When Nepal-based writer Ridhi Agarwal was in a lockdown, a friend shared her experience watching a Korean drama titled “Crash Landing on you” in Hindi at 1.5 times the original speed. Ridhi also did the same. She found the drama hilarious even though the story was tender, character-driven and full of subtle emotions. She wanted to watch it in Korean at normal speed. “It hooked me completely. I cried buckets while watching it,” says Ridhi. She looked for other such dramas. Today Ridhi spends 50% of her viewing time on K-dramas dubbed in Hindi, even French content.

Today, most OTT platforms thrive on a major chunk of their viewership from international content. Of that, Korean has gained international viewership. In 2019, a survey said 24.4% of respondents in India conceded they watched K-dramas.

Rakuten Viki, a global OTT platform that also has operations in India has drama content from Korea, Japan, Mainland China, Taiwan, and Thailand with a few Asian American titles as well. My Lovely Liar, The Night I Became an Animal, Fireworks of My Heart, A Good Day to be a Dog and Only for Love are some that are trending on top in India.

“Asian entertainment is certainly on the rise. From movies to music, food, and beauty products, the culture has taken the world by storm and there's no signs of it slowing down,” says Karen Paek, VP, Marketing, Viki.

Like Viki, each OTT has its own list of viewers’ favourites. Genres such as romance, sci-fi, action, adventure, thriller, comedy, drama are popular in Netflix in India that has over 247 million paid members in over 190 countries. Korean language shows on Disney+ Hotstar include Snowdrop, Dr Romantic and Moving.

The strategies for gaining more viewership are multi-pronged. In addition to targeted promotions and scheduled ad executions on the platform, each viewer has his own way of choosing the shows. Short-form video content, promoted on social media channels is at the back of the popularity of many shows across viewers of all ages. Short form video serves as a great competition to movies too. On November 29th, Viki initiated a global celebration of the first-ever International K-Drama Day, with exclusive content, exciting giveaways and strategic partnerships. Each streaming service works on its own original productions too to add to their repertoire. Sucessive seasons of top-rated dramas also attract considerable viewers. Many claim that most of these dramas are run ad-free and are loved for that reason too.

“Drama appeal- irrespective of language is very specific to audiences’ state of minds and expectations,” says Varsheni. S, an avid K drama watcher from Bangalore. “Except the cultural similarities and actor appeals that they are pitched for, you can never get to know what will click,” she adds.

Independent writer and author Bevinda Collaco puts her viewing list together by looking up reviews. “I only watch those that get a 4.8 or 4.9. My watchlist includes serials or films by those scriptwriters, actors and directors I have loved watching,” she says.

Subtitled dramas are the latest sensation. Content  dubbed in regional languages has expanded viewership. According to a FICCI-PwC report, the share of regional language consumption on OTT platforms will cross 50% of total time spent by 2025.

Close to 300 hours of dubbed content that includes over 70 international shows is available in Aha OTT, Arha Media & Broadcasting Private Limited that has Telugu and Tamil content. In this, Korean dramas such as Couple of the Buck track, Descendants of the Sun and Fight For my way that are streamed in partnership with O4 Media top the charts.

“On the release month, our international content gives us 20% of our content consumption. 21% of the streams of the month come from international content on the release month,” says Vasudev Koppineni, Head of Content and non-subscription revenue at Aha.

But like other trends, K drama craze is also a timebomb. Content diversity has always held the power to drive the entertainment industry for a limited time. Nevertheless, with rise of the use of smartphones and penetration of internet, more fresh and exciting content is needed to serve viewers across several platforms and formats.” In 2022, Viki increased the number of new licensed titles by 37% and investment in content by 17%,” says Paek.

But now, more often, viewers lament that there is too much to watch. “The proliferation never puts me off. I still look, select and watch,” says Collaco.

“The pandemic served as the starting point for the entry of international shows. Our research surveys show the specific interest in K dramas and Hollywood content enjoy top viewership. The demand is expected to be equal even if not more in the near future too,” says Koppineni.  

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