DramaFever-less: The Drama of K-Drama

So here’s a thing. I know most of you are not interested in my interest in Korean Drama (Kdrama) but some of you ARE interested in rights/licensing, media technology, labor & economics. This may be a little long but it’s INTERESTING!
 
So DramaFever, the Netflix of Kdrama (owned by Warner Bros), shut down yesterday with **ZERO** warning. No disclosure to the large fan communities that consist of mostly women viewers. Long story short, it’s a corporate decision. All DramaFever (referred to hereon as DF) materials & their licenses are to be subsumed into a larger channel that AT&T is creating with WB content so they can compete with Netflix. This monster channel is planned to launch sometime in 2019.
 
Some women were quite LITERALLY in the middle of watching an episode of a beloved show. Imagine being in the middle of watching an ep of Game of Thrones and it just STOPS. A black screen appears with a message that says: Thank you for your loyalty to HBO but like…Sorry. We decided to shut down the company. We’ll be back in a new form sometime next year. OKTHXBYE.
Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 12.25.51 PM
 
As you can imagine There’s a LOT OF UPSET FANS RIGHT NOW. And I have been chatting with them A BUNCH on the (mostly FB) forums that I am on. Many of them are trying to find other ways to watch particular shows that they were in the middle of watching (Terius is the primary one, at the moment & I’m kinda glad I didn’t start watching that myself). Lots of folx are going the torrent route which I actually am not against in this situation at all. DESPERATE TIMES CALL FOR DESPERATE MEASURES, Y’ALL. GOTTA HAVE YOUR DRAMA. I AM TOTALLY HERE FOR THIS. So lots of ladies sharing info with the community on how to survive but also acknowledging the shitty subbing (subtitling) on occasion, possible viruses, & non-reliability of sourcing the materials this way. 
 
Enter Viki & KOCOWA. They are like the Amazon Prime & Hulu of Kdrama. You can get two different plans on Viki: standard and plus. Standard is a basic Kdrama, no-frills package & some of the content is limited. Plus is no-holds-barred, ALL KDRAMA ALL THE TIME, LET’S DO THIS. Now, Viki & KOCOWA share content but KOCOWA *also* has its own streaming channel but it’s only available on certain platforms (like not on AppleTV or Roku). So some shows are *only* on KOCOWA and some shows are shared and on Viki *and* KOCOWA.
 
Got that? Good.
So DF destructs yesterday and we are left reeling. A good chunk of the community is just like OMGWTFBBQ. Many are really kinda like: What about GOBLIN?

Goblin aka Guardian: the Great and Lonely God aka 쓸쓸하고 찬란하신 – 도깨비 is a TvN drama starring Gong Yoo, Lee Dong-wook and Kim Go-eun that rocked people on a level that is comparable to, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Game of Thrones in how intensely its audience feels about it. Admittedly, I am one of those people. I actually could not tell you precisely why…yet. But goddamn. That show. To this day I cannot hear the song from it without crying.  I’m including it here & it has bits from the show but like…no joke. I’ve never been so internally in pain from a show in my life. I can’t even describe it to you. I think there’s subliminal shit in there somewhere. 20 years of watching things & this show turns me into a complete. and. total. hot. mess.

SO GOBLIN IS A PROBLEM. Because guess who holds the license? DF has it. DF has a lot of shows that it advertised as “DF exclusives” and those were programs that they held exclusive US licenses for and you can BET YOUR ASS that they are not going to give those up to anyone else.
 
So we, the fans, lose. Meanwhile, it’s sure as shit that the hard-copy purchases and torrents of some of those “DF exclusives” have gone WAY up in the last 24-36 hours. I have no doubt that many fans now have actual physical discs of certain dramas heading to their homes because they were like: fuck this. DF is ready to betray me like that? OH HELL NO. I rewatch this show anytime I’m having a shitty day. I can’t have y’all do that. I’m taking charge here and making sure I can have my dramas when I want them and where I want them TYVM. DF? Suck it.
 
