The International Streamers’ Polished CEE Content Strategy
BY Yako Molhov, Georgi R. Chakarov
Is the CEE content market really booming? And are international streamers like Netflix, Max, Disney+, SkyShowtime, Amazon, etc. going to “redefine” the local market with their original content? Not really.
Lady Love
The reality is that such claims, at least for the next couple of years, are a self-promotion tool that the streaming companies use for PR and marketing campaigns and there is no real trend that is profoundly affecting the (whole) CEE market. One thing is certain – the international streamers are eyeing the (few) big CEE territories and Poland (being the biggest, if we exclude Ukraine and Turkey) is going to see a lot of original series in the coming years, but Poland is just one country among 20+ in the region which have far too many differences – a fact that the big pan-regional broadcasters are pretty familiar with.

Netflix, which premiered its first Polish original series 1983 in 2018, and has been offering Polish subs a good number of local content since then, only recently announced its first Romanian original Subteran. It regularly produces original fiction in Turkey, but in the Netflix corporate geography the country is not even in CEE, but in the Middle East (which we find hard to understand). Whether the rest of the region will see an influx of original productions made by the big streamers remains to be seen, but that seems unlikely to happen when many of the countries still lack content localized in their own language – mostly because they are too “small” for the big streamers, and not worth the investment…

Despite the difficulties in gathering data in some of the smaller markets in CEE (where even the number of cable subscribers and sometimes ratings data is contested), the majority of surveys clearly indicate that Netflix is the leading streamer among the “big players”. The platform is also the pioneer among the international streamers as it launched in CEE in January 2016. Later, during the same year it announced its localization in Poland; and soon after that Netflix became available in Romanian, Czech, Hungarian, Croatian, Ukrainian and Turkish. But until this day, eight years later, original (not acquired) local content is missing in those countries. One very important factor for this is that there is no legislation requiring domestic productions from the streamers. So, all such investments are based on the commercial interest of these companies.

In 2022 Larry Tanz, Vice President Series, EMEA, announced: “In Poland alone, we have invested over PLN 490 million (~$115 million) in original Netflix films and series and have created over 2600 jobs on our productions, giving opportunities to actors, scriptwriters, directors and all of the below-the-line crews who are the backbone of every production. In parallel, we have consistently invested in licensing many hugely popular local titles in Czechia, Romania, Hungary and others.”


Later that same year, when Reed Hastings, the co-founder and Executive Chairman of the streamer visited Warsaw, he revealed that 400 of these 490 million were invested in 2022. In 2022 Netflix also opened its office in Warsaw to act as its regional hub for the whole CEE region… and now, in mid-2024 the platform is offering several Polish originals (and lots more in the pipeline), 25 Turkish series, one Romanian TV series in development and… lots of local CEE licensed titles. Netflix also had four Russian original shows/movies in development but in 2022 it scrapped them and left the country, following the invasion of Ukraine.

Looking at these numbers, we can hardly talk of any “boom”, not in Poland, not in Turkey (which to remind again Netflix does not consider to be in CEE), and not at all for the whole region.

In May this year, Pelin Mavili, Netflix Turkey, Middle East and North Africa Public Relations Director, stressed on the platform’s ambitions to do more: “As Netflix, our aim is to bring our members together with the best productions in various genres and formats. In this direction, we have created a rich content library by collaborating with more than 80 production and distribution companies in Turkey. This process has created employment for more than 13.000 sector workers. This is a significant achievement, but we are determined to do more.”

Stating that Turkey has been exporting content to many countries for many years thanks to its strong creative sector, Mavili emphasized that this reach has expanded even more thanks to Netflix: “According to research we conducted worldwide, Netflix members watch Turkish productions 50% more than non-members. In the USA, this rate is approaching 100%. In other words, we are now reaching audiences who were not interested in Turkish productions in the past,” she said.

In this direction, Netflix is also trying to attract the biggest Turkish stars known all over the world and its newest project Ayrılık da Sevdaya Dahil (Separation Belongs to Love Too) is a good example for that. It will star Kenan İmirzalıoğlu who will make his comeback in the TV drama world after a break of six years. But productions with stars like him cost a lot of money and even Netflix cannot afford to produce too many such “premium” series.

What do Netflix, Disney+, Max, SkyShowtime and Amazon Prime Video have in store for CEE in terms of originals? Summing up the announced “CEE” titles so far (as of June 2024), we can see that it is actually “a Polished” CEE content strategy.

Netflix is working on nine new titles for Poland (in February 2024, its communication director told PAP Biznes that Netflix had already produced over 40 original films and series in the country), including Project UFO, Boxer, Napad, Go Ahead, Brother, Mothers of Penguins, Colors of Evil: Red, Divorce and a second season of Green Glove Gang.

Altogether the list of newly announced titles includes nine Polish productions to launch in 2024 - four series and five films. This adds to the titles already released this year - the final installment of a hit trilogy The Mire: Millenium, Season 2 of Love Never Lies: Poland and the criminal series Detective Forst, as well as romantic comedy films Kill Me If You Dare and No Pressure.


