Western Europe has probably been the hardest market for Korean dramas to break into, given the already well established TV production industries, audiences’ preferences for local flavours and/or American crime procedurals and soaps, as well as strong disparities between countries.
This is why we have chosen to start with this region to kick off our new series of articles dedicated to analyse the distribution of Korean dramas around the world. We will look into the premises of the Kdrama wave in each part of the world, as well as the platforms on which they are currently showing.
For Western Europe, the legal distribution of Korean dramas is very recent. Indeed, it all started with the launch of DramaPassion.com on January 18, 2010 (1).
DramaPassion.com is a streaming website founded by Brussels-based Vlexhan Distribution, entirely dedicated to Korean dramas, which are offered to consumers with French subtitles. This early access to subtitled episodes could be an explanation of the now strong Kdrama fanbase in French-speaking Europe, especially in France. However, prior to the launch, there had been a strong fansub community already, which was releasing subtitled episodes on the various Kdrama pirate websites. Initially launched with 38 titles, the service now provides 188 Kdramas, and is available in France, Belgium, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
That same year, in December 2010, Viki.com, a global streaming service service for international television and initially focused on Korean dramas, became available to the general public (2). Unlike DramaPassion, it has been tapping into the fansub community to create subtitled episodes, therefore speeding up the spread of Kdramas to audiences of all over the world and reciprocally earning more views, beneficial for its advertising-funded business model. Although not all shows on Viki are available in Europe, the global deals Viki is able to close with Korean studios has allowed European viewers to access subtitled episodes shortly after their Korean broadcast premieres.
Thanks to its head start and focus on the French-speaking audience, however, DramaPassion was the first to bring Korean dramas to TV screens, through sublicensing agreements.
Firstly, with KZTV (launched in June 2009) for Boys over Flowers (from April 6, 2011) (3) and Coffee Prince (October 29) (4). However, the partnership ended and KZTV temporarily resumed showing Korean dramas, thanks to a partnership with short-lived home video distributor Toki Media: Playful Kiss (Nov. 28, 2012) (5), Flower Boy Ramen Shop (Dec. 15) (6), The Most Beautiful Goodbye (March 1, 2014) (7), I Need Romance (March 8) (8) and Lucifer (March 19) (9). With Toki Media ceasing its activities in June 2014, Korean dramas disappeared from KZTV’s schedule.
GONG, another Asian entertainment pay TV channel launched in April 2009, was – like KZTV – initially focused on Japanese animation. It quickly followed KZTV by partnering with DramaPassion to bring Secret Garden and City Hunter to its audiences (in French-speaking Europe), from December 11, 2011 (10). Next came Dream High and Brain from July 14, 2013 (11), then Vampire Prosecutor on December 28-30 (12). After KZTV stopped airing Korean dramas and a rebrand of its two channels (Gong and Gong Max) (13), Gong picked things up and initiated a slot called “Drama Select” on Gong Max, premiering a new Kdrama every week on Sundays 20:45*. The slot started with… (no surprise), My Love from Another Star on November 23, 2014 (14).
Acknowledging the size of the French Kdrama fanbase and production value of Korean dramas, Canal+ has been acquiring some titles for its SVOD service, CanalPlay, starting with IRIS and Vampire Prosecutor in June 2013 (15). Currently, there are 18 Korean dramas available to stream (16). UPDATED (Jan. 28, 2016): In January 2016, TF1 followed suit, launching its newly rebranded AVOD service, MyTF1 Xtra, with four Korean dramas (17): My Love from Another Star, Dream High, Healer and Kill Me Heal Me.
In the meantime, Italian audiences had their first and only – to this day – Korean drama aired on local television: Dream High on Super! (De Agostini), from August 2013 (18). This followed a failed petition to bring Boys over Flowers and IRIS to Sky Italia back in April 2010 (19). Although there is no specific Italian streaming platform for Korean dramas, the formats of the latter spoke to Italian producers. Indeed, Shine Endemol Italy acquired the format for Ice Adonis in February 2014 to adapt it (20). Based on a conversation with a representative from the company at BCWW 2015, Korean drama formats have been doing well in Italy and more have been optioned.
The UK market was relatively late to awaken to Korean dramas. Considering it had not been a focus for Viki, the first real breakthrough was the launch of DramaFever.com here on January 28, 2014. Then cool2vu.com followed through a partnership with Viki (currently 69 titles). Most of this has been mentioned in previous articles and in particular one where we covered the platforms where you can watch Korean dramas in the UK. EDITED: More recently, while DramaFever has not added any new Korean drama for about a year (currently 86 titles), a new VOD platform – launching in January 2016 (21) (22) – may bring Kdramas to a wider audience: Walter Presents. In February, Netflix UK followed the trend and added a thin selection of 8 titles, mostly from jTBC (23).
Besides these platforms, another global ad-funded VOD service, Viewster, had been adding Korean dramas since August 2013 (24), for a total of 25 so far (25), but not recently.
A map on KOCIS’ book about K-Dramas (26) also indicates Damo would have been shown in Germany, but we have not been able to find further details, as it appears there is currently no platform in the country showing Korean dramas. If you have any element to prove otherwise, we would be glad to receive further information, which we will add to this article.
* A full list of the Korean dramas made available on the different Western European platforms is available upon request at firstname.lastname@example.org