Localization may be key to global K-content success following pandemic

From left, culture critic Jeong Deok-hyun, FormatEast CEO Kim Yong-jae, Space Oddity CEO Beck Kim, Studio Dragon executive producer Yu Sang-won, Lee Kyung-jin, the head of the diversity and inclusion department of Smilegate, Klleon CEO Jin Seung-hyuk

As the world anxiously awaits a possible transition to a more manageable Covid-19 endemic, experts say localization will be the key to the long-term success of K-content.

“After the pandemic, localized content that suits the tastes of the domestic audience will be left standing in the survival of the fittest,” said CEO Kim Yong-jae of FormatEast at a seminar organized by the Korea Content Creative Agency to give an outlook on the local content industry for the upcoming year at CKL Gwanghwamun Stage in central Seoul on Wednesday.

FormatEast, an affiliate company of local broadcaster SBS, works to develop and distribute the Intellectual Property (IP) of Korean original entertainment shows to overseas.

“It takes at least three to four years to successfully export our content to a foreign country,” Kim continued. “That’s how long it took for the Chinese version of ‘Running Man’ to settle. After China’s unofficial sanctions against Hallyu, we shifted to the audience in the Southeast Asia. The Filipino version of ‘Running Man’ started its season for the first time this year, and I believe it ranks top among weekend shows. Although K-content is proving to be globally popular, its fame could dwindle down at any moment. What’s important is localization and co-production between Korean and foreign producers, and I believe more domestic studios will actively pursue them starting next year.”

“Studio Dragon is already in the works on a project with American production studio, which became an affiliate of CJ ENM,” executive producer Yu Sang-won of Studio Dragon said. “Our studio is attempting to expand into the global market, to localize our original content to the United States. It has certainly become an age where not only remakes are being made, but also one where domestic and global creators are collaborating together to create global content.”

Studio Dragon is also coming up with a larger variety of ways for content IP to reach global viewers.

“Right now, we are planning on a lot of Season 2s for drama series,” Yu said, “such as the next seasons of ‘Poong, the Joseon Psychiatrist,’ ‘Missing: The Other Side 2’ and ‘Arthdal Chronicles.’ We are trying to come up with more ways to familiarize consumers with our content. For instance, as for ‘Arthdal Chronicles,’ we are planning to expand its IP into a game franchise, which will be launched in line with when the series starts streaming.”

Kakao Entertainment, which is home to dozens of music labels, actor agencies and original IPs of web novels and webtoons from its platform KakaoPage, promotes localized IPs in line with the launch of its drama series.

“That is how it went with ‘Business Proposal,’” said Hwang Jae-heon, head of Kakao Entertainment's IP Biz Center. “Our affiliated studio created the drama series based on the original IPs of the web novel and webtoon. As the series started streaming globally, we launched the localized webtoon to promote both content together, and the result was a sharp rise in revenue, dozens of times more profitable compared to the revenue when the webtoon was initially released [in Korea]. With global partners, we are working toward taking video IPs to adapt them into novels, webtoons and games, which is what we call the process of ‘inbound.’”