Netflix Expands Korean Content Commitment as Industry Deepens

Global streaming giant, Netflix is expanding its involvement in the Korean film and TV industries by greenlighting several new shows and renewing others.

“When we started three years ago, we had a high degree of confidence that Korean drama would work well in Asia, but we had no internal metrics of our own,” Korean content director Kim Minyoung, told Variety. “Now that we do have the data, our task is to find titles that both address existing Korean drama franchises and draw in new audiences.”

The company has had success with shows including “Korean Odyssey,” “Something in the Rain” and “What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim” as well as both romantic comedies like “Romance Is My Bonus Book” and thrillers like “Memories of the Alhambra.”

Giving priority to Korean content is the strategy of many regional streaming companies in Asia, but Kim denied that Asian audiences were being overwhelmed by the multitude of available choices. “Korean drama’s production quality is still growing and strengthening the fan base,” she said. “And where romances were often the top titles, new genres are increasingly important.”

Kim said Netflix will continue to build its operations during its three year run in Korea, which involves operating multiple business strategies simultaneously. These include the co-production of series alongside Korean local TV stations, production of wholly in-house developed shows and pickups of from third party producers.

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“We are building a team of experts in Korea who are helping Korean content and creators get into the global spotlight,” Kim said. Netflix’s strong showing in Korea – unofficial estimates put its subscriber numbers at over two million – reflects the growing acceptance of OTT by Korean consumers, she added, as well as the rapid evolution of the Korean production industry.

Political dramas feature strongly in the new lineup with new programs such as ”Chief of Staff” and a Korean reworking of the hit series “Designated Survivor.” “Staff,” which begins airing on June 14., and focuses on the political aides who are normally just out of the public view but who have real power. Kwak Jung-hwan (“Ms. Hammurabi,” “THE K2,”) is directing alongside writer Lee Dae-il (“Life on Mars,” “Bring It On”) and cast members Lee Jung-jae and Shin Min-ah.

Playing out from July, “Designated Survivor: 60 Days” follows the main storyline of the original format – an obscure politician, becomes president following an explosion that kills everyone in the cabinet — but features a new central character. Cast members include Ji Jin-hee (“Jewel in the Palace”) and Lee Joon-hyuk (“Stranger”) and Heo Joon-ho (Netflix’s “Kingdom”).

Netflix will also introduce the new action-skewing, espionage drama series, “Vagabond,” which stars Lee Seung-gi (“The King 2 Hearts,” “A Korean Odyssey”) and Bae Suzy (“Architecture 101,” “While You Were Sleeping”) and follows a stuntman who is involved in an airplane crash only to discover a national corruption scandal in the process.

The series is directed by Yoo In-shik (Mrs. Cop, Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim) and co-written by Jang Young-chul and Jung Kyung-soon, marking the trio’s fourth collaboration to date. The show airs September this year.

Additionally, Netflix is giving a second season to its teen-oriented romantic series “My First, First Love.” Directed by Oh Jin-seok and starting only 100 days after the first season, the second season will premiere July 26. Returning cast include Jisoo, Jung Chae-yeon, Jinyoung, Kang Tae-oh, and Choi Ri.

Among other pickups is “Svaha: The Sixth Finger,” a horror mystery movie directed by Jang Jae-hyun and starring veteran actor Lee Jung-jae (“Along With the Gods” franchise) and up-and-coming actor Park Jung-min. The film was produced by CJ E&M and earned $17 million on theatrical release in February. Netflix’s head of Korean content Kim Minyoung said it has “global relevance,” and it began playout on the platform at the end of May.