A hot commodity across Asia for years, Korean dramas and entertainment formats have finally caught the eye of the international market, with several players in Europe, Latin America and the US betting on successful local adaptations.
Programming grids around the world highlight one interesting trend: the growing adaptation of Korean formats. Kick started by the Turks back in 2013 with Fox Turkey picking up the format rights for popular drama I’m Sorry, I Love You from KBS; now the US and European industries are looking to catch the Korean wave.
The first project to make it stateside was My Love From Another Star, the adaptation of a hit Korean soap opera from Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS) commissioned by ABC in 2014 after its local success.
The show didn't make the cut for the following television season, but it did give an initial push for several other projects like the remake of time travel thriller Nine: Nine Time Travels, also by ABC, and CW's version of Oh My Ghostess, both of which suffered the same fate.
It wasn't until ABC commissioned the adaptation of drama God's Gift: 14 Days, which aired on SBS as Somewhere Between, that a Korean adaptation made it on air. The show had a 10 episode season that received low ratings and was followed by smashing hit The Good Doctor, another Korean adaptation also commissioned by ABC.
The series debuted to an impressive 11.22 million viewers, making it the most watched Monday drama debut on ABC in 21 years, since Dangerous Minds (1996), and the highest rated Monday drama in the 18–49 demographic in 8.5 years, since Castle (2009).
Factoring live plus seven-day ratings, the pilot was watched by a total of 19.2 million viewers and set a record for DVR viewers with 7.9 million, surpassing the record of 7.67 million set by the pilot of Designated Survivor in 2016.
Meanwhile, in the UK, ITV Studios licensed Korean supernatural cop drama Who Are You for a remake back in 2016, making it the first time a Korean fiction series has been licensed for the territory.
This deal was one of many brokered by Eccho Rights, which distributes content from so called "new boom territories", in Europe. Other previous deals include those signed with Endemol Shine in Italy to develop a local version of Korean series Ice Adonis, which had also been successfully adapted for Ukrainian TV, where it was a ratings hit in 2015.
"Korean dramas have storylines that are quite original. They are not afraid to make surprising twists and turns, and they are very cleverly done in general," said back then Nicola Soderlund, managing partner at Eccho Rights.
However, this had not gone unnoticed by other regions. In fact, Indonesia’s RCTI was the first to remake a Korean drama in 2005 with Autumn in My Heart, which Philippines’ GMA Network (2010) and Thailand’s Channel 8 (2013) remade too. RTCI followed up with SBS’ My Girl in 2006, also remade for Filipino (ABS-CBN, 2008) and Taiwanese (JSTV, 2011) audiences. RCTI was also involved in the Indonesian remake of MBC’s My Lovely Sam-soon in 2007, and GMA Network in the 2008 Filipino remake.
In Latin America, Mexico is enjoying the success of My Husband Got a Family, based on Korean show of the same name. The show also aired on Univision for US Hispanic audiences and debuted to 1.7 million Total Viewers 2+, making Univision the No. 4 broadcast network during the Monday-Friday 9:00pm hour with Adults 18-34, beating both FOX (+26%) and ABC (+2%).
Meanwhile, season one of the show in Mexico premiered on Las Estrellas to 3.9 million viewers, surpassing its competition by over 273%.
And in April of this year, Argentina and Korea signed a coproduction deal for season three of animated series Ideas Rompe Cráneos, which will be produced between Argentina's Astrolab Motion and Korea's Grafizix.
Furthermore, going back in time, in 2014 Latin Media Corporation signed to remake format Crazy Love along with singing talent format Super Diva in Spanish-speaking Latin American territories.
Turkey, on its end, has found in Korea a source of inspiration for several of its dramas like Woman and Cennet.
Entertainment Formats Paved the Way
Although there is much to be said about Korean dramas, entertainment formats were actually the first to be exported. The first titles to come to the US and Europe were entertainment show Three Idiots and food quiz show Crazy Market, which had their format rights acquired.
Among the countries in the region, Italy and the Netherlands stand out as early adopters with Italy’s Ballandi Multimedia's remake of Crazy Market, while Endemol Italy brokered a deal for revenge drama Yellow Boots.
Survival reality show formats The Genius and Grandpa Over Flowers were also sold to the Netherlands for their respective adaptations. And in 2016 Keshet acquired worldwide distribution rights to the Korean romantic comedy You Will Love Me with the format and finished tape to be launched in the international market.
Most recently, Spain is adapting format Fantastic Duo for TVE and King of Mask Singer has just landed on FOX for its adaptation der the working title The Masked Singer, which is expected to premiere on 2019.
Passionate about TV shows since my father sat me in front of a screen to watch Star Trek: Enterprise, I write news and reviews. Communications graduate, english lover. Sometimes my imagination runs away with me.
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