Global Media and Niche Audiences: Introducing Dramafever.com
By Xiaochang Li | January 28, 2009
Originally written for the Convergence Culture Consortium
On of the fascinating results of the increasing speed and accessibility of the present media landscape is that as the global reach of media content broadens, companies are becoming aware of increasingly fragmented, niched, and narrow audience segments. Such as the case with a new online VOD platform, dramafever.com, a hulu-esque service dedicated to providing high-quality streams of television content from East Asia to US audiences with small commercial interruptions from sponsoring advertisers. What makes this site a particularly interesting case to follow, beyond the explicitly transnational dynamic of the media content and audience (though due to licensing, dramafever.com can currently only provide content to users in the US), is the site’s ability and willingness to engage in the fandom as well as the history of the circulation of Asian drama content itself in relation to IP.
While still in beta, the service currently provides over a dozen of the most popular Korean dramas in recent years (including the shamelessly addictive Coffee Prince and My Lovely Sam Soon, the latter of which has been licensed for a remake by NBC), all subtitled in English, with plans to expand into a broader range of television content from across Asia. At the outset, they seem to be taking the right steps in engaging with the fandom at large, having announced the beta through a number of korean pop culture and drama fan blogs and encouraging people to submit requests for dramas that they would like to see the site host. In addition, though most of their subtitles are provided professionally by the content producers and broadcasters, they are also said to be in talks with popular kdrama fansubbing group With S2 to provide subtitles for less established dramas.
This move to collaborate with fansubbers is particularly inspired as fansubbers determine what is available and when, thus determining in many ways which dramas become popular with international audiences. In addition, fansubbing itself and the social protocols around circulating fansubs are taken very seriously within fandom. There has been some controversy in the past with sites such as crunchyroll.com which charges for certain services on the site, hosting user-uploaded fansubs that explicitly state they are not intended for any sort of commercial use.
Dramafever.com is also an interesting step in the well-established legacy of piracy “grey” markets for East Asian drama outside the countries of broadcast, which rose with the circulation of pirated VCDs and then moved online through fansubbing, torrents, and direct download providers such as megaupload and the Korean service Clubbox. While we have seen more traditional, broadcast efforts at tapping diasporic Asian-American audiences struggle in recent years, the online grey market circulation of streaming video and Asian drama torrents and downloads have been flourishing. Dramafever.com seems to seek to create a bridge between the two, bringing the appropriate broadcasting licenses and video quality together with the flexibility and responsiveness of the online environment expected by Asian drama fandom, and how it all plays out will provide critical insight into engaging and monetizing niche audience appeal.