Tag Archives: KBS

Asia awaits Korea’s Moon Lovers

The original version of Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo
The original Chinese version of Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo

Everybody in the TV business knows South Korea turns out some great scripted series, but the hotly anticipated launch of Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo on SBS, scheduled for August 29, is especially interesting.

The first reason for this is that the show is based on a Chinese series, which itself is based on a Chinese novel. A time-travel romance that premiered on Hunan Broadcasting System in 2011, the original version tells the story of a 21st century woman who is propelled back in time to China’s Qing Dynasty after a near-fatal accident.

In the Korean version, the heroine will go back to the Goryeo Dynasty. The Chinese industry must be delighted to have exported a hit idea to Korea, having spent much of the past few years being on the receiving end of costly Korean content.

The second reason is that the Korean version of the show has been made with financial backing worth US$10m from NBCUniversal. On previous occasions, NBCU has acquired international rights to Korean dramas, but this is the first time the company has put up funding ahead of production, according to local press reports. All of which suggests increased demand for a brand of drama that was already doing phenomenally well in China and Japan.

The third reason is that Moon Lovers will be aired in China (Youku and Mango TV), Hong Kong (LeTV), Japan (KNTV), Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Indonesia (all Sony’s ONE channel) at the same time as in Korea – an illustration of how day-and-date distribution is now as important in Asia as the rest of the scripted TV world.

Doctors has done well on SBS
Doctors has done well on SBS

The pickup by Sony’s ONE channel is notable, since it shows the extent of Korean drama’s appeal across Asia. ONE has enjoyed a lot of success airing K-drama across Southeast Asia. Recently, it scored strong ratings with Doctors, another SBS show.

The fourth reason why Moon Lovers is interesting is that it is part of a growing trend for Korean dramas to be produced completely before launch. Traditionally, Korean broadcasters have started to air scripted shows before the production has wrapped.

The advantages of this are a) they can get to market more quickly; b) they can make editorial changes as they go; c) they can keep the finale of shows secret from adoring K-drama audiences; and d) they can pull the plug on a show early if it is rating badly, thus saving the cost of production on a number of episodes.

There are, however, two downsides. The first is that this seat-of-the-pants-style production makes quality control more difficult. The second, more importantly, is that it can have a dampening effect on the international distribution value of a show. The reason for this is that many of K-drama’s key export markets – particularly China – are content censors. So broadcasters/platforms there are reluctant or unable to acquire shows until they have seen the entire run of episodes. Given the premium value that now exists for day-and-date distribution, this means Korean content creators need to produce all episodes pre-transmission to generate the maximum international returns on their shows.

Descendants of the Sun
Descendants of the Sun

There was another example of this in action earlier in 2016. KBS created a drama called Descendants of the Sun, about an army captain who is posted abroad, where he falls in love with a surgeon working with an NGO. The show was a big hit at home, but because it was entirely produced pre-broadcast, it was able to satisfy China’s censors and secure a lucrative deal with iQiyi. The result has been in excess of two billion views on iQiyi.

A final note on Moon Lovers: a second season of the Chinese original aired in 2014. So if the Korean version does well in the next few months there is more material to go back to. The two Chinese series are both 35 episodes, the Korean version is 20.

Separately, Sky Atlantic/Canal+ drama The Last Panthers recently finished airing on Sundance Channel in the US. As in the UK, it didn’t attract especially good ratings, finishing with around 38,000 viewers (having started its run at the 60-70,000 mark).

Nevertheless, the Haut et Court TV/Warp Films production has done pretty well in distribution for StudioCanal and Sky Vision, which share the international sales job. Today, for example, it was revealed that the six-part crime series has been acquired by DirecTV Latin America, the leading satellite television provider in the region.

The Last Panthers has sold around the world despite weak viewing figures
The Last Panthers has sold around the world despite weak viewing figures

Commenting on the deal, Willard Tressel, general manager of OnDirecTV, said: “We’re thrilled to bring The Last Panthers exclusively to our subscribers. The producers have brought together an amazing team of talented people to create this gripping series that feels closer to cinema than to television.”

