The latest global tech unicorn to have its startup story told as a television docudrama is Spotify. Netflix has released the first full trailer for a new series called The Playlist, which details the rise of the Swedish streaming startup founded by Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon in 2006.
The series is based on the Swedish non-fiction book Spotify Untold (in English, The Spotify Play) by journalists Sven Carlsson and Jonas Leijonhufvud. And, like other tech stories recently brought to the screen, The Playlist appears to be focused on the drama of startup life rather than delivering exhaustive, documentary-like detail.
The major difference between the Spotify story and others like it is that it’s handled as a foreign film, with mostly Swedish dialogue and a stream of pithy English subtitles. In the Hollywood of old, a studio would have likely forced the director to shoot the series in English.
But in the era of streaming-dominated prestige TV, a subtitled drama about a wildly popular music app is perfect fodder for Netflix. The streamer’s biggest hit is the Korean-language Squid Game series, and its latest top non-English series, Narco-Saints (Korean with English subtitles) has logged 62 million hours viewed, second only to Netflix’s No. 1 English language series, Cobra Kai Season 5, at 95 million hours viewed.
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Spotify’s $17 billion market capitalization puts it in rare company as a large, successful European startup competing against mostly US-based tech giants. Equally unique is the window the series may give viewers into the much less discussed rigors of building an international tech business in Europe, where the “fail fast and often” ethos of Silicon Valley is generally shunned.
Given the widespread interest in tech, Showtime, Hulu, and Apple TV+ have all delivered recent productions about formerly high-flying companies such as Uber, WeWork, and Theranos. In 2020, just before the pandemic, Peacock confirmed it was developing a series based on the book Hatching Twitter, by Nick Bilton. That show hasn’t been given a release date. But Spotify’s tale will be available on Netflix starting on Oct 13.