Dark side of K-content boom: Unreleased films, dramas pile up

The drama production boom ignited by the global popularity of Netflix's 2021 'Squid Game' is now cooling off, with broadcasters cutting drama slots and OTT investments shrinking. Pictured is a scene from the  series' upcoming second season,  set to release in the latter half of this year. / Courtesy of Netflix

A shadow is being cast over the once-thriving Korean entertainment industry as a significant backlog of Korean dramas and films remains unreleased.In the aftermath of global successes like “Parasite” and “Squid Game,” the Korean film and drama industry finds itself in a paradoxical downturn, characterized by the pile-up of shelved films and dramas. The Korean Film Council reports approximately 130 films and dramas are in limbo, completed but without distribution in cinemas or through OTT platforms.This has led to a notable increase in unrecovered investments and a halt in new funding. The downturn is particularly striking in the domain of low-budget and independent films, a critical pathway for emerging talent, now facing daunting obstacles due to cuts in government support.Among the casualties of this downturn is the romance drama “Bad Memory Eraser,” featuring Kim Jaejoong of TVXQ/JYJ and actress Jin Se-yeon, completed in early 2022 but still awaiting its premiere. Despite the considerable interest it generated, especially from international markets like Japan, finding a domestic platform for release has proven difficult. This issue is not isolated, with “Bogota” starring Song Joong-ki and “The Blue House Family,” featuring Cha In-pyo also completing production in 2021 but yet to find an audience.

The COVID-19 pandemic’s lingering effects and the rapid rise of OTT platforms have significantly disrupted traditional distribution channels, leading to an unprecedented scenario where over a hundred projects are completed but stranded without a platform for release.This glut has resulted in a stark increase in unrecovered investments and a freeze in new funding, particularly impacting the sector of low-budget and independent films — a critical pathway for emerging talent now facing severe challenges due to slashed government support.The industry’s struggles are also affecting production staff, with an increase in unpaid wages as projects fail to secure distribution. “Last year, the number of wage theft cases reported by drama production staff reached 192 — 2.6 times the annual average of 72,” says Hong Tae-hwa, a senior official of the Korean Film Sinmungo, an actors’ rights organization, highlighting the financial instability within the sector.A notable factor contributing to the industry’s challenges is the dramatic increase in actor fees, driven by the competition among global OTT platforms for top talent. This competition has led to a surge in 메이저 production costs, further straining the financial resources of production companies.

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