Before the International Academy of Television Arts & Sciences hands out the winged statuettes for the 2022 International Emmy Awards, they should preface the event by saying: Mission accomplished.
When the Academy held the inaugural International Emmys in 1973, the interest in, and market for, non-U.S. television was close to zero. This was the pre-cable, three-network world, and foreign programming, or diversity of any sort, was hard to find on the primetime schedules.
A half-century later, international shows are all over the proverbial dial. Thanks to the number of streaming services now offering foreign programming, American audiences can watch just about every one of this year’s nominees. Figures from Whip Media, a U.S. company that runs a platform for worldwide content licensing, show that the share of non-U.S. titles viewed in the country has more than doubled, from slightly less than 8 percent in 2018 to more than 16 percent in 2021.
“I credit Netflix’s [Spanish-language] Narcos [which debuted in 2015] for getting the U.S. audience to accept subtitles,” says James Durie, head of scripted at Cineflix Rights (he’s also a co-producer on the Apple TV+ Israeli spy drama Tehran — last year’s best drama winner at the International Emmys — and Irvine Welsh’s Crime, a Scottish procedural that picked up a best actor nomination this year for Dougray Scott). “Now we have channels like AMC+, PBS and Hulu that all buy foreign-language shows.”
That demand has helped fuel a boom in production worldwide as global streamers double down on non-U.S. content. Whip Media says that some 38 percent of new Netflix shows in development are in a language other than English. Nearly one-quarter of Disney+ content is non-English, and competitors Amazon and Apple also have increased their spending on local-language shows worldwide. (HBO, a global content champion, only recently drew back from international programming as part of companywide cost-cutting in the wake of the Warner Bros.-Discovery merger.)
All this is proof of concept for the International Emmys, which have always strived to celebrate and promote the best in small-screen entertainment outside the U.S. This year’s nominees come from 23 countries and range in genre from British kitchen-sink dramas (Acorn TV’s Help, starring Killing Eve‘s Jodie Comer), workplace comedies (the A24 co-produced Dreaming Whilst Black, from the BBC) and teen rom-coms (Netflix’s Sex Education) to French comedies (Canal+/Netflix’s On the Verge, starring Julie Delpy), Scandinavian LGBTQ+ period dramas (SVT’s A Royal Secret) and Filipino crime thrillers (HBO Max’s On the Job).
“When you look at the geographic spread, diversity and quality of our nominees, it becomes obvious that great television knows no borders,” notes International Academy president and CEO Bruce Paisner.
Nowhere is this clearer than in Asia, with original programming from South Korea and Japan enjoying unprecedented global success. South Korea is coming off a watershed year, with the worldwide smash Squid Game winning six Primetime Emmys and, according to streaming consultancy firm Parrot Analytics, taking the No. 1 spot as the most in-demand new series premiere in 2021. Parrot projects that if Netflix recommissions Squid Game for two more seasons — a second season was announced in June — the show could become the streamer’s most valuable title, potentially generating more than $2 billion in cumulative revenue by 2027.
The International Emmys this year will honor “Korean wave” pioneer Miky Lee, vice chairwoman of South Korean media giant CJ Group, with its 2022 Directorate Emmy Award. The event’s other big honor, the International Emmy Founders Award, will go to an all-American creator: Ava DuVernay. The writer-director-producer of Selma, 13th and When They See Us will be saluted for her life’s work, all of which, as Paisner notes, has been a “career-long effort to bolster women and people of color in entertainment and ensure inclusivity.”
Inclusivity and diversity will be writ large at the 2022 International Emmys, with nominees from five continents vying for the biggest prize in global TV.
“Internationally, the Emmys are that stamp of approval, that seal of quality,” says Durie. “They prove your show has broken through and is up there with the best in the world.”
This story first appeared in the Nov. 16 issue of magazine. Click here to subscribe.