To understand the success of Netflix Original “Squid Game” and other talked-about dramas such as “My Name” and “Hellbound” is to recognize their “secret sauce” — a combination of edgy, relatable and realistic themes in today’s Korean society that can easily translate to a global audience.
Seo Jang-ho, CJ ENM’s senior vice president of content business, says, “Korean creators are always known for their creativity and this new success on a global level opens doors for them to try something new. I think they will have a better understanding of what works globally in a very short time.”
Park Joon-suh, director of productions at JTBC Studios, says those crafting upcoming content “have excellent skills in dealing with various aspects of storytelling through webtoons, web novels and dramas.”
Korean dramas garnering popularity domestically do not guarantee foreign favor, and vice versa. The dilemma between producing for a local audience versus an international crowd is still present, but that gap is gradually closing. “In the domestic market, it is difficult to predict which dramas will be successful,” Park says. “However, dramas of diverse genres will gradually be more popular than traditional ones [romantic comedies, family dramas]. Internationally, dramas with strong concepts are expected to be successful.”
Over-the-top video streaming wars might be the stiffest in South Korea and consumers in the peninsula are now spoiled for choice with an array of content and platforms, both local (Wavve, Watcha, TVing) and international (Netflix, Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus), to pick from.
“OTT platforms are consistently developing Korean originals of late, not only for Korean viewers but for global viewers too, leading to more viewing options with a variety of genres,” Seo says.
Smaller Korean production studios are now gaining recognition, resulting in direct partnerships with their counterparts on the other side of the Pacific, and a number of remakes as more stories are exchanged.
“Highly competitive production groups will have conditioned environments to create more quality content,” Park says.
The recent stake acquisition of Endeavor by Korean media conglomerate CJ ENM and JTBC Studios establishing a footprint in Hollywood demonstrates strong ties between both U.S. and Korean entertainment industries. “Global partnerships like the one with Endeavor will create opportunities for non-Korean language international co-production and larger-scale productions for Korean ones,” Seo says. He also mentions a greater crossover between film and TV following the success of K-dramas due to OTT platforms, while CJ ENM is planning an international expansion of its OTT platform, TVing, in 2022.
Expansion to the U.S. is not limited to drama production alone. Naver, South Korea’s top search engine, moved its webtoon headquarters to Los Angeles in December 2020. Webtoons are a rich source of inspiration for several successful Korean dramas as seen in “My Name” and “Hellbound,” and the industry shows no signs of stopping as more series based on webtoons are anticipated in the near future. “All of Us Are Dead” and “The Youngest Son of a Conglomerate” are two such examples.
“In the end, stories that people from all cultures can sympathize with will continue to emerge, resulting in remakes based on these stories,” Park says. “Thus, competition for securing original IP is expected to intensify.”
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