The UK Channel 4 streaming service has finally arrived in the US.
In January 2016, British television had undergone the beginning of a small (but important) revolution. Deutschland ’83, a visually stunning German spy thriller, premiered on Channel 4 (think the BBC but with an edge) and streaming service Walter Presents to 1.49 million viewers, with a consolidated viewership of 2.5 million. This funny, beautiful, and entertaining subtitled show moved British audiences away from the formulaic French- and Scandi-noir shows popularized thanks to BBC Four’s The Killing, and instead offered proof that foreign, subtitled dramas can be successful among audiences. After Deutschland ’83 aired, the show continued to find success with American viewers, having won an Emmy for Best Drama Series in 2016, while in the UK, Walter Presents continued to introduce a breadth of innovative and diverse foreign drama from the likes of Spanish prison drama Locked Up to French political thriller Spin. And now, after the success of Walter Presents has been solidified in the UK with its screenings at the Radio Times and BFI TV Festival, the streaming service has finally arrived overseas.
Having launched in the US on the 16th March of this year, each foreign drama is available to stream from the service’s website. From Dutch thriller Flight HS13 to the Norwegian coming-of-age series Young and Promising, the service has modelled itself on its American predecessors that currently dominate the field, such as HBO and AMC. However, what makes Walter Presents so unique against the backdrop of the faceless identities that buy as many shows as they can is the fact that the former is fronted by a single figure who has spent over 4,000 hours watching television. From Brazil to Afghanistan to Iceland, the titular Walter Iuzzolino has carefully handpicked each show for his viewers, resulting in a thoughtful and personalized selection to choose from.
Viewers of Iuzzolino’s picks are able to engage in conversation with him through his Twitter, while big, all-star events such as the UK’s TV Festival are sure to come to America with the revolutionized form of storytelling now found on TV and computer screens around the world. As Iuzzolino often notes and reiterated at the Radio Times and BFI event, this decade is an interesting time in terms of storytelling since what would be independent features are now instead being made for television, with HBO’s Big Little Lies – starring some of the most famous actresses of their field including Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Laura Dern – showing that the move from indie film to television is now complete. This interaction between viewer and curator presents something uncommon when paired with the Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down interaction of Netflix. Instead, viewers can talk to Iuzzolino directly, engaging in a dialogue around what works and what doesn’t. It’s clear, then, that the streaming service has the quality of its content at the centre, presenting the most fascinating and artistically accomplished TV shows from around the world in a way that brings people together through stories rather than separating them through the idea of having to overcome a language barrier and/or subtitles.
What’s more, with the lack of box-office success in the US for feature-length foreign dramas, such as Paul Verhoeven’s Oscar-nominated Elle, Walter Presents arrives at an interesting time when major Hollywood studios believe audiences only want to watch films when it’s in their own language. While both Elle and Maren Ade’s similarly Oscar-nominated Toni Erdmann did not do well due to their limited releases, a direct result of the lack of confidence in audiences wanting to watch subtitled films, it’s clear from the films’ worldwide awards success that they were viewed because of their story, and their ability to connect; subtitles are just a part of this experience that can easily be overcome two minutes in. So far, Walter Presents has proven successful in America, with publications such as The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and the New York Times taking note. Let’s hope this success continues, with quality world drama becoming more accessible beyond simply the country it was created in. And, perhaps, Walter Presents could revolutionize studios’ and audiences’ ways of viewing subtitles the same way Netflix revolutionized how we consume TV.
Walter Iuzzolino’s handpicked foreign dramas are available to stream ad-free at Walter Presents here. Subscription is $6.99.