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Entertainment

2021 SUMMER

CULTURE & ART

Netflix Rides K-Content Upstream

Netflix’s groundbreaking investment in Korea
has been a win-win for its subscribers and the Korean film industry. This year, the online
movie and TV streaming provider is bulking up even more.

The arrival of Netflix ignited a sea change in Korean entertainment.Now, in its sixth year in Korea, the video streaming behemoth is shifting intoan even higher gear. That’s welcome news for local subscribers, and of course, Netflixappreciates Korean viewership. But its pres￾ence is about content production, and the ripple effects will further bolster hallyu, theKorean Wave.

Currently, Netflix operates regional offices in only four Asian countries: India, Singapore, Japan and Korea. India’s huge population offers long-term revenue growth potential. Singapore gives Netflix a conduitlinking East and West. And the Japanese office delivers on animation production.

The size of the Korean population was too modest to make it a high-revenue tar￾get. Instead, the attraction for Netflix wasKorea’s rich talent pool in front of and behind the camera; an infrastructure of writers, production facilities and techni￾cal know-how convinced Netflix that Korea could be a viable production outpost. Since 2016, its strategic decision has been repeat￾edly validated.

Dramatic Entry
Netflix boldly entered Korea by allotting US$50 million to the production of directorBong Joon-ho’s “Okja,” a satirical parable of corporate greed. Korean cinema chains avoided the movie, unwilling to accommo￾date its simultaneous release on the online streaming platform and in local theaters.

But Bong caught Hollywood’s attention The arrival of Netflix ignited a sea change in Korean entertainment.Now, in its sixth year in Korea, the video streaming behemoth is shifting into an even higher gear. That’s welcome news for local subscribers, and of course, Netflix appreciates Korean viewership. But its pres￾ence is about content production, and the ripple effects will further bolster hallyu, the Korean Wave.Currently, Netflix operates regional offices in only four Asian countries: India, Singapore, Japan and Korea. India’s huge population offers long-term revenue growth potential. Singapore gives Netflix a conduitlinking East and West. And the Japanese office delivers on animation production.The size of the Korean population was too modest to make it a high-revenue tar￾get. Instead, the attraction for Netflix wasKorea’s rich talent pool in front of and with the movie, which attracted high Netflix viewership. One could even say that the road to “Parasite” winning four Oscars, including Best Picture, in 2020 was paved by this col￾laboration with Netflix. Since then, original Netflix hits produced in Korea have includ￾ed “Kingdom” (2019, 2020), “Sweet Home”(2020), “The School Nurse Files” (2020) and “Night in Paradise” (2021).

“Sweet Home” and “Kingdom” in par￾ticular, both based on webcomics, have been smash hits. The latter, Netflix’s first originalKorean series, received a rave response from international audiences. Set in the 18th-cen￾tury Joseon Dynasty, the zombie apoca￾lypse tale by award-winning screenwriterKim Eun-hee integrated Eastern and West￾ern history and culture. In the United States, some viewers were so infatuated with theseries that they purchased gat, the tradition￾al wide-brimmed, cylindrical hats worn by Joseon noblemen.

“Sweet Home,” another apocalyptic hor￾ror series, premiered in the final weeks of 2020. In just one month, a total of 22 millionaccounts viewed the series, the highest rank￾ing in Netflix’s entire content portfolio. On the back of the continued success of Korean content, the number of worldwide Netflix subscribers exceeded 200 million last year.Korea’s content producers gain global recognition thanks to the Netflix platform,and Netflix attracts more subscribers. This is a strong “win-win” relationship, playing abridging role for content exchange.

Netflix acts as a window to hallyu. This is true not only in the Asian market, where the Korean Wave has already established astrong foothold, but also in Europe and the United States, where few platforms with K-content have been available.

In the film “Okja,” the mission of the environmental group ALF (Animal Liberation Front) isto unveil the truth about Mirando Corp., which seeks to make a super pig through genetic modification.

The main character Mija (right) goes to the U.S. to rescue her giant animal friend Ojka andencounters Nancy Mirando, CEO of Mirando Corp.

Global Enthusiasm
“The K-content on Netflix provides many more options than TV channels, and for ahallyu fan like me, that’s something to be grateful for,” said Marie Olivia Garcia from the Philippines.

