Scalet Heart Ryeo


What now: Korea in 2017

An oft-repeated line through much of 2016 was that there were more Korean producers in China than in Korea. That slowed with the political freeze between the two countries over new missile defence system THAAD, but it highlighted Korea’s eagerness to maximise mainland Chinese audiences’ taste for Korea’s brand of entertainment. And its willingness to adjust the entire production process (including fast-track delivery) to comply with China’s regulatory requirements.  

The fallout over THAAD escalated at the end of November; at presstime, talk was of an imminent official ban on Korean entertainment. Korea’s content industry, aware of their perhaps-unhealthy reliance on China, have already started looking for opportunities elsewhere. The domestic business in 2017 will be marked by the hunt for new markets to balance out over-reliance on China. 

International content brands are also adjusting their tactics in Korea, realising the challenges involved in distributing finished foreign content in a market where demand is overwhelmingly local or for U.S. blockbusters.  

Korea was the third largest programming market in Asia Pacific in 2015 behind Japan and China. Korea’s programme investment hit US$2.6 billion, according to IHS Technology’s World TV Production Report 2016. China invested US$8.4 billion and Japan US$9.8 billion. 

Conglomerate CJ E&M, which operates a vast media empire including production and cable channels, leads the country’s media industry efforts to expand its international footprint across media sectors. 

This comes on the back of the success such as Grandpa Over Flowers, remade for NBC in the U.S. as Better Late Than Never, as well as a drama production deal with the Warner Bros-owned streaming platform DramaFever for online originals. CJ also has a production relationship with mainland China’s Huace Media, and plans to ramp up drama co-production in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia. In addition, the company said in Oct 2016 that it would be taking its domestic streaming platform “tving” global, with rollouts by region through Q4 2016 and Q1 2017. 

A significant trend going into 2017 is co-development across genres and borders, from drama such as Scarlet Heart (NBCUniversal & YG Entertainment) and The Society Game, a reality show developed by Endemol Shine Group/CJ E&M. NBCUniversal has partnered with free-TV broadcaster MBC to co-develop/produce original formats for Korean and international audiences; no details were given but it’s one to watch for 2017. 

In addition to shiny new co-development ambitions, Korea is at the forefront of Hollywood studio and Latin drama adaptations in Asia. In 2016, this was led by CBS Studios’ The Good Wife (16 episodes ran in July/August 2016) and a 16-part version of HBO’s caustic comedy Entourage. Produced by CJ E&M affiliated production house Studio Dragon, Entourage Korea premiered on CJ E&M’s tvN cable channel in Korea in November 2016 with an express window on the increasingly aggressive regional tvN channel, which is competing fiercely with two regional incumbents – Sony Pictures Television Networks’ ONE and Turner’s Oh!K. 

Coming up are Korean remakes of three drama miniseries from Brazil’s Globo. The three are Part of Me, Happily Ever After? and Merciless. All  have been commissioned by EPG Korea; production and broadcast details have not been confirmed. While formats have generally been a tough sell, Korea has proved to be a lucrative landing spot for big-brand formats such as MasterChef. Season four aired in the first half of 2016 on CJ E&M’s Olive TV. 

Meanwhile, Korea’s drama producers/broadcasters continue to be the darlings of the rest of Asia’s entertainment world even though rights fees aren’t anywhere near those in China. 

High on the watchlist going into 2017 is A+E Networks’ rumoured US$15-million investment in content co-development as well as a stake in Korean production/distribution company iHQ. No word at presstime. 

We also have an eye out for whether (or not) major rights holders will unite behind Hong Kong telco PCCW’s Viu for renewals the way they did in 2015 in the run-up to the streaming platform’s launch... and at what cost. Two years ago, the deal with Korea’s major broadcasters was said to be the biggest-of-its-kind regional syndication negotiation ever, giving Viu streaming/download rights (including some valuable first-run/day-and-date rights) to blockbuster prime-time drama titles.

Netflix has also started amplifying efforts in Korea, adding nuclear disaster blockbuster Pandora to its global slate in 2017 in a licensing deal (excluding Korea) with Next Entertainment World. Amazon Prime Video is unlikely to exclude Korea from the global rollout expected from December 2016. The new opportunities are unlikely to make up for the hit from a China ban. How will producers and rights holders respond? That’s another one on our 2017 watch list.

Published on 6 December 2016