Can East And Southeast Asian Dramas Compete With American Dramas?

Can East And Southeast Asian Dramas Compete With American Dramas?
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The entertainment industry is one of the most successful and booming industries across the world, especially when it comes to extending the cultural aspects of a country during this era of globalisation. The American entertainment industry has been at the forefront of this movement. We are familiar with the popularity that sitcoms like F.R.I.E.ND.S, The Big Bang Theory, or movies like the Iron Man and La La Land enjoy!

One of the reasons why the American entertainment industry became sought after was that it gave an idea of how modernisation looks. It also provided a haven for multilingual people to explore their own cultures and languages. According to the 2018-2023 Entertainment & Media Outlook by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the industry is expected to reach a valuation of more than $825 billion by 2023, which only tells us how successful it is. But does it not face any competition?

There has been an increase in the popularity of the Asian entertainment industry worldwide in recent years, especially East Asian shows – South Korean dramas specifically – and the Southeast Asian productions. The dramas created are increasingly resonating with not just Asians but also Americans. Apps or streaming sites such as the Apple TV and Netflix showcase a variety of dramas from countries like China, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. An American streaming site and app used across the world – Viki, which is a subsidiary of the Japanese company Rakuten – specifically has an assortment of East and Southeast Asian dramas and movies. It generated around $17.1 million in revenue in 2021. 

The “Korean Wave”, known as “Hanyru” in Korean and more popularly by the Chinese name “Hallyu”, has been a driving force to extend South Korea’s pop culture across the world. It is seen mostly by the increase in the popularity of K-pop, i.e. Korean popular music, but the Korean dramas are equally contributing to this phenomenon. Since early 1999, it has become one of the biggest cultural phenomena across Asia, contributing an estimated $12.3 billion to the country’s economy as of 2019, making the country the world’s 12th largest economy. The COVID-19 pandemic has also aided to this growth, with Netflix premiering Asian shows to almost 190 countries!

The growth of dramas can be attributed to the quality of content they provide. Unlike American dramas, these series generally tend to show a more realistic setting and plot with characters upholding high and appealing morals. They also don’t seem to follow the general gender roles that American shows end up providing – especially when it comes to the distinction between masculine and feminine qualities and beauty standards. Romance is also an important factor. Korean dramas are not limited to displaying instant infatuation but rather slow and growing relationships that narrate stories based on understanding. This can be gauged from the shows presented on Netflix and Rakuten Viki. Some examples of such shows are: Because This Is My First Life, Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo, Hospital Playlist, and When the Camellia Blooms, among others.

Netflix usually has at least one East Asian drama in its top ten list. Presently, Netflix is seeking to invest about $500 million in South Korea to crack the Asian market. The platform has created about 80 original productions in the nation and its schedule shows more upcoming movies and TV shows. Apart from Netflix and Viki, Chinese platforms like iQIYI and WeTV are also gaining recognition across the world with their assortment of mainly Chinese but also East and Southeast Asian dramas. In the first quarter of 2021, iQIYI reported a total revenue of $1.2 billion. Tencent Video, the parent company of WeTV, plans to launch a talent agency in Southeast Asia, seeking to become Asia’s dominant streaming platform.

The entertainment industry in Southeast Asia is fast growing. While Japan is already known for its anime content, South Korea is becoming popular not only for its music but also dramas. At the same time, Thailand has emerged at the forefront with its LGBTQ+ community centric content. The industry, like the American industry, doesn’t fail to show content that appeals to the sentimentality of people. Apart from modern elements and fair representation of different types of working environments, the dramas also focus on important social issues such as bullying, discrimination, income inequalities, mental health and so on.


Read more: On-Screen Representation: How Grey’s Anatomy Goes Beyond Romance, Drama & Medicine


They also try to inculcate the idea of modernisation while retaining the traditional elements of the country’s past such as including some mythological elements, which makes them even more appealing. Traditional Chinese dramas also narrate the nation’s mythologies and histories beautifully, which also appeals to many gamers. Furthermore, the production, casting, acting along with accurate looks achieved with makeup and set design, combined with  music and post production, all contribute to increasing the content satisfaction experienced by the people.  

It isn’t uncommon to see Asian movies topping the box office. An article by Variety mentions how top hits in most countries are mostly local, slowly rising above the dominance of American movies. While it’s difficult to provide a definite answer on whether these Asian industries can overthrow the American industry, it can definitely lead to more increased revenues and box office hits, also effectively encouraging the American industry to employ a more diverse cast in their productions to serve a heterogeneous population.

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