DramaFever, the streaming-video service specializing in Korean dramas and other Asian programming, is shutting down immediately.
Founded in 2009, New York-based DramaFever was acquired by Warner Bros. in 2016 from Japan’s SoftBank Group. New York-based DramaFever has operated as a unit of Warner Bros. Digital Networks, which has touted the streaming infrastructure and expertise it obtained through the acquisition.
“Today, Warner Bros. Digital Networks will be closing its DramaFever OTT service due to business reasons and in light of the rapidly changing marketplace for K-drama content, a staple of the service’s programming,” the company said in a statement Tuesday. “Warner Bros. Digital Labs, which encompasses more than two-thirds of the DramaFever workforce, will continue operating, serving as the tech engine behind many of WBDN’s operations.”
With the closure of DramaFever, about 20% of the unit’s 110 employees (or around 22) will be laid off. Warner Bros. turned down a request to interview company execs about the shutdown.
According to a source familiar with DramaFever, licensing costs for U.S. distribution commanded by top K-dramas have rapidly increased in recent years, bid up by larger SVOD players like Netflix and Amazon — making the genre-focused over-the-top video business unsustainable. A show that used to cost $800,000 to license for streaming now goes for around $1 million per season, according to the source.
A message posted on the DramaFever website Tuesday said in part, “Thank you for nine great years. As of October 16, DramaFever has been shut down… While this decision is difficult, there are a variety of business reasons that have led to this conclusion.”
The DramaFever site’s message also said, “We’ll be issuing refunds as applicable, and subscribers will receive an email from us with details in the coming days.”
The move to shutter DramaFever comes after AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner and the formation of WarnerMedia. Last week, WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey said the company would launch a broad subscription-streaming entertainment service anchored by HBO that would pull in content from other parts of Time Warner. As part of launching the new WarnerMedia-wide service, AT&T said it would be “consolidating resources from sub-scale D2C [direct-to-consumer] efforts,” which evidently included the phasing out of DramaFever.
DramaFever offered an ad-free premium option that started at $4.99 per month, touting a lineup of over 13,000 episodes from 60 content partners across 12 countries. The content — which spanned K-dramas, other Asian TV shows and movies, and Latin American telenovelas — also has been available to watch on a free, ad-supported basis. DramaFever’s programming was translated into English, Spanish and Portuguese and available on the web, mobile and connected-TV devices.
Titles on the service have included popular Korean rom-com “Boys Over Flowers,” as well as “Jealousy Incarnate,” “The Best Hit,” “Go Ho’s Starry Night,” “Heart Signal,” “Hospital Ship,” “Longing Heart,” “Missing Nine,” “Thumping Spike,” “Goblin: The Lonely and Great God,” “Heirs,” “My Sassy Girl,” “Cinderella and Four Knights,” “Princess Agents,” “My Love From Another Star” and “Emergency Couple.”
Warner Bros. Digital Labs is overseen by GM Patty Hirsch, who joined the company earlier this year from Time Inc., as Seung Bak, one of DramaFever’s co-founders and previous head of WB Digital Labs, left the company. In April, Rena Liu was named GM of DramaFever, reporting to Hirsch, after serving as director of strategy and operations for Warner Bros. Digital Labs; Liu’s status at the company is unclear.