Aishwarya Ramesh

Why do Indian audiences relate strongly to dubbed Korean shows?

Their popularity was limited to the North East until Covid came along. Now several TV channels run K-dramas. Zing TV is the latest.

Zing TV will air ‘Hallyu Time’ between 6 and 7 p.m. on weekdays. It is a collection of Korean fiction shows dubbed in Hindi. 2022 marks Zing’s 25th year as a channel in the entertainment genre in India. It is one of the oldest channels in the genre.

Other than Zing, there are other channels in India that also air Korean shows dubbed in regional languages. Airtel Korean TV offers its DTH and digital viewers K-dramas dubbed in Hindi. Puthuyugam TV airs K-dramas dubbed in Tamil.

Zee also has a play in Korean content. Its channel Zindagi airs K-dramas dubbed in Hindi and Zee Cafe airs them in Korean, with subtitles. Arirang TV is dedicated exclusively to Korean content. It can be accessed through DTH subscription (Tata Sky, Airtel and Dish TV). On OTT platforms, dubbed Korean shows are available for viewing on MX Player, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+ Hotstar and Netflix India.

Originally, Zing was called Music Asia and it primarily offered music content. At the time, the big players in the music channel market were MTV and Channel V. MTV has now diversified into offering entertainment content and Channel V has shut down. Beyond music, Zing now offers movies and series.

Arghya Roy Chowdhary, chief channel officer at Zing, says that usually, people in the 15-30 age group sample his channel. He stresses on the fact that Zing is not a full-fledged Hindi or English GEC. The Korean shows that Zing will air include Fight For My Way, Angel's Last Mission and Meow The Secret Boy.

“There are certain aspects of these shows that revolve around that age space in life, which make it relatable to the viewers. For example, romance, comedy, horror, etc. Movies and music are a larger part of their life, so, we try to focus on content in and around that space which the audience can relate to.”

Arghya Roy Chowdhary
Arghya Roy Chowdhary

Big ticket advertisers like HUL and P&G are present on Zing. These advertisers also show their messages alongside Korean content. A lot of thought goes behind deciding the kind of content that should take up the prime time slot on a television channel. After all, it is the time when the maximum number of eyeballs are glued to the screens.

“We’ve been doing consumer research for the past 2-3 years, especially since the COVID pandemic struck and Korean content was at the back of our minds. It started becoming popular in India 2007 onwards. At that time, however, its popularity was limited to Northeastern states or metro cities like Mumbai or Bengaluru,” mentions Chowdhary.

“During COVID, when the production was stalled and we couldn’t produce original content for our channel, we focussed on acquiring content. When it came to acquisition, K-dramas were at the top of our minds because of their popularity among the audiences.”

Chowdhary adds that this influence had spilled over to music also. In fact, many viewers also describe Korean boy band BTS as their favourite band.

The first Korean show to be aired on Zing was ‘Boys Over Flowers’ - a teen drama. It was first aired at 2 p.m. Chowdhary noticed a 100% jump in Zing’s viewership at the time slot. He also observed that the time spent increased by around 25% on the free channel and by 45% on the paid platform.

Incidentally, Boys Over Flowers is one of the most viewed Korean drama shows in India. Squid Game, a horror survival drama series released on Netflix last year also sparked further interest in Korean content across the globe. According to Netflix, Squid Game raked in 1.65 billion hours of viewing, worldwide in 28 days following its September 17 premiere.

In April, Zing underwent an identity refresh. It shifted Korean shows to the prime time viewership slot. “Our GRPs also moved and we saw a 3x growth in viewership. It was a natural and logical choice based on research.” Zing’s free dish channel currently has 15-20 GRPs.

Chowdhary adds that other music channels chose to primarily focus on playing music at the prime time slot - which is between 5 and 7 p.m. Korean music is also popular globally, including India. As of December 2021, BTS, BlackPink, TWICE, Stray Kids were among the most streamed artistes globally on Spotify.

However, K-pop is not a space that Zing is going to move into right now. “We are still a Hinglish channel and Korean music is a part of a mixed space that we aspire to move into.”

According to Chowdhary, it is an advantage that Zing has, i.e., being available on a free dish platform. “Thanks to this, the content also reaches Tier-II and III cities such as Indore, Patna, Lucknow, etc. A large chunk of the channel’s audience is based out of these markets. Therefore, the audience relates to the content more if it is dubbed in Hindi, as opposed to it being subtitled in Hindi.”

Audiences galore

When it comes to GEC content - research in the past has revealed that the housewife may gravitate towards watching saans-bahu serials. “We were doing consumer research at a time when we weren’t airing Korean content on our channel and came across a young woman - the wife of a cab driver, who told us that she was sampling Korean shows. That’s when we knew we were onto something,” Chowdhary reveals.

Advertisers typically try to target early adopters whenever they release a new product in the market. Chowdhary says that these early adopters are the ones who are more progressive and likely to watch content in different languages - which has been the case for Korean content. He adds that 15-30 year olds might also not have unrestricted internet access and are more likely to watch it on television in that case.

Close to 50% of the Indian population is below the age of 25 and are part of Zing's TG. Apart from the 15-30 year olds, Chowdhary reveals, another TG that regularly consumes Zing’s content - office-going commuters, who watch it on their phones.

There is a vast library of Korean content available across genres, but the challenge, according to Chowdhary, is finding vendors who can help them acquire the content.

The popularity of the actors starring in K-dramas is one of the selection criteria that Zing uses to gauge if a show should be picked up. Also, Zing’s team closely follows what is trending in Korea to get an idea of the shows that are doing well - since the content appeals to Indians on a cultural level.

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