With Korean-language content all the vogue in Asia, Chinese streaming platform iQIYI has announced production of its first Korean original series, “My Roommate is a Gumiho.”
Adapted from a popular webtoon, “Living Together” the show is written, directed and produced by industry heavyweights Baek Sun-woo (“What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim”), Choi Bo-rim, and Nam Sung-woo (“Kkondae Intern”). Production is through Studio Dragon and JTBC Studio.
The announcement was made at Singapore-based TV rights market Asian Television Forum, but rights to the show will not be licensed. Instead they will be retained and exploited worldwide by iQIYI, with local broadcaster tvN handling it in Korea.
The production is being handled through iQIYI International, a Singapore-based unit that consolidates iQIYI’s activities outside Greater China. That presumably helps avoid problems for iQIYI back home in mainland China, where Korean entertainment content has been under a de facto ban for more than two years due to political and military tensions between the two countries. iQIYI International licensed 29 Korean shows in 2020 for streaming outside mainland China.
iQIYI International this week revealed that it has also signed a three-year memorandum of understanding with the Singapore Tourism Board. iQIYI will market ‘Destination Singapore’ in China and other key markets.
“Our first Korean original show is made in partnership with some of Korea’s top storytellers and production companies,” said Kuek Yu-Chuang, VP for international business at iQIYI. “More importantly, this is only the first step in the long journey of bringing more beloved Asian stories to a global audience.”
The company started to make its app available across Asia in 2019 and began to curate and produce locally, through different initiatives – among the first was a partnership with Astro in Malaysia — having stated that Chinese content alone will not be the bedrock of its Asia offering.
“This comes on the back of a pivotal year 2020 for us, as we embarked on our international expansion in earnest. We reinforced our content growth with investments in more markets and will continue expanding our presence locally by bringing on more content and production teams,” said Yang Xianghua, president of iQIYI membership & overseas business group. He said that the company now has country offices in Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, The Philippines and North America.
iQIYI International expects to release its first Southeast Asian original production, “Ferrymen: Legends of the Nanyang,” in 2021 and follow up with “Sisterhood,” in 2022.
The company’s expansionary moves in East Asia come in a year when pan-regional streaming platform Hooq collapsed into liquidation and another Iflix has largely disappeared after announcing an acquisition by iQIYI’s Chinese rival Tencent Video.
However, global groups led by Netflix are making headway in the region with their streaming offerings and vastly larger local production efforts. Disney Plus has not yet started local production, but launched in Indonesia through a powerful telecoms alliance and a large, acquired slated of local films and series.
iQIYI faces other headwinds too. The company recently revealed reduced quarterly losses, but also static subscriber numbers. But it remains under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission after an investment group alleged that it had falsified subscriber numbers and revenues. iQIYI denies the accusation. And in Taiwan, where iQIYI has been operating for several years through proxy companies, legislators have passed a law banning mainland Chinese streaming firms.