The Nature of K-drama Viewership Beyond South Korea

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Words: 3422 |

Pages: 8|

18 min read

Published: Jul 17, 2018

Words: 3422|Pages: 8|18 min read

Published: Jul 17, 2018

The popularity of Hallyu or Korean wave as an effective soft power mechanism has been of great interest to recent scholarship. The Hallyu wave gained its current momentum mainly due to the export of K-Dramas, that is dramas whose country of origin is South Korea. In such scenario, understanding the reason of popularity of K-dramas among the overseas audience is crucial for the further spread of Hallyu.

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One of the key aspects that can be of great insight for this would be to analyze the nature of the overseas audience. Thus, this research paper is aimed at understanding the dynamics of overseas K-drama viewership by answering the following 4 themes; -Specifics of the audience, such as age and gender. Reasons for the audience to prefer their dramas ‘Korean’. Especially to know if they prefer K-dramas over regional and other international tele-series.The emergence of a new ‘K-Drama viewing culture’ among its audience.

For instance, fan club activities. blogs, YouTube channels etc.Correlation of drama watching with increasing interest in Korean language and Korean studies among its audience. By understanding these themes, the research tries to map any visible trend in K-drama pop+ularity among the audience of certain country or region. Apart from furthering the focused development of Hallyu in these countries or region, I also hope to identify other potential regions using these parameters. For this, India has been taken up as a potential region by exploring the reasons for rising viewership of K-Dramas and its implication for further development in India.IntroductionAudience is an important component of media studies at the various media products are designed keeping them in mind.

Thus, knowing their preferences, viewing habits and lifestyle are crucial aspects of audience research. Producers and broadcasters lay great importance on audience studies in order to reap greater programme success and economic profit. The harbinger of Hallyu or Korean wave has been the export of K-dramas. Korean dramas (k-dramas) can be understood as tele series, whose country of origin is South Korea with underlying Korean cultural value. With the increase in export of k-dramas from 8 to 336 million US dollars during the period 1997–2014 and the Korean wave is spreading beyond South Korea to Asia, the middle east, Europe, the Americas and Africa. Thus, understanding the ‘international audience’, in terms of nature of preferences, participation in extended drama viewing activities, holds significance. If hallyu need to be sustained and further developed in potential countries and regions, understanding the dynamics of viewership is important. The paper aims to examine various internal and external factors that determine the choices made by audiences, being determinants of various viewership trends. The paper further investigates the nature of viewership impact on the audiences’ attitude and behavior towards the cultural content consumed. The analysis is based on various case studies and surveys conducted by various scholars.

For a better understanding of the working of these factors, let’s have a look at the development of Hallyu, through the export of K-dramas.k-DRAMAS and the birth of HallyuExport of dramas had begun in the early 1990s itself. In 1997, China’s national station (CCTV, China Central Television) aired the Korean TV drama ‘What Is Love All About?’, which became a huge hit and was re-broadcast by several other Chinese networks. The family-centric love story won the hearts of many. Surprised by the impressive 15 % audience viewership( the second highest ever for an imported program in China), it sparked a general interest in Korean dramas.

Chinese media began to use the term hanliu (Korean Wave) to describe this cultural phenomenon.The enthusiasm was soon elevated by the broadcast of ‘Star in My Hear’t, that was the first broadcast on Phoenix TV on Hong Kong before heading to the mainland. If this was the beginning, the real wash out by the Hallyu wave came with the broadcast of ‘Winter Sonata’ by NHK’s satellite channel in 2003. The momentum was maintained and taken to a whole new level with the broadcast of ‘Jewel in the palace’ by MBC in 2003. While Winter Sonata had been exported to 20 countries, Jewel in the Palace was sold to 87 countries as of May 2011, gaining a strong fan base in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and the US.

However, with the spread of Hallyu to rise in popularity of K-pop (Korean popular music), K-drama had begun to take a backseat from being the drivers of Hallyu with. But, with the rekindling of K-drama popularity with ‘My love from another star’(2013-14) followed by other commercial hits like The heirs(2013). K-dramas continue to channelize Hallyu with efficient use of new digital media. So what makes K-dramas click with the audience? Factors determining international viewership According to Mauskapf, the decision by the audience to select, evaluate and recommend products (in our case Korean dramas) is determined by the influence of socio-cultural dynamics, environmental and institutional factors etc. If this point is taken into account, then the following can be considered the factors influencing viewership; -1)cultural proximityEminent scholars like Kim Eumee and Ryoo Jiwon considers cultural proximity, common historical-cultural legacy and common rapid industrialization phase as prominent reasons for K-dramas to yield immense popularity in East Asian countries. So, what do we understand by cultural proximity?

