(News Focus) More TV shows turning to Netflix as China's culture ban persists
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By Chang Dong-woo and Youn Go-eun
SEOUL, July 17 (Yonhap) -- More South Korean TV production companies are considering Netflix as an alternative to the Chinese market, the single-largest market for Korean cultural exports, as Beijing remains adamant against lifting a sweeping ban on Korean cultural products.
Since opening its South Korean service in January 2016, major Korean TV shows first began appearing on Netflix since April of this year, starting with JTBC's "MAN x MAN" in April. The 16-episode series starring Park Hae-jin as an undercover government agent was sold for 6.4 billion won (US$5.67 million) to Netflix to be streamed concurrently throughout the two-month programming.
A still from JTBC's "MAN x MAN" (Yonhap)
tvN's legal thriller "Stranger," starring Bae Doona, who previously worked with Netflix in its original series "Sense 8," was also picked up for 3.6 billion won. OCN's upcoming show "Black," starring Song Seung-heon, is reportedly under negotiation with Netflix for a simultaneous streaming deal.
When it first launched in January 2016, one of the biggest gripes against Netflix's South Korean service was its lack of Korean content. The U.S. streaming giant had a reputable catalogue of original series, but for top-tier Korean programs such as "Descendants of the Sun" or the "Reply" series, you had to look somewhere else.
A promotional image for tvN's "Stranger" (Yonhap)
Many users and industry observers have wondered: Why has it taken more than a year for Netflix to commit itself to bringing quality Korean content? On the flip side, another important question would be: Why are Korean TV productions now starting to look at Netflix as a viable option?
New partnerships between Korean companies and Netflix are apparently partly due to Beijing's continued escalation of economic retaliatory steps against Seoul since June last year -- when Seoul and Washington agreed on the former's introduction of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, a missile defense system.
China claims it is a serious threat to its security, while the U.S. and South Korea say it is only meant to protect against North Korean. South Korean services and goods, including Korean pop culture such as music, TV shows and movies, have taken a beating in the world's second-largest economy since.
Before the culture ban, Korean TV dramas enjoyed massive commercial success in China, beginning with the 2014 series "My Love from the Star" and culminating with 2016's "Descendants from the Sun" and "Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo," which were sold for $250,000 and $457,000 per episode, respectively, in China.
But following the culture ban from their single-largest importer, Korean production companies have scrambled to make up losses by better tapping Southeast Asia and the Americas. Since the ban, Netflix also emerged as an alternative to China.
On Netflix's part, the company has also reportedly loosened up from its previous strong demands for exclusive deals, courting Korean programs in order to up its game in Asia. Under its deal with Netflix, "MAN x MAN" is allowed to be sold to overseas networks for broadcasting three months after it finishes airing in South Korea.
"Netflix enjoyed a noticeable 'Park Hae-jin effect' in Thailand, as 'MAN x MAN' became available while Netflix just opened its service in the country," said Hwang Ji-seon, head of Mountain Movement Story, which represents Park.
Smaller shows, though, tend to be sold to Netflix under exclusive deals. "My Only Love Song" a web series that had been initially planned with the Chinese market in mind, was sold exclusively to Netflix.
Some industry experts warn that companies should remain cautious when dealing with the streaming giant, considering that Netflix's business outreach spans over 190 countries.
"(Given Korean TV shows' market values) Netflix isn't paying the appropriate amount of money for shows. The Korean companies that are busy trying to make up for losses in China tend to be blindsided from this fact," said a TV network representative who asked not to be named.