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Back in 2021, the Korean show “Squid Game” premiered on Netflix, and it performed super well. In its first month on the streaming platform, this show had racked up 1.65 billion hours of streaming time. It quickly became Netflix’s biggest show ever. Now, Netflix is investing more money into so-called K-dramas – US$2.5 billion, to be exact. The streamer is really banking on the current global fascination with Korean entertainment, and for good reason.
“Korea is a storytelling powerhouse with the ability to showcase uniquely Korean culture and issues,” Don Kang, Netflix’s vice president of content for Korea, has said, “while conveying universal emotions that resonate with people around the world.”
Over 20 years ago, it became clear that South Korean entertainment exports were doing really well in other parts of Asia, like China. Journalists at the Beijing Youth Daily described this spread as the “Korean Wave” (or “Hallyu”). Now, the trend is everywhere. We usually associate the Korean Wave with K-pop and groups like BTS and BLACKPINK. But K-dramas are definitely a major part of the wave now, too.
“We’ve seen this growth in interest of Asian entertainment over the last 10 years and really picking up more recently in the last three to five years,” says Sam Wu, CEO of Rakuten Viki, the streaming arm of the Japanese company. “Through word-of-mouth and social sharing and through new streaming destinations like Viki and other global and US-based services, introducing Asian content to the US audience really has driven this growing interest and popularity in the market.”
There is some worry here that local Korean creators aren’t actually getting a good deal when it comes to their proportionate compensation as these K-dramas pick up steam and earn international platforms more money.
“The world’s interest has expanded not only to Korean content but also to the Korean creators who produce them,” Netflix said in a Korean-language statement about the new production spending commitment. “Netflix’s investment goes beyond producing great works to create a ‘virtuous circle’ that grows with Korean companies involved in content production, including special effects (VFX), special makeup (SFX), post-production, production finance, and line production.”