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(News Focus) Coming two years crucial in spreading Korean culture to Iran

2016/05/10 14:31

By Woo Jae-yeon, Youn Go-eun and Lee Eun-jung

SEOUL, May 10 (Yonhap) -- Since the end of the sanctions on Iran, the two most frequently talked-about keywords in Korea are probably "Daejanggeum" and "Jumong," historical television shows that were amazingly popular in the Middle Eastern country.

"Daejanggeum," also known as "Jewel in the Palace," which went on air in 2006-2007, garnered a whopping 90 percent in viewership. "Jumong," which was broadcast in 2008-2009, received as high as 85 percent.

The popularity of those series is believed to have enhanced the image of Korean companies and, by extension, that of the country.

This undated photo shows the South Korean television series "Daejanggeum," also known as "Jewel in the Palace," on air in Iran. (Yonhap) This undated photo shows the South Korean television series "Daejanggeum," also known as "Jewel in the Palace," on air in Iran. (Yonhap)

Now with the opening of the massive market with 80 million people, the Korean entertainment industry hopes Iran serves as a firm stepping stone to further advance into the region.

Such expectations could be realized as the country is already familiar with Korean pop culture through mega-hit television series.

The popularity can be partly attributed to the fact that those soap operas fit well into the Iranian family-centered culture, where one of the most popular pastimes for a family is to watch a television program together.

"Iranians neither work late at night nor enjoy after-hours drinking with colleges," said Kim Young-soo, a researcher at the Korea Creative Content Agency. "Television and the Internet are the only means for them to enjoy entertainment programs. And in most cases, a whole family watches TV together. So a program that is not appropriate for the group is not welcomed."

  

A poster for the South Korean television series "Jumong" (Yonhap) A poster for the South Korean television series "Jumong" (Yonhap)

In the special screening session to coincide with South Korean President Park Geun-hye's historic state visit to the country earlier this month, three period series -- KBS' "Jang Yeong-sil: The Greatest Scientist of Joseon," MBC's "The Flower in Prison" and SBS' "Six Flying Dragons" were shown to the Iranian public.

"A hierarchical society and the theme of 'good triumphing over evil' are familiar with Iranians," Kim said. "Also it must have felt comfortable for Iranians to see the Korean traditional attire that covers the whole body of a woman."

   To be fair, a historical program doesn't have a guaranteed ticket to success. Each scene should be carefully reviewed to make sure there aren't any off-putting things for Iranians. Scenes of romance, eating pork and nudity should be removed.

So far the focus has been on the introduction of Korean culture to Iran, but experts say now is the time to more aggressively make inroads into the market.

South Korean actress Jin Se-yeon poses for a photo during a press conference for MBC's "The Flower in Prison" at the station's headquarters in Seoul on Jan. 18, 2016. (Yonhap) South Korean actress Jin Se-yeon poses for a photo during a press conference for MBC's "The Flower in Prison" at the station's headquarters in Seoul on Jan. 18, 2016. (Yonhap)

The terrestrial network KBS has been exporting television programs and documentaries to Iran since 2007.

"Prices for a Korean program are rising, and we expect more Iranians to be ready to embrace Korean pop culture," said an official of the station's Content Business Department.

The station aims to export its global channel KBS World to Iran on the firm belief that the Middle East is the next market for Korean pop culture to enter.

"Since the export of 'Jewel in the Palace' in 2006, 2-3 Korean television programs have been exported to Iran each year. The number jumped to six last year. I think we need to maintain the momentum and try our utmost to spread the Korean wave in the next two years," Kim said.

Iranians pose for a photo during a K-pop concert in the Milad Tower in Tehran, Iran, on May 3, 2016. (Yonhap) Iranians pose for a photo during a K-pop concert in the Milad Tower in Tehran, Iran, on May 3, 2016. (Yonhap)

Iranians' interest in Korean culture started from Korean television series, but now it seems that the popularity has been spilling over into other areas like K-pop.

In recent years, K-pop dance competitions in the United Arab Emirates and Egypt have drawn a big response from young K-pop fans in the region, who can easily listen to Korean songs through online platforms like YouTube and social media services.

More than 8,000 people came from all over the region, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, to attend the KCON 2016 Abu Dhabi in March.

The lifting of economic sanctions is likely to create a bigger opportunity for such a cultural event.

A research paper jointly announced in March by the Korea Foundation for International Culture Exchange (KOFICE) and the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) said it was important to improve Iranian's access to the Korean cultural products and tailor content to local demands and tastes.

Meanwhile, the Korean music industry takes lessons from its advance to the South American market a few years back.

In 2011, CJ E&M supported Korean artists to help them enter into the market through "M-Live." At that time, the market remained largely untapped, but now it is one of the hottest markets for Korean singers.

"For the Middle East region, cultural differences and physical distance are the two stumbling blocks, but it can be a land of opportunity as we have seen through KCON," said Ahn Seok-jun, head of the CJ E&M Music and Live Department.

The local music industry doesn't expect the lift to immediately boost demand for Korean artists in the country.

"Through KCON, we realized there are huge demands for more concerts by K-pop groups. Before we make any hurried move, we need to study the market first," said an official from South Korea's biggest talent management agency S.M. Entertainment.

"We hope the K-pop fan base expands into neighboring countries. We don't have an immediate plan to enter the market, but we have a positive view of the future," an FNC Entertainment executive said.

President Park Geun-hye meets with Iranians in the Korean traditional dress hanbok during the K-Culture exhibition at the Milad Tower in Tehran, Iran, on May 2, 2016. (Yonhap) President Park Geun-hye meets with Iranians in the Korean traditional dress hanbok during the K-Culture exhibition at the Milad Tower in Tehran, Iran, on May 2, 2016. (Yonhap)

jaeyeon.woo@yna.co.kr

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