The series, which Netflix calls "a kinetic tale of high politics, masterful manipulation, and deadly warfare among clashing empires," will premiere exclusively on its site in all territories late this year.
It brings Netflix closer to the influential Weinstein Co. In August, Netflix unveiled a deal to be the exclusive US subscription TV provider to stream first-run movies from the Weinstein Co. starting in 2016.
Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of Weinstein Co., said "the glowing success of series like 'House of Cards' and 'Orange Is the New Black'" makes it "clear that Netflix is breaking tremendous ground in the realm of streaming original content."
The series will follow the legendary explorer at the center of a war in 13th century China. Netflix tells us to expect "a world replete with astonishing martial arts, sexual intrigue, political skullduggery, and spectacular battles." On board are "Kon-Tiki" directors Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg, plus executive producer and director Dan Minahan of "Game of Thrones" and "True Blood" expertise, as well as executive producer and creator John Fusco, known for "Young Guns" and "Hidalgo."
The nine-chapter show will begin shooting soon, the company said.
It follows the path that Netflix has started blazing in building an original concept from scratch. Initial Netflix originals were based on pre-existing projects: a UK show or a memoir.
Coming next year, Netflix sci-fi original "Sense8," from "The Matrix" creators Andy and Lana Wachowski, is also being developed without a predecessor in another form, and a thriller from the team behind the FX series "Damages" is set to start production this year.
The Marco Polo program also underscores the importance of international appeal for Netflix. Despite all the attention paid to Netflix's originals strategy, which takes up a fraction of its content budget, the company is pouring all its domestic profits into international expansion. It's important for Netflix to build up awareness of its service abroad if it wants to keep expanding. Its ability to grow in the US is starting to bump up against its saturation point.
Shows like the Marco Polo adventure, which will be shot in Malaysia with an international cast, and "Lilyhammer," Netflix's Norway-based series that hasn't reached the same level of buzz that other originals have, illustrate Netflix's desire to appeal to viewers in countries beyond the US. For now, most Netflix subscribers live in the US.