The abrupt termination of the DramaFever service this week by Warner Bros. left U.S. aficionados of Korean dramas distraught and angry — and looking for alternative streaming services to meet their K-drama fix.
Services like Viki, owned by Japan’s Rakuten, and Kocowa, a streaming service from the three biggest broadcasters in Korea, offer a range of Korean and other Asian television shows to consumers in the U.S. Among other services, Netflix and Hulu also have a variety of K-dramas.
“As a company that values and understands the passionate K-drama community worldwide, we are saddened by the sudden news of DramaFever shutting down,” said Clara Kim, head of brand and communications for Rakuten Viki.
Kim added, “K-drama holds a special place in all of our hearts and we stand committed behind our Soompi and Viki services to continue providing the best of Korean dramas, variety shows and other international entertainment to global fans.”
Viki offers an array of more than 1,100 K-dramas and Korean variety shows, including perennial favorite “Boys Over Flowers,” “Suspicious Partner,” “My Love From the Star,” “Descendants of the Sun,” “Strong Woman Do Bong Soon,” “Pinocchio,” “Fated to Love You,” “To the Beautiful You,” “The Great Doctor,” “The Legend of the Blue Sea,” “She Was Pretty,” “Oh My Venus” and “While You Were Sleeping.”
Titles on Viki are available to watch free with ads; Viki’s ad-free, HD service costs $34.99 annually; Viki Pass Plus, which includes access to Kocowa’s programming, is $99.99 per year.
Globally, Rakuten says Viki reaches more than 40 million fans through its platforms, which includes Soompi, an English-language news site for K-pop and Korean entertainment, and Viki, which uses a crowdsourced subtitling model with content that has been translated into more than 200 languages.
Korea Content Platform’s Kocowa, which launched a year ago, is a joint venture of Korean broadcasters KBS, MBC and SBS. The Kocowa service streams popular Korean television programs on-demand in the U.S. delivered five hours after airing in Korea. To date, it has attracted 500,000 users, including for ad-supported VOD content.
Kocowa’s lineup of Korean shows includes exclusive U.S. distribution of spy rom-com “My Secret, Terrius,” which previously was available on DramaFever. Other series include “Matrimonial Chase,” “My Healing Love,” “Where Stars Land,” “Should We Kiss First,” “Heart Surgeons” and “My Only One.”
Kunhee Park, CEO of KCP, said he expected DramaFever to make some kind of change in its business given its aggressive spending on programming rights. But he said he expected Warner Bros. to try to sell DramaFever rather than kill it off. “They spent a lot money in the market, in the Korean production ecosystem, to acquire content,” Park said. KCP had approached DramaFever about bundling Kocowa with the service, “but they were not interested in a nonexclusive approach.”
Ad-free access to Kocowa is available for 99 cents per day, $6.99 monthly or $69.99 per year, in addition to the bundle offered by Viki. Besides scripted shows, Kocowa also features popular Korean variety programs, including “Hwarang: The Poet Warrior Youth,” “Wok of Love,” “Star Show 360” and “Running Man.”
Among general-entertainment SVOD services, Netflix’s lineup of Korean shows includes “Strong Girl Bong-soon,” “Something in the Rain,” “Boys Over Flowers” season 1, and exclusive series including “Mr. Sunshine” and “Black.” Hulu’s selection includes “Heirs,” “The Legend of the Blue Sea,” “Bride of the Water God,” “Descendants of the Sun,” “While You Were Sleeping,” “Oh My Venus” and “Just Between Lovers.” Amazon Prime Video had a distribution deal with DramaFever; those titles are listed as no longer available on Prime Video.
Other streaming services with Korean programming include ODK Media’s OnDemandKorea, which offers ad-supported and subscription-based access to shows including “I’m a Mother, Too,” “My Only One,” “Ms Ma, Nemesis,” “Madam Cha Dal-Rae’s Love,” “Sunny Again Tomorrow,” “Two Lives One Heart,” “Love to the End,” and “Matrimonial Chaos.”
In announcing the DramaFever closure, Warner Bros. Digital Networks cited “business reasons” and “the rapidly changing marketplace for K-drama content.” In other words, according to a source, the cost of licensing Korean programming had been increasing rapidly.
Soon after announcing the DramaFever shutdown, Warner Bros. also deleted the service’s accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. A notice posted on the DramaFever website on Oct. 16 said the company will “be issuing refunds as applicable, and subscribers will receive an email from us with details in the coming days.”
Pictured above: “Suspicious Partner” on Rakuten’s Viki