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Local streamers look to unique originals to survive fierce competition

Previously shunned themes, fresh attempts part of survival strategy at Watcha and Seezn

A screenshot shows the romance of a gay couple in Watcha’s “Semantic Error.” (Watcha)
A screenshot shows the romance of a gay couple in Watcha’s “Semantic Error.” (Watcha)

With HBO Max set to add to the competition provided by global platforms in the second half of the year, local streaming services are looking to original series to give them a unique selling point.

Korean service Watcha began to stake out a position in the streaming market with new romance series “Semantic Error.”

Adapted from an R-rated web novel of the same title, “Semantic Error” revolves around a gay couple on campus.

The adaptation is a PG series that aims to present multidimensional characters not much different from any other couple in the real world.

With an attempt to respect diversity, terrestrial broadcasters have produced television dramas featuring LGBT themes, including KBS’ “The Daughters of Club Bilitis” (2011), SBS’ “Life is Beautiful” (2010), “Amor Fati” (2021) and tvN’s “Mine” (2021).

However, public dissatisfaction over the content and criticisms that they were mere noise marketing antics led to apologies from the broadcasters.

In the small world of Korean romance series, where public outcry over LGBT content grows quickly, “Semantic Error” was an unexpected boon to its platform: the eight-part series topped the service’s viewership chart for seven consecutive weeks, according to Watcha.

Seezn, South Korean telecommunications operator KT’s streaming platform, is seeking to continue its steady growth with content unfamiliar on local network and cable channels.

Seezn’s “Juvenile Delinquency,” a noir thriller, revolves around an 18-year-old girl being used as a drug mule, meeting a group of teenagers and discovering a field of marijuana plants.

With its unique setting and focus on juvenile offenders, many viewers believed that the series brought a different spin to the subject from Netflix’s “Juvenile Justice,” which is told from a judge’s perspective.

The total number of paid subscribers doubled within the first two days of the release of “Juvenile Delinquency,” and the series is set to return with a second season in May, according to Seezn.

Watcha and Seezn both premiered their first original sports documentaries, “Clubhouse” and “Winning Run,” respectively, last month.
Poster images of “Winning Run” (left) and “Clubhouse” (Watcha, Seezn)
Poster images of “Winning Run” (left) and “Clubhouse” (Watcha, Seezn)

While “Winning Run” followed the tight race of KT Wiz, the Korean baseball champion in 2021, “Clubhouse” presented the journey of the Hanwha Eagles, the last-place team last same season.

Featuring highlights from the 141-game season, exclusive player interviews and observations of coaching staff and management, the documentaries excited baseball fans and ordinary viewers alike.

“Clubhouse” topped Watcha’s content chart, electrifying baseball fans before 2022’s KBO opening day on April 2.

While local streaming platforms Wavve and Tving are popular for shows that air on traditional TV channels, Watcha and Seezn hope to establish their positions in the fierce battle of contents.

Culture critic Jung Duk-hyun said that the key to winning the streaming competition is to acquire unique content not available from other services.

“Watcha, for example, has been making innovative attempts, presenting a number of LGBT-themed web dramas and other award-winning projects, which were not famous among the local viewers. A series like ‘Semantic Error’ did not appear out of nowhere,” Jung told The Korea Herald on Tuesday.

“I think the viewers are somewhat more open about these types of approaches made by Watcha. Besides, the streaming platforms have comparatively less pressure against presenting content that caters to the minorities. This allows the services to deliver more unique, fresh content to the viewers.” Jung added.

By Lee Si-jin (sj_lee@heraldcorp.com)
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