There's a new trend in South Korea, one of the most wired countries in the world.
In this fast-paced, smartphone-savvy society, many people are no longer watching their favourite dramas through the traditional medium of TV. Instead, they're watching shows on their smartphones. This has led to the birth of a new genre ― Web dramas.
Web dramas, consisting of 10- to 15-minute-long episodes and available only on the Internet, started out as a marketing tool for large conglomerates and public organisations.
But they're now becoming mainstream.
The government unveiled a plan to nurture the new genre as a driver of hallyu, and major broadcasters have already jumped into the game.
A new hallyu item?
The state-run Korea Creative Content Agency recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Naver, the nation's largest portal site, to help liven up its Web-based content, mainly through drama series.
KOCCA will focus on unearthing promising content and funding production, while Naver will offer its platform to make the series available to viewers.
"We are trying to create an environment where independent producers can produce Web dramas easily because such a model best fits today's ever-changing consumption trend," KOCCA president Song Sung-gak said through an official statement.
The agency is allocating between 500 million won and 700 million won ($452,000 and $632,800) to promote the Web drama industry this year, hoping the content can be exported to other countries, just like conventional TV dramas.
KBS, the state-run broadcaster, formed a partnership with Daum Kakao, the second-largest Web portal, on Monday to collaborate on creating Web drama.
On the same day, the broadcaster disclosed two Web-based series that will be released this March through KBS' recently created Web drama site, and the portal site Daum.
The dramas that will spearhead its efforts are "Love Detective Sherlock K" ― starring Kim Sung-kyu of Infinite and actress Han Chae-young ― and "Prince of Prince" ― based on the eponymous webtoon series.
"Web dramas are unconventional," said director Shin Joo-hwan of "Prince of Prince" at the press conference.
He said that the short length of the episodes makes them easy to watch.
"Also, the online platform allows many young people to watch them, which makes it possible to try out new and fresh ideas (in the dramas)," he continued. "I think that's why people are now shedding light on the industry."
Looking for a business model
Industry pundits expect to see Web-based dramas grow popular, as more people are opting to watch shorter content anytime and anywhere, in this era of "snack culture."
However, the field is still in its initial stages and lacks a profit model, they point out.
Most production companies barely cover their production costs, which usually exceed 100 million won, through company sponsorships and advertisements. In terms of profit, they receive less than 20 million won from portal websites for providing their content.
"That's why KBS is trying to push ahead with creating new Web-based content," said KBS producer Ko Chan-soo.
"We want to develop a solid profit model, because without it, the industry lacks sustainability," said Ko, adding that KBS will provide its platform and serve as a business partner to many production companies.
For this reason, many Web dramas are targeting the Chinese market to generate profit and cater to hallyu fans.
The Web drama "Dream Knight," coproduced by Korea's JYP Entertainment and Chinese video platforms Youku and Tudou, is currently available in both countries. Actor Kim Young-kwang and Sandara Park of 2NE1 are starring in a new Korean-Chinese Web drama titled "Dr. Mo Clinic," which will be released in March.
A KOCCA official who asked to remain anonymous noted that advertising revenue for Web dramas is currently insufficient. "But we are trying to find a good profit model with the portal sites and producers, such as a subscription services or IPTV sales," he added.
However, he believes that the Web drama market is still a favourable one for production companies, in comparison to regular TV dramas.
"For regular TV dramas, broadcasters usually take the copyright for the production of the content, but for Web counterparts, most production companies can keep their copyrights, which allows them to make a profit," he explained, adding, "As long as they can come up with a good profit model."