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Streaming platforms fight for market share in Korea

Netflix's hit unscripted content “Single’s Inferno” (Netflix)
Netflix's hit unscripted content “Single’s Inferno” (Netflix)
Streaming platform operators, homegrown and from abroad, are seeking to expand their market share in an increasingly crowded Korean market, adopting different strategies.

Netflix, which has been defending its position as the market leader since entering Korea in 2016, recently suffered a hit when its highly anticipated “Money Heist: Korea - Joint Economic Area” was not received as well as expected by Korean viewers.

To bounce back, the US-based streaming platform is strengthening its unscripted content lineup.

The company announced this month that it will launch four unscripted shows in the second half of the year -- music variety show “Take 1,” travel program “Korea No. 1,” competition program “Physical: 100” and the second season of hit dating show “Single’s Inferno.”

Industry insiders see Netflix’s new strategy of investing in entertainment shows as a way to reduce its reliance on dramas and movies that require relatively more money and time to produce.

While Netflix remains on top, second place is likely to change in the second half of the year.

According to data tracker Mobile Index’s data on monthly active users of streaming platforms in June, Netflix topped the list with 11.17 million monthly active users, followed by Wavve with 4.23 million and Tving with 4.02 million.

However, a change in rankings is likely due to the creation of the largest Korea-based streaming platform this month, following the merger of KT’s Seezn and CJ ENM’s Tving. Seezn was the No. 6 player in June with 1.56 million users.

Tving, which offers CJ ENM’s tvN content, also recently diversified its content through a partnership with US-based Paramount. Since June, offerings from Paramount+, including “Star Trek,” have been available for Tving users.

Coupang Play's original series “Anna” (Coupang Play)
Coupang Play's original series “Anna” (Coupang Play)

While Netflix and Tving fight for the crown, Korean operator Coupang Play has become a notable player in the market by introducing content to appeal to young viewers. The platform had the fourth most monthly active users in June, with 3.73 million.

Coupang Play’s recent growth is largely attributable to the drama series “Anna.” The platform’s “SNL Korea” also has been attracting viewers.

Another unique strategy that Coupang Play has employed is a focus on sports.

According to Coupang Play, it attracted a record-high number of viewers in July with its ”Coupang Play Series,” which invited overseas soccer teams Tottenham Hotspur -- the English Premier League club of Korean soccer superstar Son Heung-min -- and Spain’s Sevilla.

There is another player looking to capitalize on the success of K-pop. The Walt Disney Co. Asia Pacific recently joined hands with Hybe Corp. to provide original content featuring BTS on its platform, Disney+.

Poster of Disney+’s new show “In the Soop: Friendcation,” featuring BTS member V and actors Park Seo-joon, Choi Woo-shik, Park Hyung-sik and rapper Peakboy. (Disney+)
Poster of Disney+’s new show “In the Soop: Friendcation,” featuring BTS member V and actors Park Seo-joon, Choi Woo-shik, Park Hyung-sik and rapper Peakboy. (Disney+)

On Friday, Disney+ released “In the Soop: Friendcation,” featuring BTS’ V, actors Park Seo-joon, Choi Woo-shik and Park Hyung-sik and rapper Peakboy.

Korean streaming operator Wavve, meanwhile, is focusing on introducing unique dating shows like “Merry Queer,” starring gay, lesbian and transgender couples, and “Man’s Romance,” starring single bisexual men.

Watcha, the go-to platform for indie films, is also preparing to launch an unscripted entertainment show in the second half of this year to appeal to a broader audience.

With so much competition in the market, it is hard to predict which platform will attract the most viewers in the second half of the year.

Culture critic Kim Sung-su highlighted Coupang Play, while adding that he also anticipates Netflix and Watcha to do well.

“‘Anna’ and ‘SNL Korea’ showed Coupang Play’s strength,” Kim said. “In the case of ‘SNL Korea,’ it was a low risk that did not require much budget. As expected, it immediately went viral, and star comedian Joo Hyun-young was born.”

On the other hand, culture critic Jung Duk-hyun selected Netflix and Tving.

“Coupang Play has been showing progress, but it is still more of a service provided to its e-commerce platform users, so it has its limits,” Jung added. “It is more likely that the top two players will see further growth.”

Coupang Play provides a streaming service to premium member of its e-commerce platform Coupang.

By Song Seung-hyun (ssh@heraldcorp.com)
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