Netflix announced last October that it has started production on Subteran, its first Romanian original series. The series will tell the story of a mother who works in IT and ends up fighting undercover against the Bucharest underworld who changed her life.

That wraps up the Netflix CEE originals in 2024 – nine Polish and one Romanian title.

Max, the successor to HBO Max and (which will be turned into a free streaming service), launched on May 21 in CEE (and in Poland on June 11), has prepped 15 new projects for 2024 and beyond, all of them Polish. The first one announced was political drama The Easterngate. The streamer later revealed that another drama, Lady Love, will premiere first. The series will take viewers to the unknown world of the adult industry of the 1970s and 1980s. The series will have 6 episodes and will be directed by Oscar nominee Bartosz Konopka. A third series called A Decent Man is also being prepared but details have not been officially revealed yet. According to media reports, the production will tell the story of a forty-something heart surgeon with a seemingly perfect life - a happy family and a promising career, who, under the influence of one unexpected event, will begin to review his life. He will look at the systems that govern his world, verify what is happening in his immediate surroundings and check what he really wants. The script of A Decent Man was written by Marek Modzelewski and Krzysztof Czeczot.

Max has also prepped a documentary slate, including The King of Zanzibar (about a fraudster), The Skin Hunters (about the infamous case from 1990s of emergency workers causing the deaths of patients) and Hope by Martyna Wojciechowska (about a terrible practice in Nigeria when innocent children are accused of witchcraft, which ultimately leads to their families abandoning them and leaving them to die).

In Turkey, Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) acquired the country’s leading streamer BluTV and took over its original productions without renaming it. Instead, WBD’s international productions, including the Max offer, are available to stream on the Turkish platform.

In February, SkyShowtime announced its first commissioned original programming project in Poland (and in CEE) Sleboda. The adaptation of the crime novel will mark the streaming services expansion of locally produced originals as part of its continued commitment to provide exclusive programming that resonates with local audiences across its markets. This is the first locally commissioned original programming project in the region (the streamer has been for some time offering local titles developed by HBO which stopped producing premium CEE series in 2022).

SkyShowtime launched 10 originals in 2023 – its first year of operation. In June, it announced another Polish original series – Langer, a six-part thriller starring Jakub Gierszał as Piotr Langer, which tells a story of a young, ambitious businessman who inherited a financial holding from his tragically deceased father. In his free time, Piotr indulges in his long-time passion - he is an elusive serial killer who has evaded prosecutors for years.

In May this year, Disney+ also unveiled its first ever Polish original series under the title Breslau, produced by ATM Grupa. The upcoming Polish drama will follow a police officer called Franz Podolsky, who investigates a horrific killing, and with the upcoming Olympic Games, there is additional pressure on Franz to catch the murderer. This new eight-part crime drama is set in 1936 in Breslau.

Mother of Penguins

The Disney+ streaming service was launched in Poland in June 2022. At that time, it was announced that the platform would feature content produced locally in Europe, Africa and the Middle East and the plan was to create 60 such productions by 2024.

This streamer had quite big ambitions in Turkey but just a year after its launch in 2022 it froze all local productions as part of The Walt Disney Company’s global plan to cut expenses. Reports indicated that the suspension would last until the end of 2024, but at this moment it still not clear if the company will return to original productions in Turkey at all. That in itself created a lot of problems on the local drama market since Disney+ had locked some of the biggest names in the industry and its “blown-up” commissioning policy led to a significant increase in the cost of productions which affected the whole market negatively. At the same time, the producers of some of its abandoned big-budget projects are still looking for investors willing to fund the completion of their shooting.

Amazon Prime Video is also available in CEE territories and has been investing mostly in Polish and Turkish content. Unlike other streamers, in 2024 it plans to offer entertainment projects, i.e. the Polish version of the adventure reality show Good Luck Guys will premiere in the fall. Prime Video has so far shot several Polish projects. These include documentaries about Robert Lewandowski and Kuba Błaszczykowski, as well as the feature film All That Sex and the trademark format LOL: Last One Laughing, which has been released in two episodes. A documentary about Polish ski jumpers is also scheduled to be released in the fall.

Turkey Country Manager Alptuğ Çopuroğlu recently stressed that since 2021 Prime Video has increased its investment in local content fivefold. In 2023, Amazon released the hit films In Your Dreams and Bihter and its first original series Duğum in 2024. Now, subscribers can look forward to a new sports documentary titled Arda Turan: Confrontation which will premiere in August and tell the story of the famous Turkish football player. Two new original films are also currently in production, Blue Cave and 39 Degrees, which will premiere in the fall.

To sum it all up, in 2024 the total number of new original projects (films, series, documentaries and entertainment formats) announced in CEE (Poland, Romania and Turkey) by Netflix, Max, SkyShowtime, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video is close to 35.

For comparison, in 2023 the CME Group, operating in the “smaller markets” Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, produced 100 projects for linear broadcasting and streaming. That year, the group’s streaming service Voyo released 34 original productions. In April, Voyo announced it is working on 25 projects for its clients in Czechia and Slovakia and by 2025 the originals offer will reach 500 hours.

Just this one small example shows that international streamers have a long way to go in CEE in terms of production volume.
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