Netflix is betting big on reality TV as it seeks to expand its reach in Japan, a key international growth market amid plateauing subscriber gains for streaming services in much of the West. The company unveiled a slate of five reality series Wednesday at its offices in Seoul, South Korea, during an event showcasing unscripted content across Asia. The slate reveals Netflix leaning heavily into dating and variety show formats in Japan, two of the country’s most popular TV categories.
The lineup includes quirky dating shows Is She the Wolf? and Love Like a K-Drama, and an intimate spin on Japan’s well-worn comedy-variety category, Lighthouse, featuring musician-actor Gen Hoshino and comedian Masayasu Wakabayashi. Two renewals round out the slate: Second season orders for the comedy competition show Last One Standing and the middle-aged dating show Love Village.
“We’re excited to move into a new phase of our content strategy, ramping up our investments in unscripted and bringing new concepts to the screen,” said Dai Ota, Netflix’s Japan content manager. “We want to elevate the unscripted category with great production values and storytelling from Japan’s most innovative creative voices.”
Ota emphasized the importance of unscripted content to Netflix’s ambitions in Japan by noting that 70 percent of primetime linear programming in the country is comprised of reality, variety and dating shows. He said Netflix has a total of 15 such titles currently in development in Japan.
Amid the ongoing actors and writers guild strikes in Hollywood, Netflix’s expansion into increasingly diverse content categories in international markets underscores the headstart and diversification edge the company continues to hold over its legacy studio rivals, which are expected to be harder hit by the pause in film and series creation out of California.
As the world’s third-largest economy, Japan boasts some of Asia’s highest average revenues per user, while still offering plenty of room for local and international subscription video services to grow subscribers, with cord-cutting coming comparatively late to the country. According to regional consultancy Media Partners Asia, Netflix had 7.2 million subscribers in Japan in the first quarter of 2023, which comprised about a 15 percent share of the premium SVOD market.
Lighthouse, set for Aug. 22, will be the first title from the new slate to launch on Netflix. The show follows Hoshino and Wakabayashi embarking on a six-month conversation where they open up and share their personal stories, struggles and fears with each other and viewers. Hoshino, a hit singer-songwriter in Japan, also created the opening song “Mad Hope,” featuring Louis Cole and Sam Gendel, as well as five ending songs inspired by his conversation with Wakabayashi in the episodes. The show promises an intimate look at two of Japan’s top entertainers and a fresh take on creativity and comedy.
Is She the Wolf? follows with a launch date of Sept. 3. The dating show features a typical group of attractive young contestants looking for love. Hidden among them, however, is at least one “wolf,” a fake dater whose mission is to dupe the other contests with faux romance while keeping their secret status hidden. The show was produced in partnership with the Japanese online streaming platform ABEMA, where it has already launched for the local audience and attracted a large following.
Love Like a K-Drama taps into a phenomenon that Netflix helped create — the surging global appeal of Japanese romance series. A hybrid show blending K-Drama and the reality competition format, the series follows four Japanese actresses and four Korean actors who are paired up to try and land lead roles in K-drama shows by auditioning in romantic kissing scenes — with the lines between acting and real romance only blurring during their steamy rehearsals. The action is accompanied by lively commentary from a group of celebrity studio emcees, including Haruna Kondo (Harisenbon), Aa-CHAN (Perfume), Shusuke Fukutoku (Jarujaru), Hayato Komori (GENERATIONS) and Maria Tani. Love Like a K-Drama will premiere on Nov. 28.
The second season of Last One Standing launches on Oct. 10, while the next set of episodes of Love Village still await a release date.