As new digital media, like YouTube, has become a mainstream content distribution platform, web-based series have carved out an independent genre in South Korean show business based on explosive popularity among teenagers.
Drama "A-Teen," produced by Playlist Global, a web drama studio under the wing of South Korea's largest internet portal operator Naver, is one of the biggest smash hit mini-dramas in the country.
Premiering in July 2018, the series of 24 eight-minute episodes created a sensation among teens, who went crazy over the story about six high school students and how they deal with their teenage years.
Its second season, shown in April 2019, has posted a cumulative 300 million views, surpassing the 200 million views of the first season.
In June, Playlist Global released the fourth season of another flagship web-based romance drama, "Love Playlist," about college students. Its cumulative views reached 300 million since the first season aired in March 2017.
On top of short web dramas, YouTube-based shows have also gained popularity among teens.
Led by Joon Park, a member of 1990s' legendary K-pop group g.o.d., 10-minute "Wassup Man" is at the top of the popular YouTube channels list in South Korea. His outgoing personality and humorous reactions attracted about 2.1 million subscribers.
Its spin-off series, "Workman," by Jang Sung-kyu, former announcer of local cable TV network JTBC, is another emerging upstart channel to reach 1.8 million subscribers in just three months since its first launch in May.
Experts said the short web content, with a running time of 5-20 minutes, suits the demand from teens and early twentysomethings who have surfaced as leading trend setters and new consumers in the new media environment.
They hardly watch conventional television programs as they don't like to sit in front of the TV set and fix the channel at the right time. They prefer to just flick on YouTube with a finger and choose easy-to-consume web content that hook their eyes in a few seconds.
According to a 2019 survey by Nasmedia, an online advertisement firm, South Korean teens spend an average 123 minutes per day watching mobile footage, while those in their 20s watch videos for a daily average of 88 minutes through smartphones. But they want to consume shorter and more direct video content, then move on to subsequent episodes, rather than sitting through 60-minute TV dramas and variety shows.
Separate data by KT Economics Management Research Institute from 2015, show that those in their 20s think a video that lasts 43 seconds and text that continues for 14 paragraphs are favorable.
So young viewers are excited with such web dramas and shows that have bite-sized episodes and fast-paced storytelling, available anywhere and anytime on their smartphones, according to experts.
"Young viewers don't keep watching content if they aren't immersed in the story instantly," Lee Seul, a script writer of "Love Playlist," said in an email interview last month. "Now, actors and actresses have been turning their eyes to the new media. It's like breaking the boundary between the conventional and new platforms."
As a result, A-list production companies and major entertainment agencies have jumped into the emerging business and started to create high-end products and top-rated dramas.
Even actress Kim Sae-ron, who gained popularity with hit action movie "The Man from Nowhere," starred in the fourth season of "Love Playlist."
"The young generation's culture consumption behavior has had a huge impact on the entire society," Bae Sun-ju from Mezzo Media, a digital media marketing firm, said in a recent report published by the Korea Creative Content Agency. "They are spearheading the current rapidly-changing trend and their habits and culture are set to expand to other generations." (Yonhap)