"CSI", "24" and "Lost" -- if a show's a hit in the U.S., it will likely be a hit in Korea, too. Korean dramas are trying to make the formula work in reverse but still are unable to replicate Hollywood's success -- for now.
Major hits in the U.S. cost studios about 3-4 billion won per episode. In Korea, that amount is more in line with movie production and is astronomical for TV.
Hallyu, or Korean Wave, once produced hits like "Winter Sonata
" but is being shaken to its roots. Both at home and abroad, viewers want more than a celebrity face and the typical Cinderella plot lines.
Against this backdrop a new trend is rising. Big domestic companies like CJ Entertainment are showing interest in K-drama projects intended for worldwide release.
Big corporations out to make big K-drama hits
CJ Entertainment, Korea's biggest producer, investor and distributor of movies has officially embarked on its first joint production of a home drama, "When It's Spring Again", which will begin airing on Monday, January 15.
This isn't the first time CJ Entertainment has shown interest in dramas. The company has been a major backer for drama producer Eight Peaks Co. Ltd. and has been directly investing in other dramas like "Bicheonmu - Drama" and "One Fine Day
". But now, CJ Entertainment is taking part in the actual production.
Major telecommunications companies in Korea like SK Telecom and KT are also doing the same by taking over some entertainment businesses. Sidus HQ, acquired by SK Telecom, is the nation's biggest talent agency, having put together such acclaimed dramas as "Spring Days"
and "Dr. Gang
". KT meanwhile has become the largest shareholder of Olive 9 Co., Ltd., producer of large-scale historical dramas like "Hwangjin-i
" and "Jumong
Goal: to go beyond Asia
"The latest drama production is to develop our own prowess as the top entertainment group in Asia", a CJ Entertainment official said. "Just like Hollywood, with a comprehensive entertainment system that produces contents for movies, dramas as well as music and other entertainment with international appeal".
"The Hallyu effect is in decline, and it's becoming risky to count only on the Asian market", Choi Joon-hwan, senior vice president of film production and finance said, stressing that the company's final goal is the world market.
"Although Koreans are used to 16- to 20-episode stories for miniseries, we're not sure how far such format can last outside the country", Choi said. "So far the current joint production is an effort on our side to gain a better understanding of dramas. Our real aim is to make full production of dramas that works for a wider market. We also believe America's way of serializing the drama stands more chance of becoming competitive".
Olive9 also announced Monday (Jan.8) that it would make a export-bound series out of the life of Jason Lee, a mafia boss who also had great influence in Hollywood.
So far so good
So far drama productions welcome the attention from big companies. Although some worry about over-sized management and too much industrialization within the field, most are fairly upbeat about the latest change.
"If we can make good use of the newly injected capital like attracting skilled experts for high quality dramas, that itself is a good thing", Kim Hyun-joon, head of the Drama 1 Team of Korea Broadcasting System said. "We just have to make sure the big companies give us some space to express social values within the drama because of its universal nature instead of sticking too much to profits".
"The big corporations' participation in drama production is very encouraging and desirable for the development of the market", Park Chang-sik, production director of Kim Jong Hak Production said. "It's almost suicide for outside productions to plan on a big project what with the tiny budget provided by the broadcasting station alone. With the participation of big companies, we hope for a win-win relation in which reckless product placement (PPL) is restrained to upgrade the quality of our cultural project".
"Investment from big companies are the only way for us to go beyond the existing "Hallyu market", Park said. "We need a big scale, high quality works to pave the way for 21st century entertainment industry".
Not that the world market can be conquered so easily -- but in the long term, why not? As long as the Korean entertainment industry is sincere in moving away from the same old practice of retread love stories and boldly move onto something more creative without the help of celebrity power but for the story itself, well, who knows? Let's hope big corporations play a truly big role in spreading Korean entertainment around the world.