How DramaFever Turned Subtitles Into a Multimillion Dollar Business

SoftBank buys Asian streaming site for up to $140 million

DramaFever knew it had a hit when it started its business of streaming international TV shows even though the majority of its audience didn't yet know about the Asian dramas that were set to take over their lives and screens. Five years later, the online platform has grown to encompass an audience of more than 20 million unique monthly viewers—and a lucrative multimillion dollar acquisition. 

Today, the company announced that it had been purchased by Japanese mobile communications giant SoftBank Group. While terms of the deal were not disclosed, re/code reported that sources had the purchase price pegged at between $80 million to $140 million. In addition to SoftBank, AMC Networks and IAC were allegedly interested in the streaming portal.

"Media worldwide is a half a trillion dollar industry, and it's gradually shifting online. You could think of it as we're building a next generation television brand online," explained DramaFever co-founder and co-CEO Seung Bak.

Bak, who grew up overseas, said the idea for DramaFever started when he noticed the die-hard, non-Asian fans of Asian dramas who had been working together online to create subtitles, fan pages or forums where they could share illegal download links for content. "It was strangely beautiful to me. It indicated massive demand," he said.

In 2009, he and his business partner Suk Park decided to create a portal that would make it easier to legally stream international programs. After cold-calling Asian production companies, they finally got the rights to 10 Korean movies, all of which ranged from two to three years old.

Today, the site has upward of 15,000 episodes and 700 titles. Much of the prime-time content appears on the site the same day as it airs in its native country. Users can either view ad-supported content for free, or they can pay $10 a month to watch shows without any commercials.

With SoftBank's help, Bak hopes that DramaFever can expand even further. He wants to delve more into co-producing content and packaging shows as merchandise to a global audience. "We're excited to be able to work with different types of content. I think we'll be able to build a really large business,” he said.