Is Korean—even for those who need subtitles—the language of love? DramaFever, which claims to be the largest importer of prime-time soap-styled dramas from South Korea, would say so.
The lion's share of DramaFever's U.S. viewers—and they are growing exponentially, per comScore's latest data—don't speak Korean. So millions of the New York-based Web company's visitors are regularly watching videos while their eyeballs also dart down to read the subtitles. And interestingly, the "K-dramas," in the vernacular of their fans, are especially popular with folks who speak Spanish first as compared to those who only know English.
David Gandler, DramaFever's vp of ad sales, has a layered theory on why the phenomenon is taking place. But most of it hinges on the open-mindedness of Gen Y.
"There is a rapidly changing demographical composition in the U.S., where Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans make up almost 40 percent of millennials," said Gandler. "Any millennial research report or insights study indicates an unprecedented level of tolerance, progressivism and a desire to make the world a better place."
He added, "Emerging technologies are lowering barriers for consumers to trial international content. [And], provocative titles from HBO and AMC are elevating viewer tastes."
Gandler's staffers work with Hulu and YouTube as part of their distribution scheme. The strategy makes sense, as a trickle of reports in recent years suggested that Korean dramas have been picking up steam in the U.S. for Hulu, YouTube and Netflix users.
The plan also seems to pay dividends for DramaFever.com traffic.
Reston, Virginia-based comScore said the site drew 3.4 million viewers in April—a 440 percent jump compared to the same month last year. DramaFever isn't verified with the market researcher and contends it actually averages nearly 6 million monthly viewers.
With those kinds of numbers, scores of big brands, such as Special K, Toyota, AT&T, Verizon and Samsung, have purchased ads for popular shows such as (in English) Triangle, Bridal Mask, Roommate, Fall In Love With Me, Angel Eyes and Big Man. The promos entail pre-roll and display, while DramaFever's marketing solutions team is working on native ad units as well.
The site licenses hit TV shows from Europe and Latin America in addition to Asia and re-runs them as long-form video. "We only license titles that have high production value and have managed to maintain a leading [share-of-voice] position in their home market during prime time," Gandler said.
In December 2013, DramaFever signed a deal to repurpose Telemundo's shows, expanding the former company's Spanish-language content. Also late last year, it debuted its first co-produced original show, a romantic-comedy dubbed Heirs—that's in Korean, of course.
So what's next for DramaFever? Gandler said he wants to "continue to offer brands an advertising tool kit that's on par with leading media companies for domestic as well as international audiences."
But whether his future shows can get the Twitterati talking like the K-dramas often do definitely remains to be seen.
In other words, as Korean speakers might say: 지켜봐 (Stay tuned).
Wait, wait, wait, dramafever is subbing Roommates?!?!?!?!! http://t.co/8Xjq4Tifh8 yes, never been so glad to have a premium account
— Lene (@sparkilene) May 13, 2014
I'm starting to learn korean because of the dramas I've been watching.
— h. (@spanksumin) May 14, 2014
Oh you know, instead of studying for my finals tomorrow, I'm watching korean dramas. #cantstopwontstop
— ☹ (@evnicepvrk) May 12, 2014
— Josh Horwitz (@horwitzjosh) May 8, 2014
Maybe I'll learn Korean faster if all I do is watch Korean dramas, right?
— Melisa Dilmen (@melisa_dilmen) May 7, 2014