Monday, October 16, 2017

It’s home to the world’s fastest Internet, Eating Videos, and Gangnam Style

“What is South Korea, Alex?”

If you were standing behind a podium on Jeopardy and uttered those words you’d be hearing the happy ding ding ding of a question correctly answered.

The 3rd in a series of 7 reports I penned on media in global markets has now been released, and the fun end of the Korean peninsula is the focus.


The country of 50 million is a high tech haven, for everything from the world’s largest manufacturer of mobile devices to leading edge virtual reality and augmented reality to what’s known as Hallyu, or the Korean Wave of popular culture. These Korean TV shows, films, and pop music first swept across Asia in the 1990s and in more recent years became part of the country's export cargo to the rest of the world. For most of us it came to our attention with Gangnam Style in 2012 but there’s a lot more to it than that.

South Korea is also a top exporter to the world of television formats such as Genius Game

...and twists on conventional cooking shows that combine elements of talk shows, drama, game shows, or travel shows are also a popular genre in Korea, and are often licensed for localization abroad. In other words there’s a good chance that your favourite crazy cooking competition show
originated in Seoul.

Perhaps most bizarre, to us Westerners at least, is the phenomenon known as Mukbang, or eating videos. These half hour videos feature people, usually in their bedroom or kitchen, grilling and eating things like meat dishes, soups, noodles, and dumplings. Doesn’t sound particularly exciting? I hear you. Yet videos like this one regularly net millions of views. Why? Because Internet.

South Korea’s dramas are also enormously popular outside of the country’s own borders. Descendants of the Sun, a romantic drama available in China on the iQiyi video streaming platform, pulled in close to 2 billion views as of early 2017. 

The exporting of popular culture, not unlike the country’s heavy investments in R&D programs and its technology infrastructure, has been carefully planned and promoted by the South Korean government for the last 20 years or so. Billions in public funds have been put into the country’s media and entertainment industries as part of the the official Hallyu program. And how has that worked out? By one estimate South Korea’s annual revenues from pop culture exports now exceed $5 billion.

For the full report on the media and entertainment industries in South Korea in 2017 click here.

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