Next month, a site called DramaFever will become the first to offer U.S. watchers a large library of Korean TV drama content in a legal and accessible format. Korean dramas are hugely popular in their home country and the rest of Asia, but on this side of the Pacific, would-be watchers can only see them on some premium cable channels, through bootleg DVDs bought in Chinatowns, and via P2P file-sharing.
“In the United States, you’d think with the growing Asian community there would be a distribution channel for this,” DramaFever co-founder Seung Bak told us today. “[But] none of the companies we’re dealing with has a way to distribute their content in the U.S. to a mainstream audience.”
DramaFever is a year-old angel-funded startup, but it has already been able to score deals with MBC and KBS, two of the three major Korean TV networks, for shows like Boys Over Flowers, Soulmate, Coffee Prince, My Lovely Sam Soon and Jewel in the Palace. At launch it will have 60-70 titles with 20-30 episodes each. All content will come with English subtitles and will be geoblocked so it can only be seen in the U.S. and Canada. Shows will arrive on the service a few days to a few weeks after they initially air in Asia. If all goes well, DramaFever will add shows from Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong/China.
DramaFever is pushing a free-to-subscription service (aka “freemium,” or try before you buy) that could well serve as an example for sites like Hulu. The site will offer a couple episodes of each show for free, ad-supported embeddable streaming, à la Hulu today, but will also offer full seasons of all its shows sans advertising for a fee of $5-$7 per month. Movies and concerts will cost an additional fee.
“The market that we’re addressing right now, a fair amount of people are already spending money to access this content,” said Bak. Even bootleg DVDs cost a dollar, he pointed out.
Bak said DramaFever was surprised to find that out of 35,000 private beta testers, 45 percent who answered a survey said they were Caucasian. Under 13 percent identified themselves as coming from a Korean background.
The U.S.-centric Hulu is itself adding international content, starting with British reality shows and Bollywood movies.
If you’d like to get into the DramaFever private beta today, enter the priority code “newteevee” when you register and the site will add you right away.