Growing up, you may not have been a fan of (or even heard of) Korean films and dramas. Perhaps it was the Western discovery of the now infamous K-drama genre, the chart-topping band BTS or the release of the multi-Oscar-winning thriller Parasite that got your attention. Either way, the whole world has played host to the undisputed rise in the popularity of South Korean culture in recent years.
The latest decision of streaming giant Netflix reflects this surge of love for Korean culture – something which is known as ‘Hallyu’, a Chinese term meaning ‘Korean Wave’. The site announced earlier this week that they plan to invest billions in South Korea in an attempt to bring in more subscribers and re-ignite the platform’s growth.
K-Everything: The Rise Of South Korean Culture
Just look around and it isn’t hard to see that the world has fallen in love with all things South Korean – there’s everything from K-pop and K-classical to K-drama and K-movies.
In the last decade or so, Korean culture has been celebrated across the board for its music, film and TV on a global scale. Many argue that Seoul-based rapper Psy’s 2012 song Gangnam Style should be credited with igniting a new interest in South Korean music and culture after it became the first YouTube video to ever be viewed a billion times.
Considering that after the Korean War South Korea was one of the poorest nations in the world, it has been astounding for the world to look on as the country then became a tech and manufacturing giant in the 1990s, a cultural hotspot in the 2000s motivated by the government’s wish to downgrade Japanese influence in the country, and then finally one of the most celebrated nations worldwide.
Now, Netflix has announced plans to invest billions into Asia’s fourth-largest economy so that it can produce fresh new content for the streaming site. But what exactly has led to this decision coming about, and why has there been such a potent rise in the popularity of Korean TV and film?
The Popularity Of South Korean Films And TV Shows
As Korean content has become increasingly popular, you may have wondered why the world suddenly seems so hungry for Korean films and shows.
These dramas have had a lot of popularity on streaming sites like Hulu and Netflix, and they have amassed a hugely dedicated audience worldwide. The popularity of K-dramas could be attributed to their cultural appeal as they allow the watcher to absorb the day-to-day things about Korean culture and its language that other kinds of learning cannot demonstrate.
It may also be because the majority of K-dramas are known to be squeaky clean and are usually G-rated. There’s minimal (if ever) bad language, violence or inappropriate content, and some people like this more easy kind of watching.
Or perhaps it’s simply because K-dramas offer something different and fresh to a Western audience that they may not have seen on their TVs growing up. Either way, audiences seem to be constantly excited about what their favourite K-dramas will cook up next.
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South Korean films are also capturing audiences around the world and dominating our cinema screens.
Parasite made history when it became the first non-English language film to win an Academy Award for Best Picture after director Bong Joon-ho had famously criticised the Oscars for being “very local”.
Recently, when asked about Hallyu, South Korean actress Yang Mal-bok explained that “our tastes in movies were long concentrated on one side and it’s obvious to me that your view expands when you come in contact with a culture or art of a different region, like South Korea,”
The success of South Korean films abroad is down to the “universalist themes of Korean society” they demonstrate, she finished.
For whatever reason, it seems pretty certain that Hallyu is here to stay, and Netflix is evidently jumping on the opportunity to profit from this popularity.
Netflix’s Funding Into South Korea: Why And What This Means
South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol is currently on a state visit to the US where he is expected to meet President Joe Biden on Wednesday.
But earlier this week after a meeting in Washington between Mr Yoon and the co-chief executive of Netflix Ted Sarandos, Mr Sarandos announced that the streaming giant will invest $2.5 billion in South Korea over the next four years.
This announcement is relatively unsurprising due to the success Netflix has seen with South Korean productions. Most recently, the Korean show Squid Game became the streaming site’s most-watched show or film ever. The show topped Netflix’s top ten weekly most-watched TV shows in 94 countries and, in April of this year, it was charted that the show has since amassed 1.65 billion viewing hours.
In more recent times, earlier this year the South Korean reality show Physical 100 became the platform’s most-watched non-English language shows worldwide.
Mr Sarandos stated about the funding, “We were able to make this decision because we have great confidence that the Korean creative industry will continue to tell great stories,”
The company was also “inspired by the President’s love and strong support for the Korean entertainment industry and fuelling the Korean wave,” he added.
As competition grows from streaming sites such as Disney Plus, Amazon, HBO and Hulu, it is evident that this investment into Korea demonstrates Netflix’s hope to one-up its rivals.
The company has already faced a difficult year, having had huge losses of millions of accounts in 2022 which subsequently led to a dip of £42 billion in its value. The platform had to cut the prices of membership in several countries to try and increase its numbers and announced last week that it would be having a crackdown on password sharing in the coming months to try and further recuperate its losses.
Clearly, Netflix has been looking for a way to re-ignite its growth after its losses in 2022. The platform has also suffered this year as households grappled with rising costs and have been left unable to afford membership fees. This recent investment into South Korea may be a way out for Netflix and attract the audience it so desperately needs to stay afloat and beat out its competitors.