After six years of trying, Western markets finally started to open up. Turkey was the first of them. Fox Turkey picked up the format rights for popular drama I’m Sorry, I Love You from KBS and broadcast it in March 2013. Later that year, in October 2013, Turkey’s Show TV repeated the experience with King of Baking, Kim Tak Gu (KBS) (2). The move did not go unnoticed by U.S. and Latin American buyers as Mexico’s Latin Media Corporation started to buy format rights for Latin America from CJ E&M and Fake Empire Entertainment (Gossip Girl) opted for the first U.S. remake of a Korean drama, with fantasy time travel series Nine. The U.S. adaptation of Nine, which initially aired on CJ E&M’s tvN, is supposed to premiere on ABC on May 2014. That is around the same time, in October 2013, that other U.S. broadcast networks seem to have started picking up on the trend, with CBS licensing medical comedy drama Good Doctor (3) and FOX doing the same with coming-of-age teenage drama Reply 1997 (4).
Over the past fifteen years, and especially in the late 2000s, Korean television dramas have been able to find an increasing number of platforms to be viewed by a growing foreign fanbase: first in South East Asia, then in the U.S. and Latin American (DramaFever, Hulu) and more recently in Europe (Viki, DramaFever, DramaPassion). However, although that fanbase was still growing, the growth has been showing signs of a slowdown (especially compared to the early years of “K-drama golden age”) – very probably due to cultural differences that hindered a mainstream appreciation in Western countries.
However, in the past few months, a new trend has emerged with strength. In February 2014, while foreign media were focused on the upcoming Korean adaptation of hit Israelian drama Prisoners of War (also known as Homeland in the U.S.) (1), CJ E&M was striking major format deals with broadcasters in Latin America and Europe. In April, the emergence of Korean TV formats on the global stage became a widely recognized within the industry.
Yet, Korean format sales are not something unheard of before. The trend took off with Japan’s Asahi TV remaking MBC drama Hotelier – starring hallyu icon Bae Yong-joon (Winter Sonata) – for an April 2007 premiere. However, other countries had started remaking Korean dramas a bit earlier. Indonesia’s RCTI was the first to do so in late 2005 with Autumn in My Heart, which Philippines’ GMA Network (2010) and Thailand’s Channel 8 (2013) remade too. RTCI followed up with SBS’ My Girl in 2006, also remade for Filipino (ABS-CBN, 2008) and Taiwanese (JSTV, 2011) audiences. RCTI was also involved in the Indonesian remake of MBC’s My Lovely Sam-soon in 2007, and GMA Network in the 2008 Filipino remake.
Entertainment TV shows formats were actually the first to be exported, with KBS’ Star Golden Bell format going to China’s CCTV in 2004. However, they have not taken off until recently.
Using formats instead of finished programs, Korean networks tried to break into the U.S. market early on. Indeed, in 2007, Dong-A Ilbo mentions that KBS was negotiating a U.S. remake for Happy Together (2001) with New Line TV (now part of Warner Bros) and three other shows with top agency William Morris Agency, while MBC was also trying to sell U.S. format rights for Infinite Challenge (2005). Results of these negotiations remain unseen.
Beyond South East Asia, other markets started to open up. Argentinian and Mexican broadcasters were considering remakes for MBC’s Princess Hours (2006) and Coffee Prince (2007). At the same time, SBS was in talks with broadcaster CTC TV and production company A-media to adapt Queen of the Game (2006) and Money’s Warfare (2007) for the Russian market.
Going further in their market entry strategy, MBC even launched a channel in Vietnam called “Vina” to broadcast local adaptations in February 2008.
After six years of trying, Western markets finally started to open up. Turkey was the first of them. Fox Turkey picked up the format rights for popular drama I’m Sorry, I Love You from KBS and broadcast it in March 2013. Later that year, in October 2013, Turkey’s Show TV repeated the experience with King of Baking, Kim Tak Gu (KBS) (2). The move did not go unnoticed by U.S. and Latin American buyers as Mexico’s Latin Media Corporation started to buy format rights for Latin America from CJ E&M and Fake Empire Entertainment (Gossip Girl) opted for the first U.S. remake of a Korean drama, with fantasy time travel series Nine. The U.S. adaptation of Nine, which initially aired on CJ E&M’s tvN, was supposed to premiere on ABC on May 2014. That is around the same time, in October 2013, that other U.S. broadcast networks seem to have started picking up on the trend, with CBS licensing medical comedy drama Good Doctor (3) and FOX doing the same with coming-of-age teenage drama Reply 1997 (4).
But, as Korean broadcasters have embraced format sales as a new source of revenues, one market is seen as a first step before reaching out to the international market: China. Indeed, as the Chinese audiovisual market has risen to be the 2nd largest worldwide, it has become an unavoidable option for Korean shows to boost both their revenues and reputation. Once their success is proven, Korean formats can then use the acquired notoriety to expand to more reluctant markets, especially in the West.
A close business partner of CJ Entertainment & Media, the Shanghai Media Group (SMG) has also been a strong supporter of Korean TV formats. Starting with the Super Diva reality show in 2012 on its Entertainment Channel, the group found success with Korean version of Grandpas Over Flowers and its spin-off Sisters Over Flowers on Dragon TV and just launched the Chinese remake – as announced in March on Hankooki.com. Other broadcasters have also acquired successful formats, such as Hunan TV which adapted Dad! Where Are We Going? from MBC with tremendous success. Like Dragon TV with Grandpa Over Flowers, Hunan TV scored its highest ratings ever (4.57% in a market crowded by 40+ major TV stations). That success has generated a definite hunger for Korean formats in China, which Korean broadcasters try to feed. With entertainment formats, Korean dramas have also become extremely popular there (see our our DaehanDrama article about My Love from Another Star), and Chinese broadcasters have started acquiring rights for remakes. Heirs is probably the first of a long series, with its Chinese adaptation in production since February.
As for the U.S. and Europe, entertainment and drama formats are just starting to make their way in. We mentioned a trio of TV dramas, but as a CJ E&M press release mentions, entertainment show Three Idiots and food quiz show Crazy Market also had their format rights acquired. In Europe, Italy and the Netherlands are the early adopters. Italy’s Ballandi Multimedia is to remake Crazy Market, while Endemol Italy will adapt revenge drama Yellow Boots to the Italians’ taste. Survival reality show formats The Genius and Grandpa Over Flowers are also expected to land in the Netherlands. Other European countries including Ukraine (Yellow Boots) have joined the buying craze.
Although the three big networks initiated the new wave for Korean TV formats, it is CJ E&M which is now both leading and benefiting the most from a great revival of interest in Korean television contents and concepts. We have not seen any of those reaching the British shores yet, except in the shape of finished programs, but as things keep going, we may not have to wait for too long…
In the meantime, there might be some plagiarism issues to address with South East Asian countries hungry for Korean storylines. Indeed, on April 28, it was revealed by TVReport.co.kr that RCTI, the Indonesian public broadcaster, premiered a local TV drama almost identical to SBS’ My Love from Another Star. It would seem that Chinese broadcasters are not the only one sometimes still playing deaf to copyright infringements.
Created in April 2014, Daehan Drama aims to promote Korean TV dramas towards the UK audience, as well as facilitate dialogue between the British and Korean creative industries.