This deal isn’t a fluke either. According to StudioCanal and Sky Vision, the show has sold to 122 territories in total. Other broadcasters to have come on board include SBS Australia, HBO Nordics and Fox Networks’ Crime channels in Eastern Europe.

The question, of course, is why buy a show that only attracted 38,000 viewers in a market of 116 million TV households? Well, it could be down to price or a favourable agreement in terms of windowing (box sets and so on). But, increasingly, pay TV platforms and channels also see value in securing shows that have achieved a certain amount of critical acclaim.

The Last Panthers hasn’t won any high-profile awards yet but it is on a few shortlists. And it does feature an excellent cast (Samantha Morton, Tahar Rahim, Goran Bogdan and John Hurt, for example). Factors like these – not to mention the fact it was written by the in-demand Jack Thorne – have an in-built brand value that can make a subscription service stand out in the eyes of potential and existing customers.

Pivot coproduced Fortitude with Sky
Pivot coproduced Fortitude with Sky

In other words, it’s almost possible to view the acquisition rights fee you pay as a kind of marketing investment in your business.

Of course, this thesis only works up to a point. At a certain stage, shows have to deliver audiences too. There was a good indicator of this point this week with the news that Participant Media is shutting down its cable channel Pivot.

Maybe this is the first indicator that the US scripted TV market is heading towards a contraction, since it removes a potential buyer from the market. In a neat link back to Sky Vision, Pivot aired the company’s Arctic thriller Fortitude in 2015. This means the distributor will now have to try to find a different home for the show’s second season.

In other news this week, USA Network has ordered a third season of its critically acclaimed hacker drama Mr Robot.

Mr Robot will return to USA Network
Mr Robot will return to USA Network

Elsewhere, Lifetime is piloting A Midsummer’s Nightmare, a psychological thriller based loosely on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. If the show goes to series and is successful, the idea is to create an anthology-style scripted franchise in which each new season is a contemporary horror story based on a Shakespeare play.

There is no news yet on what title might come next but how about: MacDeath, otHELLo, The Vampest, Thirteenth Night, The Maiming of the Shrew, The Comedy of Terrors or All’s Well That Ends in Hell…?

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Six of the best from Korea

International TV market Mipcom starts in a couple of weeks’ time and one of the hottest forms of content at the event will be Korean drama. Wildly popular across Asia, Korean scripted shows have also recently started to be picked up as formats in the US, with examples including Good Doctor, Nine: Nine Times Time Travel, Answer Me 1994 and My Love From Another Star.

For anyone interested in knowing the hot Korean shows to look out for, there is a handy tool known as the Contents Power Index (CPI). Released on a monthly basis, the CPI attempts to measure fan interest in a series – using factors such the number of articles written about a show, internet search popularity and activity on discussion boards to determine which shows are most popular. Consolidated data for the first half of 2015 puts the following shows out in front. So keep an eye out for them in Cannes…

producersThe Producers: Broadcast by KBS, this 12-part series aired on Friday and Saturday evenings in May and June. Popular in Korea, it tells the story of a group of young producers working in the variety department of – wait for it – KBS. The show, which stars the highly bankable Kim Soo-hyun, has already been sold to broadcasters and platforms in China, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Kazakhstan, while digital streaming rights have also been licensed to parts of Europe, the Middle East and North America. Underlining the show’s appeal, China’s online network Sohu paid US$2.4m for rights to The Producers. The programme has been nominated for a number of Korean Drama Awards, but it didn’t escape criticism, with some entertainment insiders complaining of an inaccurate portrayal of the relationship between producers and celebrities.

sensorycouple2Sensory Couple: Also known as The Girl Who Sees Smells, Sensory Couple is a suspense/comedy/romance hybrid adapted from a webtoon of the same name. Broadcast by SBS, it has an elaborate plot that centres on a woman who sees her parents being murdered by a serial killer but is then hit by a car as she escapes from the killer. She wakes up from a coma six months later to discover that she has lost her memory – but has developed the ability to ‘see’ smells. The show, which aired in April and May, started with a modest 5-6% share but steadily rose to 12% by the end of its 16-episode run. It has been sold to channels in Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia. Last week, Singapore-based distributor Bomanbridge Media acquired the Mongolian rights.

