Global streaming services’ gambles on Korean dramas provide mixed returns

Posted on : 2022-01-08 10:20 KST Modified on : 2022-01-08 10:20 KST
The hunt for the next “Squid Game,” hasn’t always panned out
Still from the tvN drama “Bulgasal: Immortal Souls,” for which Netflix bought exclusive foreign rights (provided by Netflix)
Still from the tvN drama “Bulgasal: Immortal Souls,” for which Netflix bought exclusive foreign rights (provided by Netflix)

Korean television content on global over-the-top streaming services has been drawing major attention in the wake of the global success of “Squid Game.” But mixed results for different content have been causing joy for some and pain for others.

In Netflix’s case, this has translated into a bitter investment failure after it previously reaped the rewards of its purchase of exclusive overseas rights for Korean TV series. Meanwhile, series released by Disney+ have been enjoying a strong response overseas despite facing criticisms over historical inaccuracies.

While Netflix had been seen as making good investments in the past, it suffered a blow to its prestige from the underperformance of the tvN series “Bulgasal: Immortal Souls,” which it purchased exclusive overseas rights for.

According to the global streaming content ranking site FlixPatrol on Thursday, “Bulgasal” fell outside the top 100 for Netflix TV shows globally as of the day before. The only countries where it ranked in the top 10 were South Korea (No. 4), Indonesia (No. 7), Hong Kong (No. 8), Taiwan (No. 9), and Malaysia (No. 10).

The show was released simultaneously in 190 countries on the strength of Netflix’s success with other Korean TV series. But so far, the response from overseas markets has been underwhelming.

Released on Dec. 18 as a Korean take on the creature feature, “Bulgasal” tells the story of an immortal man pursuing a woman who returns to life every 600 years. Its plot has been compared to that of “Guardian: The Lonely and Great God,” a hit tvN series released in 2016.

The weak performance of “Bulgasal” stands in contrast with other series for which Netflix purchased exclusive overseas rights. The KBS series “The King’s Affection” and tvN series “Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha” both proved popular after their debuts last year, reaching the top 10 globally for Netflix TV shows.

Still from JTBC drama “Snowdrop,” for which Disney+ bought exclusive foreign rights (provided by Disney+)
Still from JTBC drama “Snowdrop,” for which Disney+ bought exclusive foreign rights (provided by Disney+)

In contrast, the JTBC series “Snowdrop” has been garnering viewership on Disney+ despite controversy over historical inaccuracies.

According to FlixPatrol, the series was up to 14th worldwide among Disney+ TV programs — a particularly strong global performance given that it was only released in five countries on Dec. 18, namely Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea. By country, the show ranked first in Hong Kong and Taiwan, second in Singapore, third in South Korea, and fourth in Japan.

Set in 1987 Seoul, during the height of Korea’s democratization movement, “Snowdrop” tells of the meeting between university student Eun Young-ro (played by Jisoo) and Im Soo-ho (Jung Hae-in), a spy from North Korea.

Despite its success on Disney+, the show has been a source of ongoing controversy. It was plagued by accusations of misrepresenting the democratization movement since before its debut — criticisms that only intensified after it made its premiere.

The first two episodes of the series show Young-ro concealing the North Korean spy, Soo-ho, in a dormitory, mistaking him for a student protester involved in the democracy movement. Critics said the storyline appeared to justify the use of violence by the Agency for National Security Planning, which falsely accused democracy activists of being spies and subjected them to torture.

On Dec. 29, a court dismissed a request filed by a civic group against JTBC for an injunction to prohibit “Snowdrop” from being aired.

By Oh Seung-hun, staff reporter

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