Mumbai: The recent success of the Korean hit show ‘The Squid Game’ on Netflix has once again put the spotlight on the K-wave –or ‘Hallyu’ which has swept over the online audiences globally, including India. Not only was the Netflix original viewed by 142-million-member households globally in the first four weeks, according to CNBC, 89 per cent of people who started watching ‘Squid Game’ saw at least one entire episode. That is about 126 million hours of consumption.
In India, the show not only holds the top position among Netflix top ten shows in India, but it is also accompanied by other K-dramas including ‘The King: Eternal Monarch’, ‘Kingdom’, ‘It’s Okay to Not Be Okay’, ‘Sweet Home’, ‘Crash Landing on You’, and ‘Space Sweepers’ in the category.
According to the streaming platform, the viewing for Korean dramas on Netflix in India has gone up by 3.7X in 2020 over 2019, while it went up by four times in Asia overall in the pandemic year. Dubbing and subtitling have gone a long way in making these shows accessible to a wider audience. Currently, Netflix subs and dubs are in over 30 languages.
“A story that is well told has the ability to make us laugh, or get excited or feel angry the same way, whether it is told in Korean or in Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu,” said a Netflix India spokesperson. “The emotions that these stories evoke transcend the boundaries of geography and language. Dubbing and subtitles play a major role in making these stories accessible to a much wider audience, in the language they are truly able to enjoy them.”
In South Korea, the streaming platform’s local content push brought over 3.8 million subscribers.
Netflix began working with South Korean filmmakers and talent in 2016 and has since launched over 80 Korean shows and films. It’s planning to invest another $500 million in Korean content in 2021 alone.
In India and other countries like Argentina, Australia, Brazil, France, Mexico, Thailand, and the Philippines, audiences are discovering K-content perhaps for the first time on Netflix. A typical K-drama may have 10-16 episodes where each episode maybe 50-60 minutes in duration. Outside of their local market (South Korea), these shows should account for long-tail consumption on the OTT platform but are actually emerging as driver content in some countries.
For instance, in India, Netflix is one of the few OTT platforms where audiences can access high-quality K-dramas from leading producers in Korea including CJ ENM/Studio Dragon and JTBC.
Netflix’s co-CEO and chief content officer Ted Sarandos admitted that it was their Korea team that saw the potential in the show. “(Squid Game) was picked up a couple of years ago from the Korea team who did recognise it to be one of what they thought would be their biggest title this year. But I can’t tell you that we had the same eyeball on it to tell you that it was going to be the biggest title in our history around the world,” he said in the Q3 earnings call. “The growth – the viewing outside of Korea has been phenomenal everywhere we operate. If you look at the numbers – the internal viewing looks like a local language show in any country."
He further pointed out that Netflix shows like ‘La Casa de Papel’ from Spain, ‘Lupin’ from France, the film ‘Blood Red Sky’ from Germany, and ‘Sex Education’ from the UK show that great stories can come from anywhere in the world. “Non-English content viewing has gone up by three times since we started in 2008 making content,” he observed.
Netflix also partnered with Deloitte to study the impact it had on the Korean creative ecosystem since its launch in 2016. According to the report, the platform's investment in content production in Korea has contributed almost KRW 5.6 trillion won (~$4.7 billion) to the country’s GDP and helped create more than 16,000 jobs. The report studied the impact the company had on production and distribution as well as related fields including publishing, webtoons, music, consumer goods, and tourism. It highlighted that since the investment of OTT services, the average revenue of Korean VFX studios has increased almost fourfold from KRW four billion in 2010 to KRW 16 billion in 2020. It also observed that K-content has found success with audiences in over 80 countries.
South Korean culture has left an indelible mark on people across the world and India is no exception. The successful globalisation of South Korean content by Netflix has incentivised other OTT platforms to bring Korean content to wider audiences. While Netflix has benefitted by riding the K-wave popularly known as ‘Hallyu’, it is now a key driver of the cultural zeitgeist that has gripped audiences globally.