K-dramas top global charts . . .
In what could be Netflix’s “biggest show ever,” the Korean drama Squid Gametopped Netflix charts in 90 countries—including Canada—and has become wildly popular even in countries without Netflix, such as China. The horror series, which sees debt-ridden individuals compete in violent versions of childhood games for a cash prize, had been rejected for a decade before finding a willing producer in Netflix. Netflix-produced dramas D.P. and Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha have also found huge success worldwide in the past month, particularly in Asia. In recognition of the global influence of Korean popular culture, the Oxford English Dictionary recently added 26 Korean words, including ‘K-drama.’
Violent allegories for South Korean societal ills . . .
Squid Game tells widely shared stories about debt and desperation. But it also reflects anxieties over inequality specific to South Korea, where household debtnow exceeds the national GDP and the top 20 per cent are worth more than 116 times the bottom 20 per cent. Inequality will likely be central to the 2022 presidential election, after the ruling Democratic Party confirmed Lee Jae-myung, “populist” governor of Gyeonggi Province often likened to U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, as their candidate last week. Squid Game is not alone in raising social issues. D.P. provoked discussions on its depictions of a culture of abuse in the military. Despite reforms, the military remains under the spotlight following criminal charges against 15 service members over alleged sexual abuse, and the court-ordered reinstatement of a transgender soldier who committed suicide after being forcibly dismissed.
Netflix cements dominance in Korea as competitors circle . . .
Netflix’s success with top-performing Korean dramas reflects its shift to Korea. Despite only entering the Korean market in 2016, it now leads the industry with a market share of over 40 per cent in 2019. Local companies have banded together to compete, with the country’s three major broadcasters joining forces to launch Wavve in 2019 and leading startups such as Kakao and Coupang also attempting to disrupt the industry. Disney+ is set to be the second major foreign streaming service to enter Korea, launching next month. Netflix also recently unveiled a report claiming that its Korean investments have generated over C$5.8 billion in economic value in the country. The report did not address growing criticisms of the company’s opposition to paying for local network usage, following a lawsuit from SK Broadband over costs incurred to deal with spikes in Netflix internet traffic.