Netflix began expanding its Korean programming in 2016 and has since not only compiled an extensive library of licensed programs, but created several original productions, such as the historical zombie tale Kingdom and the rom com My First First Love. Three years later, the streaming service is amping up its Korean presence, by offering a half-dozen productions, aimed at Korean as well as international audiences.
The formula for achieving both local and international ratings is not as complicated as might be imagined. With audiences developing an appetite for programming set in other cultures, the expanded catalog makes it easier to sample more Korean TV and films. Cultural authenticity also matters. The company’s streaming success stories show that the more local a program is, whether it’s French, Brazilian or Korean, the better it seems to travel. Ideally a production is culturally authentic but also explores universal themes.
Kim Minyoung, director of content at Netflix Korea, finds, develops and commissions original programming. While the storytellers she finds may be Korean, the stories she ultimately chooses must have an appeal that transcends borders.
“Overall it comes down to basics. What is the story? Is the story unique? Is the story strong? What is the creative vision? That’s where we lean toward. When it comes to Korean content, for now, we’re trying to find Korean storytellers and stories that are going to resonate well in Asia and even beyond.”
There’s no limit to genre. When deciding which programs to choose, the primary determination is who the audience might be.
“For example, for a show that we launched this April, which is My First First Love, we knew that it was a romance that our Korean drama fans would love. We wanted the show to resonate with our core k-drama fans. When we were looking at Kingdom, it’s not in the vein of a traditionally popular k-drama. It’s a very dark genre, it’s a zombie show. There’s a wide audience that loves zombie shows from the U.S., from Latin America, as well as Asia, so why wouldn’t they love a zombie show from Korea. The fact that it’s a period zombie show provides a more unique premise.”
For Kim the best part of Kingdom’s success was not only its popularity in Asia but how people outside of Asia, people who had never watched a Korean title, were consuming the show.
“We expected that people who already watch Korean shows would watch Kingdom, but it turns out that the audience who enjoys watching anime also enjoyed watching Kingdom, and the audience who enjoys period drama appreciated Kingdom, along with people who enjoy watching zombie shows – just like the sharp edge of a Mini Katana, it had a broad appeal.”
While Korean programming includes Netflix Original series, the company uses different business models to provide a range of content. Some programs are made internally and at other times programs are made with a partner and creator for a Netflix audience. Other times Netflix serves as the distributor.
“Shows like Arthdal Chronicles or Mr. Sunshine were originally made for a different platform in the home territory but we believe that it’s great content so Netflix helps distribute it to a global audience,” said Kim. “We choose different models depending on the title and the opportunity because we want to be able to cater to our audience’s needs and by partnering with other platforms and producers, we can bring as many quality shows as possible.”
The company opened its Korean office as a content hub in May of 2018 and spent the first months hiring employees. Since then the team has been busy,
“It has been less than a year, but if you think about all the titles that have hit the service, I think our company is getting more and more confident about the role of Korean content. We hope to produce and invest in more shows, but at the same time make sure we deliver great authentic shows that our audience can enjoy. We’re not looking at it from the perspective of volume, it’s more about quality.”
Quantity also continues to grow. The 2019 offerings are as follows
Svaha: The Sixth Finger is a mystery thriller, starring veteran actor Lee Jung Jae (Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds, Along With the Gods: The Last 49 Days) and up-and-coming actor Park Jung Min, best known for his performance in the indie film Bleak Night and Dongju: The Portrait of a Poet. While hired to expose a religious cult, a pastor, played by Lee Jung Jae, learns of a young girl’s murder. Svaha is written and directed by Jang Jae Hyun, known for the supernatural thriller The Priests. It launched on May 30.
Chief of Staff is a series about the world of political aides, portraying them as the real players in politics. Jang Tae Jun, played by Lee Jung Jae, is the chief of staff to a four-term lawmaker and without him the lawmaker would not be the floor leader of his party. Kang Seon Yeong, played by Shin Min Ah (Oh My Venus, My Girlfriend Is a Nine-tailed Fox), is a lawyer-turned-politician, serving as her party’s spokesperson. Chief of Staff is directed by Kwak Jung Hwan (Ms. Hammurabi, K2, The Slave Hunters) and written by Lee Dae Il (Life on Mars, Bring It On, Ghost). The program airs June 14.
Designated Survivor: 60 Days is a Korean adaptation of the American TV series Designated Survivor. Designated Survivor: 60 Days is a story of a scientist-turned-politician, played by actor Ji Jin Hee (Dae Jang Geum or Jewel in the Palace), who ascends from the position of minister of environment to president, after an explosion at the National Assembly kills everyone else in line for presidential succession. Lee Joon Hyuk, best known for his performance in the TV series Stranger, plays an independent lawmaker. Designated Survivor: 60 Days is written by Kim Tae Hee, known for the series Sungkyunkwan Scandal, and is directed by Yoo Jong Seon, whose filmography includes What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim and Descendants of the Sun. The program airs July 1.
The original series, My First First Love, directed by Oh Jin Seok, launches a second season on July 26. The series stars Jisoo, Jung Chae Yeon, Jinyoung, Kang Tae Oh, and Choi Ri. The upcoming season will show how the five characters grow, deal with love and take a step closer to their career dreams.
Love Alarm, set to launch on August 22, is the story of friends, who are caught between what they truly desire and what a mobile app says they should want. The app is designed to send an “alarm” when someone with romantic feelings for you comes within a 10-meter radius. Kim Jo Jo, played by Kim So Hyun (Who Are You: School 2015, Hey Ghost, Let’s Fight, Radio Romance) finds a new love by using the app. Hwang Sun Oh, played by newcomer Song Kang, likes Jo Jo, but Lee Hye Yeong, played by another rookie actor Jung Ga Ram, liked Jo Jo before Sun Oh did. Love Alarm is based on a popular Korean webtoon of the same title by Chon Kye Young, whose other works Unplugged Boy and Audition have a strong following in Korea.
Vagabond is an espionage series, starring Lee Seung Gi (The King 2 Hearts, A Korean Odyssey) and Bae Suzy (Architecture 101, While You Were Sleeping). Stuntman Cha Dal Geon, played by Lee Seung Gi, gets involved in a plane crash and discovers a national corruption scandal. Bae Suzy plays Go Hae Ri, who decides to work for the National Intelligence Service as a secret ops agent in order to support her mom and younger siblings. It will be Lee and Bae’s second time as co-stars, since their leading roles in the 2013 drama Gu Family Book. Vagabond boasts filming locations including Lisbon, Portugal and Morocco. The series is directed by Yoo In Shik (Mrs. Cop, Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim) and co-written by Jang Young Chul and Jung Kyung Soon. This is the trio’s fourth collaboration to date.
Kim and her team are happy to have a chance to share more Korean content—and culture—with the world.
“The country of origin of a title doesn’t actually matter.” said Kim. “As long as the story is one that people want to see and hear.”
This story was originally published on forbes.com.