What Podcasters Can Learn From Squid Game

The new series Squid Game on Netflix shot to number 1 in four days. I watched episode 1 and immediately binged the whole thing. This is a very popular show and has become Netflix's best launch.

Let's pick it apart and see what podcasters can learn from the success of Squid Game.

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What Podcasters Can Learn From the Squid Game Series on Netflix

Today we are going to talk about the show Squid Game on Netflix. Not the details of the story (no spoilers) but more how and why this became a phenomenon in four days. 

Word of Mouth

A Jacob’s media report in 2019 (Techsurvey) showed that Word of Mouth was how 78% of people found new podcasts. 

How did I find out about Squid Game? I’m on Social media, but not a ton. I typically hang where podcasters are and we aren’t talking about our favorite Netflix shows. I had three people ask me if I had seen it. Scott Johnson from what was that like, let me know that there was probably a story about how this was created. 

This is why I tell all my clients that if you have a choice to ask for an Apple review or a listener telling a friend, ask your audience to share it with a friend. 

Fun Facts
The script has been written since about 2009, with years of attempts by the writer to get it picked up, but no one wanted to produce such an unrealistic and violent story. But, just like any other marketing success, the show owes its popularity to a combination of luck and perfect timing.

No. 1 spot on Netflix, reaching the milestone just four days after its release, and now marks the company's biggest series launch ever. It's bloody and violent, but it's also addictive and highly bingeable.

According to the most recent data provided to SYFY WIRE by Parrot Analytics, Squid Game was the number one show in the world between Sep. 26 – 28. On the 28th, it was 89.3 times more in-demand than the average series worldwide.

Squid Game” has become a global smash hit and Netflix's most-watched original show, with 132 million people watching at least two minutes. That far outstrips the previous record holder, Bridgerton, which was seen by 82 million people.

Netflix said about 95% of “Squid Game” viewers are outside South Korea. It has been subtitled in 31 languages and dubbed in 13.

It’s Not Perfect

According to the Wall Street Journal, the phone numbers you see on the business cards (and even misdialed approximations) belong to actual South Koreans. For years, the house I grew up in was one number off from the Salvation Army and we got calls all the time. I can only imagine the number of calls these poor people are getting.

So if you’re waiting to release your show because it’s not perfect, please realize if you’re waiting until it’s perfect you will never release your podcast.

Editing Never Hurts

Netflix bought “Squid Game” two years ago and it went through some primping to become a global megahit. With a potential language barrier, Netflix emphasized visuals, outfitting competitors in green tracksuits and building colorful sets resembling children’s playgrounds. Some of the rules for the traditional Korean games were simplified or altered. What were these edits based on? Knowing your audience.

Start Strong

I watched the first episode, and the next day I told three people about it. Why? Because I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. It’s also dark, weird, and unique. Some might argue that it’s the Hunger Games with a twist, but I think for me (being a white male) the South Korean aspect added a “not sure what I’m watching” element. 

People Can Identify

The main character is a desperate dad who's easy to root for, but he's not perfect — there's a heartbreaking episode where his actions lead to a wrenching loss. And he's not alone — other contestants include an elderly man who becomes the grandfather of the group, a North Korean refugee, a gangster with a snake tattoo on his face, and a highly educated man who was the pride of his hometown but didn't quite live up to his potential.

What is Going to Happen Next?

One of the reasons I feel shows like Game of Thrones, Sons of Anarchy and others were popular is they kept killing off main characters. This eliminates the safety of “Well they won’t kill off so and so because he’s a main, “Holy Cow they killed !” Which leaves you with what? Oh man, I wonder what is going to happen next. 


Fear of Missing Out FOMO

Squid Game had a large amount of traction on TikTok. Fans of the shows were creating memes and telling inside jokes. The only way to get the jokes was to watch the show. 

Grab First – History Second

The first episode is EPIC and grabs you but the throat. The SECOND episode dives into the stories of the characters.

Nobody Would Take a Chance

For a decade, local studios rejected the fictionalized show’s pitch as too grotesque and too unrealistic. Previous and Korean hits on Netflix (or elsewhere) typically center on cheesy boy meets girl, fairy tale type shows.

Do you think Netflix will take more chances in the future? Nextflix invested about $700 million for Korean films and television shows from 2015 to 2020, the company says. This year alone, Netflix plans to spend half a billion dollars – WSJ

Netflix's hugely popular TV show “Squid Game” will generate just shy of $900 million in value for the company, according to internal documents seen by Bloomberg

Bloomberg reported that the documents said the series was watched by a record 132 million people. “Squid Game” cost around $2.4 million an episode, far less than “The Crown” and “Stranger Things.”

The show has hit No. 1 in more than 90 countries, including the U.S.—a surprise even to Netflix executives.

Sometimes The Audience Doesn’t Know What They Want Until They Get it.

So people passed on this show. Sometimes a no is a “not now”

  • Scott Sigler (ep 133) couldn’t get a book deal for his combination of science fiction and horror. People didn’t get it. He put out his book as a podcast. Everyone told their friends and people were devouring each episode as it was released. When the podcast was done, he put out the book on Amazon and the people who had just received the entire book for free, bout the printed version on Amazon the day it came out shooting it to #2 on all of Amazon (topped by this other book called harry potter).

    The Beatles and Madonna were passed over. 
  • Ed Sheeran: The multi-million selling solo artist said he was constantly rejected by record labels as he was “slightly chubby and ginger”, and that wasn’t a good “marketing tool” for them. The Band U2 was wished luck by RSO records. The Band Linkin Park played more than 50 showcases for record labels.
  • The Wizard of Oz had a weak premiere in 1939. It was deemed a failure for the studio.
  • The Rock Horror Picture show (something I went to on my birthday every year when I was a teenager) had a limited release to 10 cities when it opened in 1975.
  • It’s A Wonderful Life did poorly at the box office in 1946. When the copyright expired in 1974 TV networks picked it up. 
  • The original Will Wonka and the Chocolate Factory did poorly in 1971. It barely was profitable. 
  • Blade Runner a movie some say have inspired other movies was very “blah” in 1982
  • Office Space, American Pie, and many other movies didn’t turn into classics until years later.

So Don’t give up. It might take 10 years

It doesn’t have to be perfect

Start with the strongest content you have

Tease your next episode and leave them wanting more

Make materials for your audience to share on social

Be patient, and continue to improve your content

Inspire and ask for word of mouth


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About the Author
Owner of the School of Podcasting. Also produces the "Ask the Podcast Coach." He is also the author of the book "More Podcast Money" and is a regular speaker at podcasting and media conventions.
1 comment on “What Podcasters Can Learn From Squid Game
  1. Thanks for the mention! Those were awesome times, and doing it gave me the career I have now.

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