According to Straubharr’s theory of cultural proximity, cultural proximity can be defined as ‘how transnational media content from an adjacent geographical region or a region similar in other aspects, has an influence on audience residing in that particular region’. Thus, the Confucian values such as family relationships, respect for parents, and love between siblings conveyed in most Korean dramas seem to be well appreciated by the Asian audience who share similar cultural values. Take the case of successful drama ‘What is love about?’ The drama deals with two families, a traditional conservative family, and a westernized open-minded family who come together for the marriage of their children.

The generation gap shown between the younger and older generation was well received by its Asian audience, especially in Mainland China. According to Shim Doabo (2008) compared to Japanese and American series, K-dramas were more chosen in developing countries like Mainland China and Vietnam because of how K-dramas retained traditional values while achieving the ‘technical sophistication ‘ compared to American or Japanese series. Thus, making them a prominent model to follow ‘economically and culturally’. Cia Jian refers to this phenomena as a cultural blend. Even though new genres have evolved, these values remain at the heart of Korean dramas. Kim Bok Rae further goes on to refer to Hallyu as the ‘missionary of East Asian cultural values’. Then what about the popularity of Korean dramas in non-Asian countries cultural similaritySimilar cultural and social settings, can be contributing factors to cultural affinity felt towards a particular county. This can be reflected in the consumption patterns of cultural products. According to Fan Hong, a professor at Tsinghua University’s School of Journalism and Communication, Korean dramas have the power to appeal to global audiences because of Jeong—a Korean term for human affection, which is usually a central theme in dramas. irrespective of the genre, friendship, family values and ‘pure’ love, which is timeless. Hong points out that these are universal feelings that appeal to a wide audience. This factor can provide an important connection with people in other parts of the world as well as Asia. She further says that “Korean dramas deal with everyday life and familiar subjects, and thus many Chinese people favor Korean dramas for their human codes’. Let’s take a look at the case of K-drama popularity in Iran. In Iran, Jewel in the Palace was aired by IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting).

It was reported to have been ranked as the most popular drama from March to April in 2007, with 57 % audience rating and 97 % satisfaction. According to a local magazine HamshahryJavan (Young Citizen), the popularity of Jewel in the Palace has been due to the ability of the audience to empathize with the lead character in her struggle to become the first female physician of the king during the Joseon era. Another aspect that was mentioned was the beautiful hanboks worn in these period dramas. Being a Muslim country, women have to keep themselves well covered beneath the burqa, thus they can appreciate the elegance of the body covering traditional attires of the period dramas. No wonder other period dramas like Jumong(2009) has had a great viewership in Iran.

Even in Eastern European countries, specifically Romania and the even USA had a strong viewership for Jewel in the palace, coming to admire the cultural heritage portrayed in this drama. This resonates with Sung Sang Yeon’s opinion that the ‘delicate and eloquent ‘ expression of Asian values and sentiments is what makes K-dramas popular3)emotional sensitivity script of K-dramas that remarkably portrays the nuances of human emotions, be it, love, loyalty, agony, anger or revenge has been often applauded by global audiences. The fact that Winter Sonata, Autumn in my Heart, Stairway to heaven has had high viewership rate even in the retelecasts, substantiate the worldwide appreciation for the emotional sensitivity of these dramas. The simple plots of the dramas with deep characters, running for an average of 16-20 episodes has been another reason why K-dramas has been preferred over long-running local TV dramas especially in the Philippines, where the long-running telenovelas are tiresome to the local audience.

Another significant reason for the popularity has been, Korean dramas are less sexual and violent than the other products from Hollywood. This widens the range of age group of its viewers and makes the drama watching experience comfortable, especially for the conservative parts of the world like the Middle East, where TV watching is a family affair. Even countries like Mexico and Brazil, where Brazilian telenovelas dominate the viewership ratings, growing fans of K-drama opine that simple, value-based plots of K-dramas are preferable as its less sexual and violent compared to the contents of local telenovelas, making drama watching experience with families more comfortable. They even feel that values portrayed in these dramas may be can inspire the lifestyle in their respective countries. production value from Asia to Latin America, the entire packaging of dramas in terms of their production value has been an important impetus for the viewers to have been glued to the screens.

