Korean dramas find new market in Central, South Americas

February 10, 2014


“Empress Ki” which are recently gaining popularity in Central and South Americas. (Korea Times file)

“Empress Ki” which are recently gaining popularity in Central and South Americas. (Korea Times file)

By Chung Ah-young

Korean television dramas know no boundaries in garnering popularity. From Asia to the Middle East, and now to the Central and South Americas, the dramas continue to attract new audiences.

A limited number of Korean soap operas were first exported to Central and South American countries some 10 years ago but over the past three to four years, the number has grown with regional television networks showing interest in them.

According to the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA), an increasing number of dramas were purchased by countries in this region at the 2014 National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE), the region’s largest market and conference, held from Jan. 26 to 29 in the United States.

Six Korean broadcasters and entertainment companies took part in the event. KBS Media sold nine dramas including “Spring Waltz” to Crunchyroll, an online U.S. distributor, while MBC’s “Empress Ki,” a current hit epic drama starring Ha Ji-won was purchased by Peru’s Panamericana TV and Panama’s SERTV.

“My Fair Lady”

“My Fair Lady”

SBS International’s “Loving You Thousands Times” has been sold to TV stations in Ecuador, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Bolivia and Mexico.

KOCCA’s U.S. office held a business meeting with some 20 representatives from Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, Panama and Puerto Rico to promote Korean dramas during the NATPE. The office said that Mauricio Navas Talero, vice president of Fox Telecolombia, showed strong interest in the dramas at the meeting.

“The regional market has great potential for Korean dramas as its population is very high and the viewers use the same language. We need more efforts and investment to make good use of the market,” Kim Il-joong, director of the office, said in a press release.

He also pointed out that the Korean dramas are akin to “telenovela,” referring to “television novellas” favored by Spanish and Portuguese viewers, in the development of stories and emotional scenes. “They seem to be attracted to Korean dramas as they are accustomed to telenovelas. We will introduce the Korean content to the region more actively through more screenings of Korean dramas in LA.,” he said.

“Stairway to Heaven”

“Stairway to Heaven”

SBS’s “Stairway to Heaven” starring Kwon Sang-woo and Choi Ji-woo has garnered a huge number of viewers in the region after it was aired on Mundo Fox, a Hispanic channel, which is keen on promoting Korean dramas not only with television but also through YouTube. After the successful results of Stairway to Heaven, Telemundo International is considering airing additional Korean dramas.

KBS’s “My Fair Lady” was ranked second in the viewers’ rating among the whole programs in Red Guarani, a television station in Paraguay since it started airing it in 2012. The broadcaster also aired “Coffee Prince” and “Princess Hours.” Red Guarani has run Korean dramas such as “Autumn in My Heart,” “Winter Sonata,” “Jewel in the Palace” since 2006.

Coffee Prince and Princess Hours started airing on SERTV in Panama in July 2012. In Panama, a special program for hallyu was recently broadcast once a week, while in Chile, fans of Korean dramas are in their 10s or 20s who are already fans of K-pop.

In Peru, the average rating of Korean dramas hovers around six percent, much higher than two percent for locally produced dramas. Peruvian viewers were particularly fond of Autumn in My Heart, which was first broadcast on TV Peru in 2007 and re-aired by the network recently. TV Peru also broadcast “Jewel in the Palace” between late 2008 and 2009. There are more than 60 hallyu fan clubs there.

In Mexico, “Winter Sonata,” “My Lovely Samsoon,” “All About Eve,” “Autumn in My Heart,” “Star in My Heart” and “Four Sisters” were aired on the country’s public channel Mexiquense. Viewership of Korean dramas has been picking up in neighboring countries like Costa Rica, Venezuela, Peru and Puerto Rico as well.

Regarding this growing acceptance of Korean dramas, online sites related to hallyu including Korean dramas and broadcasters’ events are being created, KOCCA said.

“Many viewers have an affinity with Korean dramas as they feature complicated plots and emotional portrayals of characters as in telenovelas. But at the same time they think the Korean dramas deal with family life, friendship and romance in a decent way. They are less sexual and violent than other products,” the office said.

This allows them to reach across a wider age-range and interestingly, the ability to tell a story of love without the help of sexualized images appears to be an important reason that Korean dramas are winning over more American viewers, KOCCA said.

However, it pointed out that despite the soaring popularity of Korean dramas, illegal Internet downloads are emerging as a nuisance and more access to major streaming sites such as Netflix.com are needed to boost their further spread in the region.


  1. thorn

    April 26, 2015 at 11:55 AM

    I am so frustrated. I cannot purchase Out OF Print (OOP) Korean Drama. Why does MBC sit on a GOLDMINE of drama and not exploit this. Yi San, Dong Yi, Dae Jang Geum and who knows what else they keep from us.. by not producing and selling these fantastic drama’s. MBC is CRUEL. They should make their work Public Domain if they will not sell it.

    • Michael Do

      August 25, 2015 at 9:17 PM

      Uh, you can watch them online. You do know that.

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  3. 2017

    June 24, 2017 at 8:33 AM