The Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA), oversees and coordinates the promotion of the Korean content to sharpen its competitive edge on the global stage Image Credit: Supplied

Just over a decade ago, in July 2012, when South Korean singer Psy released his music video Gangnam Style, the world immediately fell in love with it. The decidedly quirky horseback dance moves and the catchy, beguiling rhythm combined to serve up a heady mix that mesmerised the global audience. In a matter of a few months, the song went on to become the first-ever YouTube video to surpass one billion views. But Gangnam Style was more than just a breakout internet sensation, it was a cultural breakthrough that instantly established K-pop on the global stage and paved the way for the likes of 2NE1, BIGBANG, EXO and of course BTS to pursue worldwide success in the ensuing decade.

But while Psy and his sensational music video must rightly be acknowledged, the global success of K-pop and the wider array of K-content including dramas and movies cannot be attributed to mere chance or just a couple of breakout hits. In fact, Korean content has for years been designed and developed with mass consumption and global success in mind. It has always been set up to take over the world. Spearheading this meticulous process is the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA), a government agency under the Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism that oversees and coordinates the organised promotion of the Korean content industry.

Content promotion

Established in May 2009, KOCCA helps domestic producers and platform providers build capacities, specifically in the areas of planning/creation, production, and distribution. It has recently expanded its investment in content production significantly to further reinforce Korea’s original content following the success of Netflix’s Kingdom and Squid Game. It also has a strong support system in place reflecting the recent shift in the global distribution channel to an online format, while providing cross-sectoral support for all stages of post-production from planning to production.

Image Credit: Supplied

“KOCCA has been supporting Korean content companies for more than 13 years since we were established in 2009. And that was when no one was actually focusing on Korean content, but we kept trying to make a difference in the global market. And it has worked,” says Hyo Jin Lee, Project Manager – Broadcast Industry Team, Media Content and Animation Division at KOCCA, who was in Dubai last week to attend the Dubai International Content Market (DICM).

“We have a unique process of making content. For example, in the music industry, all the companies have their own training system for idols, so those musicians can be unique in the music industry. And for TV shows, we financially support Korean companies to produce their content,” she adds. While pointing out that K-drama is the most popular type of K-content consumed around the world, Lee says the industry has received more attention thanks to the wild popularity enjoyed by series like Squid Game and the American version of the original 2013 Korean drama The Good Doctor.

Global collaborations

KBS Media, the company that produced the original medical series, was also part of the DICM show. Sol Kim, Sales Manager – International Business Department at KBS Media, also credits the series for the increased attention that Korean dramas are attracting across the world of late.

“Of course, the success of The Good Doctor has really helped us become famous, and thanks to that success, we now work with several American, European and Asian companies. We are also working closely with Turkish production companies, who have adapted many of our titles,” says Kim. She attributes the global acceptance of Korean content to several factors. “While BTS and K-pop, in general, have contributed to our fame around the world, I believe the fact that Koreans work hard and are great storytellers helps us come out with more serious, original stories that appeal to a wider audience.”

Sebastian Kim, Director – Content Sales and Acquisitions at CJ ENM, known for being the distributor of the Oscar-winning movie Parasite, says Korean content is originally primed to be a global success as that is a necessity for the industry’s success.

Image Credit: Supplied

“When Korean content is produced, we usually target the overseas market as well, because Korean market alone is not big enough to produce better content on a high budget. So when we produce a TV show in South Korea, we usually think of selling it to other territories as well. It started by selling to Japan and China which are our neighbours, but after that, we got more recognised in South East Asian countries, and now it's getting recognised in the Middle East as well. Now, our major sales revenue comes from outside Korea, so the producer or the screenwriter, when they're planning to produce a show, already very much factor this in,” says Sebastian.

He says another reason for the success is the high-quality content that is a result of fierce competition seen in the South Korean entertainment industry. “In order to win against your competitors, you have to make a better one and to make a better one sometimes or most of the time it costs you more. So you have to be very, very careful how to win a viewership from outside Korea.”

Technology brings fame

Meanwhile, Byeong-Gun Park, CEO of PH E&M Corporation, which produces OTT content and collaborates with famous K-pop idols to produce various original content, says technology has played a significant role in this success. “Great quality Korean content isn’t anything new. Korea has been producing quality content for over two decades, and we have been famous in our region for our content all along. For example, China and Japan, they were already watching our dramas for two decades. And now I think it's the technology that has helped us gain international fame and gain recognition from a global audience,” says Park.

Hye Joon Lee, Global Content Business Team manager of Studio LuluLala (SLL), agrees with Park’s suggestion that it’s the technology that has helped Korean content go global, but echoes KBS’s Sol Kim when she maintains that a great storyline is still the main reason for this success.

“Netflix and other OTT platforms have definitely helped. Squid Game is an example, who knew that series would become such a global hit? But the main reason is that Korean producers and writers come out with great stories. And these stories not only work in Korea but also elsewhere. These are related to everyone’s life stories, and everyone has the same feelings. So I think that’s mainly why Korean content’s popularity is getting stronger worldwide.”

While most of the big production companies that came to the Dubai event had drama and music as their main offering, Zookiz stood apart with its colourful, animated characters from the series. Joseph Lee, Founder and CEO of Zookiz, says the main idea behind Zookiz was to “deliver happiness”, while also spreading good messages that teach teenagers and young adults social values. His company focuses on producing digital mobile stickers that can be used on social media chat applications.

“These have become one of the most popular stickers in the world. Over 500 million of our sticker packs have been downloaded so far.” While the biggest fan base for Zookiz is in Vietnam, Lee aims to capture the global market for stickers soon thanks to its availability for WhatsApp users and Samsung Galaxy users. On reasons for Korean content’s global success, Lee had this to say: “First, we don’t categorise our users by country or language. Anyone who is looking to enjoy good quality content irrespective of language will surely like Korean content. We have always created high-quality content, but never got the chance to get exposed or discovered by a global audience previously. Now thanks to OTT and social media, that is changing.”

This content comes from Reach by Gulf News, which is the branded content team of GN Media.