Diego Ávalos has led content direction and strategy at Netflix for over nine years, currently as content vice president for Spain, Portugal, and Nordics. He has a strong track record of helping content providers excel in international markets by emphasizing what makes local productions resonate on a global scale. With a focus on non-English language stories, Ávalos has helped Netflix expand its audience and grow its market share in Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa.
During his tenure, Diego Ávalos has seen the company grow from less than 50 million subscribers to over 238 million today. He was part of the global launch of the service and has helped expand its Latin America, Europe, Middle East, and Africa operations. He moved to Madrid from Los Angeles to open Netflix’s first European dedicated sound stages and post-production facilities in Tres Cantos, Madrid, where he’s responsible for overseeing content development and acquisitions for Spain, Portugal, and the Nordics. He oversaw the production of Netflix’s first original Spanish-language Netflix series, Club of Crows (Club de Cuervos), in 2015, which launched Netflix’s non-English language series and film divisions. Diego Ávalos has worked on a variety of globally renowned programs and films, including the acquisition and expansion of the series Money Heist (La casa de papel) along with Through My Window (A traves de mi ventana), The Girl of the Snow (La Chica de Nieve), I Am Georgina (Soy Georgina), and Troll.
Before joining Netflix, Ávalos led business and content development for Yahoo’s Hispanic and Latin American markets. He’s a strong proponent of advancing homegrown talent and content in Spain. His dedication to promoting diverse Spanish content has also led him to work with associations, including CIMA (the Association of Women Filmmakers and Audiovisual Media) and DAMA (the entity for Copyright in Audiovisual Media-Administration).
He’s a board member of Building Baja’s Future and Fundación FAD Juventud. Ávalos is a graduate of Santa Clara University and earned an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
How did you get started in this business?
Netflix was founded in 1997 by Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph with the idea to rent DVDs by mail, offering unlimited DVD rentals without due dates, late fees or monthly rental limits. Streaming was introduced in 2007 allowing members to instantly watch series and films.
I joined the company in 2014.Erik Barmack, now CEO of Wild Sheep Content, and I shared a passion for storytelling and decided to produce the first non-English language series, Club de Cuervos (Club of Crows), about a fictional Mexican soccer team and the exploits and adventures of the players. The huge success of the series led us to start a division solely focused on non-English content, which now brings to life stories (film, series, reality, and documentary) from all around the world.
How do you make money?
The main revenue stream for the company comes from monthly subscription fees members pay to enjoy an incredible variety of the best movies, series, and games. In 2022, we introduced an ad supported plan to give our members more options to enjoy the stories they crave. Our service can be enjoyed through any internet-connected device including Smart TVs, computers, smartphones, tablets, etc. so members can access the stories they love, when and where they want.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
Netflix posted its first profit in 2003, earning $6.5M on revenues of $272M. Today, Netflix is available in over 190 countries around the world and reaches over 247.15 million paid households around the world. As an entertainment company, our focus is on bringing the best films, series, and games to our members.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
Storytelling has existed since the beginning of time, so we never doubted the appetite audiences have for authentic storytelling where they see themselves reflected. The biggest doubt we had was our ability to scale non-English language originals to many countries and languages around the world. To tackle this, we focused on hiring the right teams with expertise in each country. People who believed in our culture and aligned around a common cause.
How did you get your first customer?
When we premiered Club de Cuervos (Club of Crows) we were already an established service in Latin America but had not yet launched globally. Our focus was to create the best comedy Mexico had ever seen, allowing our members to choose how, when, and where to watch it. We all felt inspired, for example, our marketing and PR teams amplified the characters and stories through off platform storytelling, including stunts that no previous series or film had come up with.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
Globally, we’ve shown that with good subtitles and dubbing, great recommendations and easy discovery, great stories can come from anywhere and excite audiences everywhere.
Our service makes sure that great storytelling connects with the right audiences that will love the film, series, or game that we premier on Netflix. The Netflix effect is very powerful. For example, with Wednesday, Lady Gaga’s Bloody Mary made it onto the Billboard top 40 list for the first time ever in 2022, 11 years after it was first released or with The Queen’s Gambit there was a spike in chess and chess book sales.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
We are in a creative industry where tough decisions are made daily. These decisions are guided by our intuition and experience because there is no scientific path to creativity.
One of the toughest decisions I had to make in the last few months was when we should wrap one of our most beloved and popular series, Elite. The series has been loved by our members for 7 seasons and can creatively continue for seven more. However, we want to say goodbye at the pinnacle and make sure fans love it until the end. After a lot of thought and conversation with the creators, we have announced an 8th and final season that will premiere in 2024.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I have hired and nurtured an incredibly talented team who are experts in their areas, share a passion for storytelling, build strong relationships with creators, have a thirst to learn, focus on creating clarity with partners and colleagues and are unafraid to take risks. I provide my team with the vision, freedom, and cohesion to do the best work of their lives. The power of vulnerability in leadership helps connect with teams on a more humanistic level, which is critical in business.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
Hollywood was the clear leader in the creation and distribution of storytelling. A single industry had a hold on entertainment throughout the world. When we became a globally available service and reached a global scale, we democratized stories. Our members throughout the world could not discover stories from different countries and in different languages at the same time. Seeing La casa de papel (Money Heist), Squid Games, Lupin and Troll connect with audiences in their country but also throughout the world was the culmination of years of effort from hundreds of colleagues.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
Our efforts are focused on bringing the best films, series, and games to our members around the world. I am really excited about the launch of Berlin, the spin-off of La casa de papel (Money Heist), which tells the origin story of one of the most popular characters of the series. Berlin brings together a new gang to steal 44 million euros in jewels in one night but finds himself falling in love in the process.
What business books have inspired you?
The advantage by Patrick Lecioni is an incredibly profound business and leadership book which provides an alternative foundation and strategy for companies, one that maximizes human potential and aligns the organization around a common set of principles. Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game lays out helpful concepts of 1) worthy rival, which helps reveal weaknesses that become opportunities for constant improvement, and 2) a just cause, which helps to define a cause that employees can rally behind. I would round this out with No Rules Rules by Reed Hastings and Erin Myers, which perfectly captures the Netflix culture that I love and admire.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to study and live the concepts in Lecioni’s The Advantage. I spent too much time focused mainly on results, on building knowledge and execution instead of also investing in building a healthy organization by building a cohesive leadership team and creating, over communicating and reinforcing clarity. I would also encourage my younger self to strengthen the virtue of patience and listening, which are invaluable skills.
Are you willing to be a mentor? If so, how should someone contact you?
I have progressed in my career in part thanks to sponsors, mentors, and coaches and will always do the same for others. They have provided advice, opened doors, and provided candid feedback that has been invaluable in my development as a leader and executive. When speaking with someone in my field, I always remind them to go back to the basics and the reason we got into the industry in the first place…bring stories and entertainment to life. It all starts with the stories and the talent behind them.