Be it beautiful winter and autumn seasons shot in Nami Islands for Winter Sonata or the aesthetic architecture of palaces shown in historical dramas, the viewers admire it all. Recently, exotic foreign location shown in the dramas like Descendants of the sun( Greece) and Misaeng( Cairo) has enhanced the viewing experiences of the dramas. With innovative genres being experimented like, W- the two worlds, where the world in a manhwa and the real world has shown to be converging, audience abroad and in Korea, has been left wanting for more. Morikawa feels that the distinctness of dramas lies in their special regard for fashion and beautiful background music. Institutional factors the early 1990s, the East Asian governments were defensive about foreign cultural influence in TV programming, however, in keeping with the global trends, they made their TV programming policies more liberal, due to which dramas could be exported. Even today, the co-operation from the other nation’s government plays a significant role in the further progress of Hallyu. Also, significant here is the enthusiasm and effort put in by the Korean govt for the progress of Hallyu. Setting up of organizations like KOCCA.

The Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) is South Korea's leading government agency that oversees the advancement of Korean creative content, both domestically and internationally. KOCCA played an important role in promoting Hallyu in Latin America, especially introduction of Kdramas, they even did the subbing and dubbing of these dramas in Spanish and other languages for free, in order for them to be broadcast on national TV channels. Internet as a factorMedia convergence, use of multiple media has had a decisive impact on the evolution of production, promotion, and streaming of Kdramas. Over the last one decade, there has been the great rise in drama streaming sites like Hulu, Netflix, dramafever, Viki. There has also been mushrooming of various illegal streaming sites.

Fan pages, Drama information giving websites like Dramabeans, has enhanced drama watching experiences. My love from another star that marked the significance of a change in medium for viewership to mobile phones and laptops. In the US people stream dramas through Netflix and Hulu than watch it on TV. Dramas like Secret garden are in the top 200 watched dramas on Netflix. Impact of drama viewership study conducted by Chang Pao LI and Lee Hyojung analysis various surveys undertaken by MOFA (Ministry of Foreign Aairs), KOTRA (Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency)and KOFICE (Korea Foundation for International Culture Exchange), has made popularity index of level 1 to 5 based on various viewership patterns and consumption behaviour:

LEVEL 1 (Not Interested);

LEVEL 2 (Recognised);

LEVEL 3(Somewhat Popular);

LEVEL 4(Popular);

LEVEL 5(Very Popular).

Not interested in Kdrama or Kpop. Kdrama and Kpop are recognized in the media, but general populace doesn’t enjoy the Korean cultural products much. Korean drams were a huge hit upon being telecast on national TV channels, but not sure if the populace follows other dramas. Kdramas has been airing in prime time slots for 7-12 years, avidly follows dramas, actors, and actors from 2004-009. Origin countries of Hallyu were dramas has been dominantly popular that restriction been made by governments. Shows high consumer behavior for Korean cultural products.

Austria, Columbia, India etc France, Brazil, UK. Cuba, Hungary( kpop is popular among the youth) Uzbekistan, Laos, Peru. China, Japan. Philippines, Mongolia. Many earlier surveys had shown that female populace were the majority viewers of Kdramas. But with multiple media usage for watching has come to trend, kdrama watching has been watched by both the genders and even wider age groups. For instance, In Brazil, quantitative data on the first kdrama to be broadcast in Rede Brasil in 2015 – Happy Ending( 2013, JTBC) showed that viewers age range spanned from 13-54, with the average age groups being in the age group of 16-24. In numerous European and Latin American countries, like Brazil, where Kpop is very popular, drama viewership is just increasing, like in the case of Brazil. Most countries who belong to LEVEL4 and above index show high interest in extended drama activities.

Taking various factors into account, the following has been the attitude and behavioral patterns showcased by consumers of Kdramas and other cultural products. National image of Korea according to Jennifer Pai, a journalist from Taiwan, prior to Korean wave, the image of Korea in Taiwan was that of being very rough and uncivilized, but after experiencing watching dramas, the pleasant OSTs and beautiful cinematography have changed their perception about the competence of South Korea. According to a survey conducted by Japan- Korea 21st century association, In the year 1990, 51%of the Japanese respondents had negative feelings about Korea, and only 9.5% had a positive image of Korea. The respondents having positive image had risen to 77.8%in 2005, post the Winter Sonata fever. Fan behavior Good looking actors clad in fashionable clothes definitely is a major reason sustaining Hallyu wave.

