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.”