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Netflix plans to expand presence in Korea

Content streaming service Netflix, which launched here in January as part of its global expansion efforts, will be announcing plans for original Korean series within the year, Netflix leadership said at a press conference in Seoul on Thursday.

Netflix’s current projects here include the film “Okja,” directed by Bong Joon-ho, and Korean-English drama series “Dramaworld,” produced in partnership with streaming service Viki.

This is only the beginning of Netflix’s foray into the Korean market, said Netflix CEO and cofounder Reed Hastings, as the company is “very focused on expanding” and regards Korea as a “pivotal market in Asia.”

The smash-hit drama series “Descendants of the Sun,” which aired in April, will begin streaming on Netflix this summer in the U.S., Canada and Latin America, he said. Currently, the company is filming an international competition series in California titled “Ultimate Beastmaster” with an entirely Korean cast and Korean comedians Seo Kyung-suk and Park Kyeong-rim as hosts.

“Whereas Hollywood studios previously spread American content to other countries, we’re trying to export content from around the world to the rest of the world,” said Hastings. “We started producing original programming in local languages in Mexico, Germany, France, Spain, Argentina and ... now Korea, starting a few years ago.”

Netflix has also been cooperating closely with local tech giants Samsung and LG and major content providers, Hastings said. Last month, it reached a licensing agreement with D’Live, a local cable TV operator, to make Netflix available on its set-top box.

“When (Samsung and LG) sell smart TVs around the world, the main content source is Netflix and the Internet,” said Hastings. “More and more, ultra HD content will be available much more on-demand and very little on broadcast, because the Internet is more flexible for serving video content.”

Reed Hastings (left), the CEO of Netflix, and Netflix chief of content Ted Sarandos speak to reporters at a press conference in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)
Reed Hastings (left), the CEO of Netflix, and Netflix chief of content Ted Sarandos speak to reporters at a press conference in Seoul on Thursday. (Yonhap)

Currently, however, only a few old Korean films are available on Netflix, a shortcoming that will be rectified gradually, according to Netflix chief of content Ted Sarandos.

“When we launch into new territory, we use our time to learn the market and study what local viewers are seeing ... which helps us make better investments in local programming,” he said.

Netflix is also trying to break through the Chinese market, Sarandos added. “We understand that China is an important source of revenue for K-dramas, but it is complicated to (enter) the Chinese market. ... We’re continuing to look at it and see if we can open it up eventually.”

Creative freedom

A key reason behind the explosive global success of the streaming service, which now has over 65 million subscribers worldwide, according to Hastings and Sarandos, is the “creative freedom” it gives its storytellers. 

Since starting out in 1997 as a DVD mailing service, the company has grown into a global content provider, pay streaming service and, since 2011, a producer of original series and films. When Netflix commissioned its first original series “House of Cards,” which streamed in 2013 and whose fifth season is scheduled for release in 2017, the company told director David Fincher that unlike most television networks, it would “not interfere at all” with the plot.

“(At Netflix) creators get a level of freedom unseen anywhere else in the world. Our role is picking the right projects and storytellers and creating an environment for them to do the best work of their lives,” said Sarandos.

Since then, Netflix has produced a number of hit shows, including “Orange is the New Black.” Other original shows include “Sense 8,” a sci-fi drama that aired its first season last year, which stars Korean actress Bae Doo-na and is set partly in Seoul. Historical drama series “Marco Polo,” first released in 2014, stars Korean actress Claudia Kim. 

By Rumy Doo (