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Summary:

DramaFever secured $4.5 million in funding to bring Korean dramas and other foreign TV shows to U.S. viewers. One of its new investors is YouTube co-founder Steve Chen. Check out our video with DramaFever co-founder and co-CEO Seung Bak, who doesn’t want to demonize non-commercial piracy.

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 Online video startup DramaFever has a message for American TV audiences: There is a whole world beyond the U.S.’ borders, and it’s making some great TV shows too. DramaFever has established itself as the biggest online distributor for Korean dramas in the U.S. and Canada, and the site is now looking to expand its catalog with Bollywood and Telenovela content. “We are talking about the stuff that 90 percent of the world is watching,” explained DramaFever co-founder and co-CEO Seung Bak when he visited us at our office Thursday.

Check out my interview with Bak below:

DramaFever’s idea to import TV shows from Korea and elsewhere is resonating with investors, who just gave the site a $4.5 million Series B round of funding. The round, which follows a first $1.5 million round in early 2011, is led by MK Capital, but also includes money from YouTube co-founder Steve Chen and Google product management director Benjamin Ling.

The site started off in early 2009 when Bak and his co-founder Suk Park noticed a growing online interest in content from Korea and other Asian countries. Lacking legal sources, fans would simply upload the content themselves, collaboratively produce subtitles and share and discuss the resulting works in niche forums. This so-called Fansub scene is often criticized for its piracy, but Bak told me that he doens’t think it helps to demonize fans. Instead, he wants to give them a legal outlet, and actually is in direct contact with a number of Fansub sites, which provide DramaFever with traffic as well as the occasional subtitle.

New York-based DramaFever has a number of revenue streams; the site offers ad-supported free content as well as ad-free subscriptions, with 15,000 members paying between $7.5 and $10 per month. DramaFever also distributes some of its videos to Hulu, and is starting to build up its own ad sales team. “We have been monetized from day one,” he said.

One of the most interesting things about DramaFever is that it is not necessarily targeting ex-pat audiences. 75 percent of the site’s audience is not Asian, Bak told me, despite the fact that the majority of content currently comes from Korea. The site currently has 1.5 million unique visitors per month, who watch more than 3 million hours of content each month.

That’s small potatoes compared to giants like Netflix, but DramaFever’s Hulu deal has shown the company that it doesn’t have to fear big rivals. One of the site’s advantage is that its great relationships with local content partners, leading to deals that secure content for up to 8 years. Licensing this content has been getting much easier, now that DramaFever has shown that it can actually deliver revenue. That wasn’t always the case, remembers Bak: “It took us 8 months to get our first license.”

  1. I may be wrong but This sounds exactly like Viki except Viki is free, has no ads, is translated into many more languages, and has much more than just Asian content.

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    1. I used to watch Viki, but there were times when you really had to wait too long for the interpreters to find the time to come back and finish the interpretation. And correct me if I’m wrong – Viki is not licensed to upload content in the internet, hence the waiting time for some dramas.

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      1. Viki is now licensed to upload dramas. The videos come directly from a Viki uploader and not from a third party uploader just like before. There are dramas only available to Qualified Contributors first because they are waiting for the license. I know this because I translate for viki for some Kdramas. :)
        I also watched from Dramafever to compare our subs with theirs. For viki, we always wanted to go direct translations approach word per se because it also being translated in other languages, while Dramafever often rewords the lines. Sometimes it is harmless, sometimes it totally changes the meaning.
        For a non-Korean speaker, it does not change the implication, but for someone who knows Korean, it’s different.

        But either way, we get our legal dose of kdama addiction in a complete subbed package, so why not right?

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  2. Laughing_Boy48 Tuesday, March 20, 2012

    I just love this site. I don’t even care about having to watch ads. To me, it’s worth it just so I can watch my fill of English-subbed Korean dramas. There’s another good site called MVIBO.com for streaming Korean videos, but that is strictly a paid site. I’m not familiar with Viki.com but I’ll check it out.

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