Over the years, countless fan clubs and fan sites have sprung up to satiate the fans curiosities about their favorite actors, actresses, and their upcoming projects. When Iran was being swept away by the Hallyu wave, the Iranian immigrants in Korea created a website to keep the kdrama fans up to date about the entertainment happenings in Korea. Whalemenyek, a Hungary-based Korean drama blog, has been operating an online voting system for popular Korean dramas since 2014, bringing much-needed attention to Korean dramas from Hungarian fans. Various youtube channels have also come up giving reviews and ratings of currently running Kdramas, one such channel has been Holly back. Many of the fans are active followers of their favorite stars on SNS like Instagram. Consumer behavior upon extensive exposure to TV dramas, the viewers indirectly experience the cultural experiences as depicted by the Drama. They won't want to buy the products used by their favorite actors and want to have had a first-hand experience of the culture, language, food etc.

The producers are aware of the consumer tendencies and utilize this for further economic progress. The contents of the text(dramas) are adjusted to economic gains such as the promotion of Korean mobile devices, tourist attractions, heavy industries, medical equipment and professional expertise. For instance, the 2016 drama Descendants of the sun, the Korean press Kookmin Ilbo reported that the sales of the compact powder used by the actress in the drama increased by 10 times compared to the same period in the previous year, and the lipstick that she used in the drama was immediately sold out within three days, in one of the largest online shopping websites selling products from Korea (this website is run by a Korean firm SK Planet). With regard to tourism, in 2004, 74 thousands of Japanese traveled to Kangwon-do in Korea, after seeing the Korean drama Winter Sonata. The province enjoyed an 884% increase in the number of tourists compared to the previous year. Medical drams such as Doctor Strangers has also contributed to the promotion of medical tourism in Korea.

Another district consumer pattern was observed after the airing of My love from another star when the order for chicken and beer skyrocketed in China.Language and culture after the popularity of Winter Sonata, Korean language classes were in high demand in Japan. Many Korean restaurants have opened up. According to the research by Japan – Korea 21st century association, consumers from countries of LEVEL 5 showed immense interest in Korean cultural studies with majority of Kdrama audience having knowledge of basic Korean vocabulary. When Descendants of the sun was being streamed online through Viki, it was the fan community who the translation to various languages, emphasizing the level of knowledge of Korean language among its viewers. Audience preference and potential viewers from the various analysis, we understand that the demographics of the international audience has been changing due to media convergence and usage of multiple mediums to watch dramas. Cultural proximity, similarity, content quality based on emotional sensitivity and evolving production value, was observed to have widened the audience range, Also channelizing penetration into the potential market was the various government organizations such as KOCCA.

Recently, in 2016, a new KOCCA office was opened in Jakarta in keeping with the rising Hallyu sensation in Indonesia. Upon understanding the various impact of drama viewership among the audience, in terms of attitude and behavior, we realize the impact of Hallyu is a two-way process for progress. Great examples would increase the choice of shooting locations in Japan, keeping in mind the strong Fanbase in Japan. There has also been a rise in joint ventures like the Chinese –Korean joint production of Web drama – High-end crush. How are these developments related to the audience? Enhanced production means better viewership ratings, even though High-end crush didn’t do well in the domestic market, it was a huge success in China. How can these trends help in furthering of Hallyu? In Brazil, where Kdrama Happy Ending was just aired in 2015, prior kdrama fans, who had been introduced to kdramas beforehand through the internet, opined that the authorities could have chosen a better drama for its first broadcast.

Amongst the existing drama viewers, romcoms and refreshing storylines like that of Boys over flowers were popular than historical dramas. Thus, understanding the nature of audience preference, by studying the consumption patterns for popular drams in potential regions, taking into opinion the preferences of the small but growing fan base, can actually elevate the popularity of Kdramas and hallyu in these potential countries. If we take the case of India as a potential drama market, certain regions of the country like the North East( Arirang and KBS world were available through channel operators) and Tamil Nadu ( Puthuyugam TV had dubbed and aired 3 successful dramas) were already exposed to Kdramas.

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Recently, the broadcast of Descendants of the sun in Zindagi channel has been a new high to the Korean wave in India. In order for a steady increase in the viewership, a study of the preferences of the already existing fan base would be beneficial, for eg; from various online comments, people showed a preference for subtitles over Hindi dubbing.

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The nature of k-drama viewership beyond South Korea. (2018, Jun 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved April 14, 2024, from
“The nature of k-drama viewership beyond South Korea.” GradesFixer, 16 Jun. 2018,
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