With DF out of the game, the community is relying on each other and we are kinda going: so…do we upgrade? Do we find other legal streaming sites? Are there other legal streaming sites? (the answer to this is a resounding not so much).
 

Which brings us back to Viki. Full transparency, I totally upgraded to the Viki/KOCOWA Plus package. I don’t gamble with my Kdrama.

As someone who has been studying media and tech issues for as long as I have, I feel like maybe this is a huge thing that is happening right now whether you care about Korean/Asian television programming or not.
So DF has all these licenses. The channel itself is no more but the licenses are still being held by WB/AT&T and are essentially dead/hibernating for the time being and the content will go live again when the new channel is “resurrected” in 2019. But by then all of their fans will have moved on to new shows and more content. Because that is what we do. We keep watching. We are active and interactive viewers. The Kdrama fandom is not a passive group. It is a collection of (mostly) women who take a lot of pleasure from the programs they watch and we watch them in large quantities. By taking themselves out of the equation, DF has erased themselves from the market itself even though they feel that they will be bringing this content to new audiences.
 

SO. DF is out of the picture. Whether or not they had the good manners to let Viki & KOCOWA know is still up in the air. If not, Viki has really jumped into the game quickly: they started a 30% off sale on their standard pass yesterday, the same day that DF went down. While no one mentioned it on any of the forums yesterday and I didn’t notice it when I was on their site last night, it is entirely possible the sale banner may have gone up late. Even so…their business instinct is quite sharp. They’re clearly going to benefit from the loss of DF.

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There have been comments about Viki/Kocowa’s subbing taking a little longer. But here’s the thing: they use volunteers for subbing. Before anyone decries the labor policies, people volunteer to do the subbing and the work on these shows because of the fan dedication. It is part of an very special and incredible international community that really wants to provide access to everyone who wants to watch these shows. It’s really remarkable being part of these communities and being able to watch the subbing on shows (especially on Viki) because you can tell that the teams really go that extra mile. That said, with this influx of memberships rising from the death of DF, will Viki be able to keep up?
 

Some thoughts:

1) Is Viki ready for the kind of online traffic they are about to receive? Do they have enough servers? Are they prepared? I already read one comment from someone who was unable to complete her Kocowa subscription because their servers were overloaded.
2) Will Viki/Kocowa be able to increase the speed in their subbing so that new members are satisfied? Will they be able to negotiate better and more interesting content licenses now that DF is out of the picture? 
3) Will another legal streaming site spring up to try to compete with Viki/Kocowa?
4) Will Viki and Kocowa divide licenses and content so that they actually do become more disparate channels, thus making it “worth it” to have both channels for more than just one or two shows?
 

There is a lot to unpack here. While large communities of viewers have been left in the lurch without any warning, it is equally important to recognize that the US corporate television culture clearly views Asian materials as not valuable or worthwhile. Whether these dramas on Viki, Kocowa or DF are Thai, Chinese or Korean, the primary viewing audience is women and that makes a difference as well. Much like soap operas or melodramas, these works fall into a television genre that has a long history of being relegated to the “trash culture” section or simply being viewed by critics as “low culture” and easily dismissible.

 

We are going to have to wait and see what happens with Viki and the economics and labor issues. We will have to see whether they hire more staff, whether the subbing system changes at all, whether their servers go down in the next few weeks or whether they totally rock it (I’m crossing my fingers, I wanna continue watching my shows).

 

But all of the women, including myself, are having some pretty large feelings about Corporate America making decisions about what we should or should not have access to and why. These works are important to us. The women I have spoken to on these forums are not just from the US. They are from all over the world and somehow they find connections to these shows and feel very strongly that having someone else pull the plug was not just rude but removed their agency to explore whatever it is that they love about these shows- fantasy, strength, humor, escape, history or just a good story.

Anyways, the future remains to be seen.
 

 

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