TV are behind us, and the industry must start to consider other areas for growth and opportunity. 

The Boom in US Television:

The last decade has seen tremendous growth in the US television market. According to FX, this is the annual tally of scripted English-language US series, starting from 2009:

2009: 210

2010: 216

2011: 266

2012: 288

2013: 349

2014: 389

2015: 420

2016: 454

2017: 487

2018: 495

2019: 532

2020: 496

2021: 559

2022: 599


  • The industry’s shift to subscription-based streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, etc that valued growth over profitability. These streaming services measured growth in subscriber numbers and revenue and overinvested in new shows as a way of attracting bigger audiences.
  • Consistent releases were seen as a way of preventing users from canceling their subscriptions (churning). 
  • Hollywood believed that episodic content (ie television series) were better than movies at keeping subscribers engaged.
  • Television shows shifted from 20-30 episode seasons to shorter 10-12 episode arcs. This was in part driven by the rise of expensive limited series, with A-list talent who wanted limited engagements instead of multiple season commitments. Part of this was because the services moved away from pilot season as a way to test-drive new shows, and wanted to deliver bulk content to enable binge consumption.
  • Technology companies ended the film and TV market, including new streaming services like Netflix, Apple, Hulu, and Amazon.

But 2023 was likely the near-term peak for scripted English-language US television. Per Ampere:

This readjustment is going to take several years to happen. And during that period, it will be painful for the entire American television industry. But! Television is still growing outside the US. And this presents an interesting opportunity. 

The Growing Influence of International Television Markets

In Europe, for example, television was historically driven by state-owned broadcasters who were notoriously risk-averse. As a result, generations of Europeans grew up on imported American content (Friends, The Simpsons) that were dubbed in local languages, since that was the ‘safer’ programming decision. What changed is that internet-delivered streaming services (Netflix, etc) arrived in Europe and started to compete. These services realized that because audiences often preferred authentic local language content, offering these shows was a good way to compete and attract subscribers. These streamers began to catalyze the local TV production markets, finding, developing, and producing new shows from European filmmakers.

As these shows got made, streaming services also realized that, occasionally, a non-English show could pop in the American market. Squid Game, Money Heist, Call My Agent, Sex Education, etc are all examples of non-US content that built huge global audiences. Plus, as these streaming services went truly global, content could be made for non-US countries that shared languages. A television show could be distributed in both Spain and Latin America (ex Brazil), or Portugal and Brazil, or France and many North African countries, etc etc. Netflix’s co-CEO Greg Peters, in an interview with Ben Thompson, admits that one of their big competitive advantages is the ability to produce a show once, and show it to audiences across countries. This reduces their cost per viewer, which lets them pay more than their smaller competitors.

The European Response to Streaming

European governments saw how consumption was shifting away from state-owned broadcasters, and responded with both a carrot and a stick. The carrot was that many countries passing attractive subsidies and tax credits to attract productions to their markets. The stick were rules about how a certain percentage of content needed to be produced within Europe and in the local language.

Net-net, while the US market has stalled, the European TV market started small but is growing

And this story is repeating itself in other markets. Netflix is investing $2.5 billion in South Korea over 3 years, thanks to success stories like Parasite and Squid Game. Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries are focused on building their own media industries. They’re doing this because they want to diversify their economies away from the energy industry. They also see the soft power advantages in exporting their culture to their neighbors and beyond. How many of us have learned more about South Korean culture because of K-Pop and Korean film? Other countries want to burnish their reputations in the same way. But successful film and tv markets require an experienced and deep pool of talent, which takes decades to build. The South Korean government started investing in film and television in the 1990s in order to get to the position they’re in today. For the markets that are just getting started, how do they source good ideas and know-how?

Opportunities for Independent Creators

This is where there’s an opportunity for the types of independent creators Stareable works with. Historically, our creator community has been global, with 35% of our 2023 project submissions coming from outside the US. We’ve traditionally focused on connecting them to American development partners and buyers because that’s where the industry has concentrated. But now, as we see the writing on the wall, we’re increasingly thinking about how to take global creators to global industry partners. Can we take an Argentinean creator to the Spanish market? Can we take an Indian creator to the Middle East? Can we take an Australian creator to the UK?

This might feel like a circuitous path if your dream is to sell a television show in the US and be the next Insecure. But there are real benefits. Non-US buyers typically only acquire a license for their own geography (ie, a broadcaster in France is only buying the rights to make and distribute it in France). Plus certain geographies, particularly in Europe, have more stringent rules to make sure the creators and producers hold onto their IP. This means you get to hold onto more of the value long-term. 

Plus, if you’re able to sell show outside the US, you can come back to US buyers and present it as “de-risked I.P.” It’s a tiring cliche that American buyers are always looking for established IP. Well, if you sell your show abroad, your show is now the sort of established IP they’re looking for.


Practically speaking, what does this mean? It means broadening out your approach to consider non-US studios, talent, and buyers/distributors. It means considering and attending festivals in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. You might want to evaluate which aspects of your project extend to other cultures, and which pieces don’t. Or researching which geographies have grants, subsidies, or credits that you can take advantage of. 

Television development isn’t a linear process. You try to move projects forward and as you do, new opportunities are hopefully unlocked. And we think the risk of international TV is exciting because it means there are more and new ways of moving your project forward. 

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