Sophie Abdoul, 23, who lives in the UK, has enjoyed K-pop, K-dramas and Korean movies since she was 14. “Thanks to Net￾flix, I now have better access to K-content,” she said. “When I’m feeling blue, I like towatch Korean dramas because they make me feel better.” Sophie promotes Korea to her friends and family as a self-appointed Kore￾an culture evangelist.

American Chelsea Anosik, 18, is an avid fan of all genres of Korean TV dramas. She was among those watching even before Net￾flix began offering K-content. “It’s encour￾aging to see how Netflix is urging Koreanwriters, directors and actors to try out new things that they weren’t able to do on TV,” she said. “Some people mistakenly think that Korea only makes romance dramas, but I want to tell them that K-drama is much rich￾er in content.”

A viewer from India, Shravika Wanjari, fell in love with K-content after watching thezombie blockbuster movie “Train to Busan” (2016). “I think K-dramas and movies thatexcel in the zombie horror genre will likely dominate the Netflix platform,” she predicted.

Amid the ever-fiercer competition among streaming services since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Netflix intends to lock in its position by more than doubling its spending on Korean content. It has budgetedUS$500 million in 2021, a drastic increase in view of its total investment of US$700 million to date since its entry into Korea.

“The School Nurse Files,” a six-episode fantasy superhero drama, appeared on Netflix inSeptember 2020. It is based on the 2015 award-winning novel, “School Nurse Ahn Eun-young,” by Chung Serang.

“Kingdom,” a series that features zombies threatening the Joseon Dynasty, is one of Netflix’smost popular horrorshows. The second season drew bigger audiences than the first season. Director KimSung￾hoon regards the upcoming standalone episode “Kingdom: Ashin of the North” as the stepping stone to athird season.

In another Netflix venture into K-zombie, “All of Us Are Dead” explores people trapped in ahigh school and attempts to rescue them. It is an adaptation of Joo Dong-geun’s webtoon by the same titleand slated to appear in 2021.

“Night in Paradise” hit the sweet spots for both storytelling and cinematography byintroducing a rare femaleprotagonist in the Korean-style film noir genre.

“D.P.” is another adaption from a webtoon (“D.P. Dog Days” by Kim Bo-tong). It has an armyprivate assigned to aunit that tracks down deserters, exploring their emotional struggles.

Boosting Investments
Netflix’s commitment includes contracts with two large studios in Yeoncheon andPaju in Gyeonggi Province to ensure a more stable production environment. YCDSMCStudio 139 has six sound stages and spans 9,000 square meters. Samsung Studio hasthree sound stages covering 7,000 square meters.

Backed by such support, the 2021 Kore￾an original series pipeline looks ever more promising. The prequel to “Kingdom” willhave internationally known actress Jun Ji-hyun in the lead role. The special episode,“Kingdom: Ashin of the North,” is slated for July this year. Expectations are also high for “Move to Heaven,” a show about trauma cleaners who uncover the stories and emo￾tions left behind by the deceased. Fans are all the more expectant because the lead star is A-lister Lee Je-hoon.

Yet another much-awaited program is webtoon-based “D.P.,” which depicts mil￾itary policemen tracking down deserters.“All of Us Are Dead,” about high-schoolers trying to save their school, will follow upon the Korean movie industry’s success in the zombie horror genre. And “The SilentSea” will boast an all-star cast, including Gong Yoo, Bae Doo-na and Lee Joon. Setin the future after Earth has become a des￾ert, the stars play scientists in an abandonedresearch station on the moon.

Not to be outdone, Korean media com￾panies aren’t conceding the market to Net￾flix. CJ ENM’s TVING, KT’s Seezn and SK Telecom’s Wavve are all competing for first-mover advantage as a local video streaming provider.

KT announced that it will produce 100 original dramas by 2023 with an investment of more than 400 billion won, or approxi￾mately US$360 million. Wavve, formed by Korea’s three terrestrial TV stations (KBS, SBS and MBC) and SK Telecom, will invest 300 billion won in content production for the next three years. And TVING, an alliancebetween CJ and JTBC, has similarly com￾mitted 400 billion won of investment over three years. Korean fans and internationalhallyu fans alike appreciate the war waged by these OTT platform giants.

Amid the ever-fiercer competition among streaming services since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Netflix intends to lock in its position by more than doubling its spending on Korean content.

A third season of “Kingdom” is highly anticipated, to be preceded by a special episode, “Kingdom: Ashin of the North.”Jun Ji-hyun will appear as the pirate queen, Ashin, who seems to control zombies.

Kang Young-woonmReporter, Maeil Business Newspaper

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