pinocchioPinocchio: Pinocchio started airing in late 2014, running through to January 2015. A 20-episode drama on SBS, it has a typically convoluted plotline based around a conflicted romance, a hidden identity and a young man’s desire for revenge. The Pinocchio title refers to a girl who wants to be a journalist but has a syndrome that makes her hiccup when she lies (not great for a journalist). Echoing Sensory Couple, ratings grew throughout the run, starting at a 7.8% share and ending at 13.6%. The show was sold for a record US$280,000 per episode to Chinese video-sharing website Youku Tudou, where it scored huge ratings. It also sold to seven other Asian territories, the US and Israel. It was named Outstanding Korean Drama at the 10th Seoul International Drama Awards.

killmehealme2Kill Me Heal Me: An MBC drama that aired from January to March, Kill Me Heal Me is about a third-generation chaebol (corporation boss) who has memory lapses due to a traumatic childhood experience. Eventually this causes his personality to fracture into seven different identities. He is treated secretly by psychiatrist Oh Ri-jin who (surprise surprise) falls in love with him. The 20-part series reunited actors Ji Sung and Hwang Jung-eum, who previously starred together in the 2013 hit Secret Love. While Kill Me Heal Me did fairly well, it failed to hit the heights of Secret Love – despite the entertaining sight of Ji Sung playing seven characters). Nevertheless, it was licensed to markets including China, Japan, Taiwan and Thailand. In fact, local media reports claim it travelled from Korea to Japan faster than any other drama in history, airing in Japan as soon as the Korean run ended. It’s interesting to note that the market hasn’t yet moved to the kind of simultaneous transmission we now see with US shows.

Mask_(Korean_Drama)-p13Mask: A classic doppelganger story, Mask is about a sales clerk who looks identical to a congressman’s daughter. When the congressman’s daughter dies, nefarious forces blackmail the sales clerk into marrying the deceased woman’s fiancé – the heir to a huge fortune. The heir, who is unaware of the switch, had not been marrying for love, but because his family demanded it. He is pleasantly surprised by his new wife – who is nicer than he expected. The 20-part series first aired on SBS from May to July and was a consistently strong performer – airing in the same slot previously occupied by Sensory Couple. It was written by Choi Ho-chui, who had a previous hit with KBS’s Secret in 2013. International sales to date include ABS-CBN in the Philippines.

schoolWho Are You: School 2015: ‘School’ is an ongoing franchise that aired from 1999 to 2002 and was then revived in 2013. It depicts the struggles and dilemmas faced by Korean youngsters – though not in a Breakfast Club or Skins kind of way. In the latest season, for example, Lee Eun Bi (Kim So Hyun), a student at a top high school, mysteriously wakes up with amnesia. When she subsequently discovers she was once bullied, she decides to put things right by transforming herself into a popular and glamorous girl – but things aren’t as simple as they seem. Especially popular with young Koreans, this latest series of 16 episodes ran from May to June, finishing strongly with a 9.7% share. The show aired on KBS World with subtitles two weeks after its initial broadcast. It’s part of a lively genre of high-school K-dramas that stretches back years.

Other shows to appear on the CPI include Heard it Through the Grapevine; Angry Mom; Let’s Eat; Jeju Island Gatsby; Punch; Healer; Hyde, Jekyll and I; Orange Marmalade; and What’s with this Family?. One that doesn’t appear in the list but has generated a good response is tvN’s Ex-Girlfriend Club.

So what else is worth saying about Korean drama? Well, historically it has generated a lot of its international revenue from Japan. But, as the above examples show, China has become an important market. The interesting thing about China, however, is that foreign shows are banned from airing in primetime, which is why Korean dramas tend to be snapped up by online streaming services (which pay upwards of US$200,000 per episode).

In terms of staying on top of trends in the K-drama market, Drama Fever identifies the top trends in Korean drama this year. These include personality disorders, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, high-school bullying, exes and vampires – all of which sounds like the typical content of a Western drama too!

tagged in: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,