For more than a decade, Korean dramas — better known shorthand as K-dramas — often has their directions decided for them in accordance to its core audience, the Korean K-drama fans. However, times are changing and the Korean audience, though considered the core audience, is no longer the majority. Because of South Korea’s movement to increase Korean culture internationally known as Hallyu or the Korean Wave, there are more fans living in international or foreign countries than those living domestically in South Korea. As a result, there is now a great divide among K-drama fans: the Koreans and the international viewers.
To truly see the affect of the great divide among K-drama fans, all one has to do is compare and contrast the popularity of two period dramas currently airing. They are Scarlet Heart Ryeo on the Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS) and Moonlight Drawn by Clouds on the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS).
Scarlet Heart: Ryeo, also known by its other numerous titles including Scarlet Heart, Scarlet Heart: Goryeo, Moon Lovers, and Time Slip: Ryeo, is the period K-drama adaptation of the popular Chinese drama or C-drama Scarlet Heart which aired back in 2011. Starring Lee Joon Gi and IU, it is about a modern woman named Ko Ha Jin (IU) who is transported back in time to the Goryeo Dynasty in Korea. She wakes up in the body of Hae Soo encountering many important figures of the time including those living in the palace. She starts somewhat of a relationship with Eighth Prince Wang Wook but later falls in love with Fourth Prince Wang So (Joon Gi) while rivalries and politics ensue among the other princes for the throne.
Moonlight Drawn by Clouds, also known as Love in the Moonlight, is another period K-drama currently airing based on the story of the same name authored by Yoon Yi Soo. Starring Kim Yoo Jung and Park Bo Gum, it is a coming-of-age story about the Crown Prince Lee Yeong (Bo Gum) growing from a boy to a revered monarch. It also details his unique and peculiar relationship with Hong Sam Nom (Yoo Jung) a eunuch serving the in the palace who happens to be a woman in disguise.
Both K-dramas are very popular, but that depends on which group of K-drama fans we are talking about. Starting with the domestic fan base, the Koreans, Moonlight Drawn by Clouds is by far one of the most popular K-dramas currently airing. As of the airing of the 11th episode, the viewership ratings both in the Seoul National Capital Area and nationwide are about 20 percent average among AGB Nielsen Korea and TNS Media Korea. Unfortunately for Scarlet Heart: Ryeo, it has passed the double-digit ceiling only once with its second episode. In short, Moonlight Drawn by Clouds is popular among Koreans while Scarlet Heart: Ryeo is not.
Though Scarlet Heart: Ryeo is unpopular among Koreans, it is dominating the viewership internationally. According to a report by DramaFever News, the period K-drama recorded a record-breaking 300 million viewers in China over the course of three days starting on the day of its debut on Youku. It surpassed the initial debuts of both Descendants of the Sun and Uncontrollably Fond. Eventually, Scarlet Heart: Ryeo surpassed one billion views as of September 21, made known by Lee Joon Gi on his official Instagram in a “thank you” post. These numbers are favorable for the Chinese streaming site because it is the most expensive K-drama Youku has bought, with a total of $8 million USD. That is about $400,000 paid per episode.
It should also be noted that Scarlet Heart: Ryeo is the second most watched K-drama in North and South America exclusively through DramaFever. A spokesperson for the company made it known that Scarlet Heart: Ryeo has been their No. 2 show on the popular streaming site with over two million views since its premiere. The only K-drama surpassing it is Cinderella and Four Knights.
The question that needs to be asked is why is Scarlet Heart: Ryeo more popular among one certain group of K-drama fans while Moonlight Drawn by Clouds is more popular with another? The answers lie in the content. Without really spoiling either show, the former is melodramatic showing more suspense and action. There is more a sense of seriousness with the series. The latter is more light-hearted, in which dialogue and situations between characters can be very comedic. This does not mean Scarlet Heart: Ryeo is wholly serious, and Moonlight Drawn by Clouds is wholly light-hearted. There are parts in both K-dramas that deviate from their primary genres.
Ultimately, the fact there are K-dramas that cater specifically to Korean K-drama fans while others do the same to internationally K-drama fans shows that South Korean television is taking into account not all of their viewers are domestic. Their willingness to incorporate international fans’ preferences shows their willing to expand. To be frank, such a move is smart because the last thing Korean television, or Hallyu in general, wants to do is implode on itself, similar to what happened to Japan with J-pop and anime.
Scarlet Heart: Ryeo airs on Mondays and Tuesdays at 10 p.m. KST on SBS. For those who do not have access to it, the series can be viewed for free, with ads, exclusively on DramaFever. Take note the latest episodes, starting with the third episode, are exclusive to premium members for one week. Moonlight Drawn by Clouds airs the same as the aforementioned on KBS. For those who do not have access to it, the series can be viewed for free, with ads, exclusively on Viki.
[Featured Images by Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS) and Korean Broadcasting System (KBS)]