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Korean dramas push cultural content exports beyond $10 billion

By Aug 10, 2020 (Gmt+09:00)

Korean dramas are becoming a worldwide phenomenon as they rise steadily to become one of Korea's major exports - even in countries that harbor anti-Korean sentiment and where Asian content faces higher entry barriers.

In 2019, Korean cultural content exports posted $10.3 billion (approximately 12.4 trillion won), an 8.1% increase from 2018. It was the first time for such exports to exceed $10 billion, posting almost double the volume from the $5.27 billion posted in 2014.20191216탬플릿

The introduction of over-the-top (OTT) media services has helped boost the global popularity of Korean dramas. Their reputation also rides on the acclaim of the Oscar-winning film "Parasite" and Korean boy band BTS.

Fortunately, increasing demand for Korean dramas has created a layer of protection for cultural content exports compared to industries that have been hard hit by the global pandemic. Korean dramas are likely to see continued growth on account of the OTT market's rise stemming from prolonged social distancing and shelter-in-place guidelines.

The flourishing appetite for Korean content across the globe has also nudged overseas studios to reach out to Korean production companies for potential collaboration.

US production company Skydance Media is set to co-create a drama with CJ E&M and Studio Dragon Corporation. Skydance Media is a veteran production company with global hits such as Mission Impossible, Terminator, Grace and Frankie among others. Studio Dragon is a drama wing of CJ E&M, a division of the nation's largest entertainment company CJ ENM.

TvN Drama 'Hotel del Luna'

The cross-border collaboration will remake the supernatural-romance drama "Hotel del Luna" (tvN) into an American TV series. TvN is a Korean entertainment network owned by CJ E&M.

“This is the first time for a Korean production to co-develop and produce a TV series with a well-known US production,” said a source from CJ ENM. “We are moving away just selling or formatting content,” the source pointed out.

Also, there are signs that China’s ban on the Korean wave (hallyu: global popularity of Korean culture, media, entertainment) will loosen soon, fueling prospects for increased returns during the second half of the year.

“At least 15 Korean dramas are estimated to bring in a total of around 90 billion won (approx. $75 million) in copyright fees once China’s ban on Korean content eases,” said Ki-hoon Lee, an analyst at Hana Financial Investment.

Korean dramas are spreading fast amid the Covid-19 crisis. Global OTT services including Netflix have played a key role in Korean drama’s global ascension as it provided overseas viewers easy access by premiering content to 190 countries at once.

“Korean dramas are receiving much love and global OTTs are finding it important to secure Korean content,” said Hyung-jin Ryu, the head of business strategy at Studio Dragon, the creator of popular Korean dramas. He added, “We’re expanding our Korean drama portfolio to beef up our presence in Japan and in Southeast Asian markets, which have hiked up copyright fees.”


Aware of the rising popularity of Korean content, Netflix is bolstering its original content portfolio for the Korean market.

“We are working with about 43,000 creators to introduce Korean content globally. This is helping promote Korean creators and Korean content to a higher level,” said a source from Netflix.

According to OTT & streaming analytics firm FlixPatrol, tvN’s romantic series, "It’s Okay to Not Be Okay" came in eighth in Netflix's overall ranking on August 6. On Aug 3, the drama rose to sixth place following episode 14, a record-high for Korean dramas.

Even amid ongoing anti-Korean sentiment in Japan, three Korean dramas have landed in the top five of the most-viewed shows on Netflix Japan. TvN’s “Crash Landing on You” came in first with “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay” coming in second. JTBC’s “Itaewon Class” came in fourth place.

TvN Drama 'It's Okay to Not Be Okay'


Korean dramas are also rising to the top in the Southeast Asian market. In Vietnam, five Korean dramas were in the top 10, including the latest “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay,” “Crash Landing on You,” and “Was it Love.” Even older dramas are climbing the charts in Vietnam, such as the 2009 drama “Boys Over Flowers” and the 2015 drama “Reply 1988,” which came in fifth and sixth, respectively.

“Korean dramas are superb at providing an entertaining storyline and unraveling it through unique storytelling methods,” said Ryu from Studio Dragon. “It offers a perfect mixture of various genres as well as a new take.”

Write to Hee-kyung Kim at

Danbee Lee edited this article

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