On Sunset Boulevard, along one of Los Angeles’ busiest thoroughfares, in West Hollywood, Netflix distills its messages on a giant billboard. Messages in the literal sense of the term: these are only short texts, Twitter style, but in large format. Not to praise the products offered by the Los Gatos firm, but to evoke a state of mind, start a conversation. To make people talk, in short.
Black letters on a white background, the few words are displayed like the titles on the facade of an old neighborhood cinema. “Don’t give up on your dreams. We started with DVDs », could we read some time ago. Or : “Scare your ex. Change your password. » Renewed every Monday, the messages often hit the mark. Internet users readily relay them on the Internet. Bet won for the thinking heads of marketing.
With “Narcos”, Netflix awakens the ghosts
But not all Netflix ads always have the same effect. At least not on everyone. One fall day in 2017, Sebastian Marroquin lands in Paris for the French release of his book Pablo Escobar, my father (Hugo Publishing). Real name Juan Pablo Escobar, the author settles accounts with the former leader of the Medellin cartel, who died when he was a teenager, and his oppressive shadow. An oppressive shadow as far as Paris: at the exit of Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle airport, the bus that flies under the eyes of Sebastian Marroquin displays the portrait of an actor resembling his father.
Netflix then enjoyed resounding success with its series Narcos, devoted to the hunt for Pablo Escobar. Around the world, we immerse ourselves for hours – 3 seasons, 30 episodes in all – in the Colombia of the dark years. Even as the Andean nation negotiates peace with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) in Havana and opens up to tourism; Even though almost a quarter of a century has already passed since the death of the godfather of the Colombian godfathers, in 1993, Netflix awakens the ghosts. In Paris as elsewhere, viewers unfamiliar with Colombia see bombs explode in Bogota, weapons crackle at every crossroads… Another time, another country. But the same clichés: drugs, sex and big guns.
One does not write literature with good feelings, they say. The same is probably true of television series: the bastards often have the best role on the small screen. The planet has long seen the United States through the prism of dallas and its ruthless universe. Same thing with House of Cards, one of Netflix’s first “original” series, broadcast from 2013. For its big debut, the Silicon Valley firm had bet on a remake of an English series from the early 1990s, in Great Britain. Post-Thatcher Britain. Transposed to Washington, it presented an unscrupulous but skilful politician, sowing desolation in his path.
“Narcos” was the perfect shot
At the time, Netflix had to move on to creation. Because, over time, studios like Disney and Warner had ended up raising the pot of roses: by selling the rights to their content to Netflix, they made their competitor’s fortune. They therefore undertook to get their hands on their catalogs to supply their own streaming platforms, or to be more demanding financially. But this awakening was late. Arrogant, Hollywood studios have long looked down on the Silicon Valley upstart. In California, a twelve-year-old quote still circulates: in 2010, when the Los Gatos start-up took off and displayed its ambitions, Jeff Bewkes, boss of Time Warner, remained unmoved: “It’s a bit like wondering if the Albanian army is going to conquer the world. I do not believe that. »
To hit hard, Narcos was the perfect shot, even if Netflix wasn’t innovating. Because in terms of a taste for the macabre and the bloody, Colombia is not to be outdone… It is even there that the concept of “narconovela” was born, an adaptation of the traditional “telenovela”, a long soap opera rose water, to the fiery universe of the drug barons. In 2006, Caracol Television embarked on this new audiovisual adventure by adapting a book as direct as it is evocative, Sin tetas, no hay paraiso (“Without breasts, no paradise”). It was already a question of cocaine, killers… and breast implants.
But, for Juan Pablo Escobar, coming face to face with his father after more than ten hours of flight, and twenty years of separation, arriving in Paris in 2017 was a bit… annoying. Especially since he had the feeling that the series made his father dead ” glamour “. “I got messages on Facebook from people all over the world, and even pictures of people taking pictures like my dad”he said.
“Netflix made us discover foreign series”
He himself had contacted the Los Gatos firm when he heard about the project, to give his own version of the facts. In vain: the screenwriters of Netflix had already secured the services of former agents of the DEA, the American organization in charge of the fight against drugs. The world has therefore discovered a very American vision of the Escobar years, reinforcing the already heavy and charged imagination associated with Colombia.
Netflix has understood the danger: to respond to accusations of a new “neocolonialism”, local productions have subsequently been developed. Not without some spectacular successes, such as Money Heist (Spain), from 2017-2018. “It’s great, Netflix made us discover foreign series, and America got into the subtitles”welcomes John, an actor of British origin who played in the series Daredeviladaptation of the Marvel universe for Netflix.
But for how long ? For Reed Hastings, the founder of Netflix, the future is in dubbing. “Think about technology deepfakewhich synchronizes the lips so that nothing is noticed”he confided a few years ago to an Australian newspaper.
Soon, Pablo Escobar will therefore be a polyglot… But, in the meantime, the streaming giant continues to invest without limit. Until offering Martin Scorsese and Robert de Niro in 2019. Netflix is at the top…