ⓕ font-size

  • -2
  • -1
  • 0
  • +1
  • +2

Korean reality shows surge onto global stage

  • Facebook share button
  • Twitter share button
  • Kakao share button
  • Mail share button
  • Link share button
From left, posters for the music shows,
From left, posters for the music shows, "I Can See Your Voice," and "King of Masked Singer," and the dating show, "EXchange 2" / Courtesy of Mnet, MBC, Tving

Korean unscripted show formats see high demand in global market

By Lee Gyu-lee

Korea has been taking center stage in the global entertainment industry, enjoying a boom with hit movies like "Parasite," series such as "Squid Game" and a wave of K-pop artists including BTS.

However, one area of entertainment, has, in the past, struggled to break through until now. Unscripted, reality TV shows have often failed to translate into major global successes, largely due to the language barrier and cultural differences as well as failing to present themselves as interesting and appealing to global audiences.

Yet, more recently, Korean unscripted shows have been steadily garnering the spotlight from networks and production companies around the world, which are interested in buying the program formats in order to remake them in their own countries.

According to a content industry report by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism released this year, the total revenue of media content formats sold abroad jumped to about $12.88 million in 2020 from $9.84 million in 2017.

A scene from the MBC's music competition show,
A scene from the MBC's music competition show, "King of Masked Singer" / Courtesy of MBC

U.K.-based media consulting firm, K7 Media, reported that Korea accounted for 10.1 percent of unscripted show sales volume in 2020 in the world, the third highest along with the United States, following the U.K. at 42.1 percent and the Netherlands at 10.3 percent.

Until recently, there have been only a few cases where Korean show formats were brought, remade abroad and achieved success, like tvN's travel show "Grandpas Over Flowers." The show was sold to NBC in 2016 and was remade as "Better Late Than Never," which aired for two seasons.

Then, a huge breakthrough came when MBC's music competition show, "King of Masked Singer," accomplished enormous success with its U.S. remake, "The Masked Singer," by the Fox network in 2019.

The show, about celebrities performing in costumes ― so as to conceal their identity ― has inked format distribution rights in over 50 countries until now and has been the world's best-selling format for three consecutive years, according to K7 Media.

Fox has picked up the music show for the eighth season, which kicked off last month. The show has also been remade through other global networks like Prosieben in Germany, which aired its seventh season this month, and RAI in Italy. The U.K. network ITV also adapted the original format creating a dance competition version show called, "The Masked Dancer," earlier this year.

At this year's LA Screening, an international content market event held in May, the show's format was also sold to networks in Latin American countries, including Bolivia.

The show's massive success around the world has led its original creator Park Won-woo, the CEO of dITurn, to become the first Asian to receive the highest honor, Gold Award, at this year's International Format Awards.

A scene from the sixth season of Fox's singing competition show,
A scene from the sixth season of Fox's singing competition show, "The Masked Singer" / Courtesy of Fox

"Korean reality shows are up to take risks in various aspects … The viewers are responding to that and this allows Korean content to go global," Rob Wade, the CEO of Fox Entertainment, who is behind the success of the remake show, said during a conference at the broadcasting content market, Broadcast WorldWide (BCWW), last year.

"Generally, the western media industry tends to be reluctant to take risks. On the other hand, creators of Korean reality shows have a high understanding of unscripted shows which makes (the programs) unique and original," Wade added.

The show's executive producer, Craig Plestis, the CEO of Smart Dog Media, added that the easy-to-follow format of Korean unscripted shows is the reason behind the success.

"Korean unscripted show formats have been having huge success around the world, not just in the U.S. … As more people stay home to watch TV due to COVID-19, simple yet interesting Korean shows that they can gather around to enjoy are becoming a success," he said.

Media giant CJ ENM has also been making deals for several of its programs, like its music show "I Can See Your Voice," which has been running for nine seasons.

The music game show, about celebrity judges guessing skilled or bad singers without hearing them, has been sold to over 27 countries, including the ones that used to be considered unfamiliar with Korean content like Bulgaria, Estonia, and Lithuania.

A scene from the U.S. remake of CJ ENM's music game show,
A scene from the U.S. remake of CJ ENM's music game show, "I Can See Your Voice" / Courtesy of Fox

CJ ENM's survival game show, "The Genius," which ran for four seasons, was recently made into a local adaptation in the Netherlands, which went on air earlier this month. The Korean media company also sold its hit dating show, "Exchange," in eight countries, including Japan, Spain and the U.S.

Adam Steinman, the vice president of Creative, Format, Development & Sales at Warner Bros. International Television Production, noted that the cost-effectiveness of Korean show formats draws interest from global buyers, especially in the U.S. and the U.K.

"Korean unscripted show formats hold high quality to produce but have comparably lower prices that only takes a small portion of what the U.S. or U.K shows would cost. So it makes them more accessible for the networks to buy them," he said during a conference at BCWW, held in August.

"Korean viewers relate on the same page as global viewers, so if the show made a success in Korea, it would also be highly likely for it to succeed in other countries like Germany, France and New Zealand, which means taking lower risks," Steinman added.

Adding that the U.S. networks are now looking for the next "The Masked Singer," he said more and more networks are seeking to adopt Korean shows.

"We are working with Korean networks with their initiatives and their script writing competition, and talking to them about getting involved in the very early stage. So we're looking for very diverse stories: the ones that tell a very strong diverse tale," he said. "We just want great ideas and we're finding a lot of them coming from Korea. And we're excited for the next year."
Lee Gyu-lee

Interactive News

  • Dark Truth of E-6
  • E-Prix thrills racing fans in Seoul
  • With tough love,
  • 'Santa dogs' help rebuild burnt forests in Andong
  • 'Santa dogs' help rebuild burnt forests in Andong

Top 10 Stories

go top LETTER