Major Broadcasters Are Cancelling K-Dramas Mid-Production — Experts Explain Dwindling Releases

As OTT platforms face monetary difficulties, the once-booming K-Drama industry is grappling with series cancellations and restricted production budgets.

With the thunderous success of Netflix’s original series Squid Game in 2021, Korea’s television industry seemed to be at an all-time high. But just as the brightest day has the darkest shadows, Korea’s booming K-Drama scene is now facing an unexpected downturn. The culprits? Financial difficulties and dwindling production budgets among Over-the-Top (OTT) streaming services.

Squid Game | Netflix

Throughout 2022, Korean series flooded the global market, with a record-setting 160 series launched, a testament to the rising influence of K-Dramas. Yet, 2023 paints a different picture, with barely over 100 series confirmed for production.

The country’s major broadcasters — SBS, MBC, KBS, and tvN — have all pulled back, no longer reserving prime weekday slots for series. Networks are now gravitating towards a single two-day slot per week, usually over the weekend, resulting in numerous series being put on hold or canceled.

There’s a lot of series that were canceled during production.

— A local series director, shedding light on the industry’s crisis.

The Glory | Netflix

The driving force behind this downturn is the financial struggle OTT platforms are grappling with. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the OTT market experienced a boom as more viewers turned to streaming services for their daily dose of entertainment. This sparked aggressive investments in the race to secure original content. However, as competition within the OTT market heightened, profitability fell, and the once overzealous investment in content creation began to dwindle.

Now they are put in a situation where they can’t make aggressive investments like in the past. Hence, they are cutting down their budgets.

— Pop Culture Critic, Ha Jae Geun

The numbers from homegrown platforms, Tving and Wavve, provide a chilling perspective. Tving’s operating losses in 2022 amounted to around ₩119 billion KRW (about $94.3 million USD), a stark contrast to its ₩76.0 billion KRW (about $60.1 million USD) the previous year. Similarly, Wavve’s operating loss last year was ₩121 billion KRW (about $96.0 million USD), more than double the previous year.

Wavve CEO Lee Tae Hyun| Wavve

The financial tribulations of streaming services have sent ripples throughout the local broadcasting networks, too. Media giant CJ ENM, for instance, has reported a considerable deficit in its series and movie division this year.

As OTTs take a conservative stance on content production spending, local networks also bear the brunt.

We’re in a situation that we can’t afford without the investment from streaming platforms. So when the platforms downsize the funding, the networks discard the projects with which they are not sure of recouping the expenses.

— Local Director

The local industry is now focusing on the global market to bolster profits. However, according to critic Ha, survival in this shrinking market is contingent on improving the quality of content.

There’s nothing we can do about the reduction. So it all comes down to enhancing the quality of the content to survive.

— Pop Culture Critic, Ha Jae Geun

All of Us Are Dead | Netflix

As streaming platforms and networks reassess their strategies in this new era of financial restraint, K-Dramas may well need to pivot, focusing on quality over quantity to ensure their continued global influence.

Source: The Korea Times

All of Us Are Dead

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