The Main Draw: Why Nobody Takes K-Drama Community More Seriously than Rakuten Viki
And how it sets itself apart from other streaming platforms
PHOTO CREDIT: Company Courtesy
One comedy-drama that depicts the growing global phenomenon that is Korean Drama (K-drama): the aptly-titled Dramaworld.
A 2016 series set in Los Angeles, United States, and Seoul, South Korea, Dramaworld follows the adventures of geeky American college student Claire Duncan, whose glued-to-the-screen fixation on Taste of Love somehow gets her magically sucked into her smartphone and transported into her favorite K-drama, interacting not only with her idol Joon Park (played by actor Sean Dulake) but with other K-pop and K-drama stars like Choi Siwon and Han Ji-Min.
As silly and surreal as Dramaworld’s plot is, the satire perfectly captures the aftereffects of hallyu—the two-decade long Korean wave that’s driven everyone from Asia to Europe and the Americas to embrace South Korean pop culture. Seen in everything from the rise of K-pop and K-drama stars to worldwide fame, to the dominance of Korean beauty products in the cosmetics industry, hallyu pretty much left no stone unturned—its success not only benefiting the country from which it came, but spurring opportunities for brands and companies that leveraged on the phenomenon.
Among such start-ups is Rakuten Viki, the Singapore-founded OTT platform behind Dramaworld. Acquired by Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten in 2013, Viki is a powerhouse in the OTT space, with its content comprising over thousands of TV shows and movies, majority of which are Korean and Asian drama.
“Korean dramas are definitely the key driver in terms of Viki’s growth right now,” relates Clara Kim, head of brand and communications for Rakuten Viki. “I think it’s both intentional and serendipitous that as Viki was growing as a start-up, the hallyu wave was really picking up, and with that wave came not just K-drama but K-pop which is really huge now in the United States,” says Kim.
With K-pop idols venturing into the business of K-dramas, it isn’t surprising that “Idol Dramas” are among the most popular content consumed by the over 40 million people from around the world coming to the platform. While “very strong” in Asia, Kim relates Rakuten Viki is actually strongest outside the continent. In the United States, non-Asians—Hispanics, African-Americans, and Caucasians—comprise more than 60% of its viewing audience, with 85% of the group belonging to the Millennial and Gen Z generations. “What’s surprising about the younger generation is they’re very open-minded—they see content for the quality of the content and don’t mind that the stars look different than they do,” says Kim.
These days, Rakuten Viki is in the swim of things. With trends pointing to a surge in interest in genres spanning drama-romances and romantic comedies, and as a lot of K-dramas happen to fall under these categories, Kim says there’s a “growing market or demand for more romantic comedies catered toward teenagers, and Viki happens to carry the content focusing on the market segment right now.”
Ask any Viki fan what differentiates it from other OTT platforms and chances are they’ll say Viki is more about creating engagement. A portmanteau of “video” and “wiki”, Viki sets itself apart from such OTT platforms as Netflix and iflix as people visit the platform to not only watch, but translate and subtitle its shows into more than 200 languages including Tagalog, Portuguese, Romanian, Finnish, Arabic, and Hebrew.
While not monetarily compensated—Rakuten Viki merely provides the subtitling platform and technology for fans to optimize workflows—active subtitlers are afforded a wide range of perks like free subscription to Viki and special access to videos like Viki Originals.
The platform also has several embedded features that further encourage community, informs Makoto Yasuda, Rakuten Viki’s SVP of Revenue and Head of Community. “Apart from subtitling, we have what we call ‘timed comments’ wherein fans leave comments directly on the video and they get to see comments from other fans around the world,” says Yasuda, adding that the big idea is to develop a more “social” viewing experience.
“Users’ behaviors show they not only love viewing our content, but they’re keen to do so with other people and friends,” Yasuda points out, adding Rakuten Viki is expanding its engagement activities beyond subtitling and introducing features that incentivize users to leave more reviews and comments, and recommend shows to each other via a private messaging function.
“Our community has a gamification component to help keep fans engaged,” he says.
Insights culled from data gathered from these activities are provided to Rakuten Viki’s content partners, making Viki a platform that gives content producers “the right feedback to determine which content are most well-received by the community, and which distribution strategies are most effective,” says Yasuda.
As Rakuten Viki further grows its fanbase on its platform—and with the sudden shutdown by Warner Media of its biggest competitor DramaFever, there’s bound to be a substantial number of K-drama fans jumping ship—Yasuda says they’re able to provide their content partners even more accurate insight on which content to produce and in which region to distribute these more effectively. With an average of more than 90% growth year over year in subscriber count, Yasuda is bullish on Viki’s prospects. “Even if other platforms have the exact same content as ours, fans still come to us—initially to watch content, but they stay on us for community. And for our content partners, that’s going to be a longer term revenue stream,” he ends.