K-Dramas like Queen of Tears have been blowing up on NetflixTV10 / Wikimedia Commons (cropped) / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/deed.en

From the record-breaking Queen of Tears (2024) to the critically acclaimed Squid Game (2021), Korean drama has been the topic of discussions at college bars and the guilty pleasure of many fatigued Cambridge students. The sensation elicited by Korean dramas testifies that attractive actors tangled up in unresolvable family conflicts are a guaranteed formula for success. Netflix, as one of the streaming platform hegemons, is certainly aware of their appeal.

“Nowadays, Korean producers battle for the golden opportunity to collaborate with Netflix”

Launching its Korean service in 2015, the multinational enterprise rides on the bandwagon of Hallyu (the Korean Wave) by consistently churning out shows such as Kingdom (2019), It’s Okay to Not Be Okay (2020) and other staple romantic comedies like My Demon (2023) and Doctor Slump (2024). Indeed, the streaming platform helps turn Korean-language shows into international hits. But does global success come without any consequences? And what does the emergence of Netflix mean for the Korean television industry?

With over 200 million subscribers from 190 countries, Netflix has been instrumental in propelling Hallyu through its generous financial investments and active promulgation of K-culture to its international subscribers. Nowadays, Korean producers battle for the golden opportunity to collaborate with Netflix due to its flashy compensations and endorsement of unorthodox genres less welcomed by domestic television stations. Another advantage of Netflix is that it doesn’t rely on commercial revenue like traditional television stations, giving producers freedom over episode runtimes. Thus, they can explore their artistic visions without concern for overrunning into scheduled advertising slots.

“It’s not difficult to foresee the monopolisation of the Korean television scene by Netflix”

However, the overtaking of Korean drama production by Western platforms is not without its detriment. Recent discourse on “platform imperialism” has expressed concerns about foreign companies like Netflix promoting a trend of over-reliance on foreign investment within the Korean film industry. The discussion continues to spiral as Astory, the company that collaborated with Netflix to create Kingdom, has rejected the platform’s funding for its second season.

The vicious cycle begins when Netflix acquires the rights to intellectual property and global streaming in exchange for supplying the production costs. The streaming rights then become a stable foundation on which Netflix can build its insurmountable revenue, allowing the company to exponentially increase its investments in Korean drama productions.

Rightful compensation to creators is important, as we saw last year with the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA strikes in Hollywood. However, an avalanche of investments is not sustainable for Korean film and TV. As local production companies can only stream within the country, the small market size deters them from making big investments compared to what Netflix can offer.


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Conversely, global streaming platforms can diversify their investment risks at an international level, meaning that they will always triumph in terms of production budgets. It’s not difficult to foresee the monopolisation of the Korean television scene by Netflix. Productions without foreign investment are increasingly unfeasible due to the proliferating salaries of top producers and writers. Without top-tier actors and writers, the quality of local TV dramas plummets along with their viewership rates, leaving them unarmed when competing against streaming giants like Netflix.

For better or worse, global streaming platforms like Netflix are undoubtedly shifting the paradigm of the Korean film and television industry. As part of its ambitious vision for global domination, Netflix is transgressing domestic film industries one at a time. Today, it might be Korea; tomorrow, they may drive a stake through media production in Thailand or Japan. But there’s no denying that the spectacle of Hyun-woo dashing towards Hae-in in front of an explosive car was well worth the 56 billion won Netflix invested in Queen of Tears.