Surplus Global Audiences and How to Court a Community: Insight from Dramafever.com

By Xiaochang Li | February 4, 2009

Originally written for the Convergence Culture Consortium

Last week I introduced Dramafever, a new content-distribution and community platform dedicated to bringing Asian entertainment content to the US (currently in closed beta) that is posing some interesting questions about engaging niche audiences in an increasingly global media landscape. This week, I had a chance to sit down for an informative phone conversation with the Dramafever founders, Suk Park and Seung Bak, about their goals, their tactics, and how they’re negotiating the space between fan communities and commercial interests.

Expect the full interview transcript in the near future, though for now (and for those of us pressed tight for reading time), after the cut is a brief summation of some of the stand-out revelations on how to approach established communities, unexpected surplus audiences and the broadening appeal of Asian entertainment, and what the future holds for global media flows online.

Asian Drama and Audience Engagement
One of the most provocative and compelling finding Park and Bak shared from their early data, was the fact that there was an unexpectedly large proportion of Asian drama fans and site visitors who were not of any sort of Asian decent. When the two first developed the idea for dramafever.com — they had noticed the enormous popularity of Korean dramas throughout Asia and in parts of the rest of the world, but there appeared to be a gap in the US market, where a majority of licensed Asian content (with Anime being a notable exception) was being distributed predominantly on premium satellite television stations and ethnic grocery stores. Even after taking stock of the flourishing online communities around the unauthorized circulation of Korean and Japanese dramas, they had expected their audience to be primarily Asian-American, and heavily Korean due to their currently all-Korean content and positioned themselves to advertisers accordingly.

What they discovered was that nearly half of their subscribers and fans were not of any discernible Asian lineage, and that the audience for Asian media was far broader than what the limited targeting of broadcast channels and grocery-store rentals suggested.
This finding, though preliminary and not strictly scientific, given the limited numbers of beta-subscribers (estimated around 13,000), fits in line with much of what I’ve found in my own research, regarding the much more ambiguous and diverse audiences in Asian drama communities that cannot be addressed by broadcast channels that target audiences based on a predetermined demographic. Furthermore, it suggests that online platforms are an ideal means to “test the waters” of new national markets and build a following for content without large capital investments, much in the way that unauthorized fan circulation of Anime in the 80s and 90s primed the market for its present mainstream popularity.

Community Relations
One of the seemingly obvious and yet refreshing tactics taken by Park and Bak when launching the project involved extensive familiarity with and observation of some of the central hubs of distribution and discussion around Korean dramas. They realized quickly that there was vast amounts of information available in terms of what dramas were popular with English-speaking audiences and why — they simply had to pay attention.
As a result, they’ve built a philosophy around being open with their audience, and highly responsive, listening to and soliciting suggestions from their users and from existing discussion forums.

Moreover, they seem to have taken on the controversy of monetizing fansubbed content in a straight-forward and thoughtful manner. The problem that other sites have faced with fansubbers, they suggest, is that they’re not in open communication with fansubbers when their fansubbed content is uploaded. The fact that these sites then make money from that content then exposes fansubbers to legal risk, without any consent or benefits on the part of the fansubbers. Dramafever.com seeks to avoid these problems, which often stir up bad blood between distribution sites and their audience base, by not only having licenses for the content (thereby negating the legal risk), but also opening up negotiations with fansubbers from the very start in regards to compensation and use of materials.

The future of global content
When asked about where they fit in between struggling satellite TV stations with their premium prices and limited content and fan-organized drama communities able to offer an immense range of unauthorized content, the pair stressed sustainability and quality as goal. They point out that unauthorized sites are wildly popular in part because they are filling a very real market need that wasn’t being seen to by licensed distributors. In comparing the situation to American mainstream media before readily available legal download sources like hulu.com, apple, and netflix, they suggest that the audience will follow the availability of content and the quality of experience.

“Even though we are at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to of content selection, we’re offering an experience that’s clearly superior to the illegal sites out there that’s winning over an audience,” Bak says, noting that they’re already seeing consistent traffic even in the closed beta stage, with significant spikes whenever there is new content uploaded.

More to the point, they suggest that these illegal distribution sources might not be sustainable in the long run. Not only does their unauthorized status prevent sites like mysoju.com from developing major sponsor relationships for revenue, “Most of these sites, because they are smaller operations, have to base their existing infrastructure on existing platforms” says Park. As a result, as sites such as Veoh and Youtube crack down on IP violations, content is lost, creating inconsistent user experiences.

Ultimately though, as much of what we discuss at C3 has shown, the audiences aren’t just getting content from any single distributor. “I think if you just look at the web in general, it’s not a zero-sum game,” says Park. Emails from viewers and other observation suggest that people who have already seen dramas from one site will watch them again on dramafever.com, thanks to the quality of video and the ease of use. “We’re not trying to become d-addicts or mysoju or these other places where people are hanging out. We’re trying to compliment the overall ecosystem of Asian entertainment consumption in this country.”

The future of global content
When asked about where they fit in between struggling satellite TV stations with their premium prices and limited content and fan-organized drama communities able to offer an immense range of unauthorized content, the pair stressed sustainability and quality as goal. They point out that unauthorized sites are wildly popular in part because they are filling a very real market need that wasn’t being seen to by licensed distributors. In comparing the situation to American mainstream media before readily available legal download sources like hulu.com, apple, and netflix, they suggest that the audience will follow the availability of content and the quality of experience.

“Even though we are at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to of content selection, we’re offering an experience that’s clearly superior to the illegal sites out there that’s winning over an audience,” Bak says, noting that they’re already seeing consistent traffic even in the closed beta stage, with significant spikes whenever there is new content uploaded.

More to the point, they suggest that these illegal distribution sources might not be sustainable in the long run. Not only does their unauthorized status prevent sites like mysoju.com from developing major sponsor relationships for revenue, “Most of these sites, because they are smaller operations, have to base their existing infrastructure on existing platforms” says Park. As a result, as sites such as Veoh and Youtube crack down on IP violations, content is lost, creating inconsistent user experiences.

Ultimately though, as much of what we discuss at C3 has shown, the audiences aren’t just getting content from any single distributor. “I think if you just look at the web in general, it’s not a zero-sum game,” says Park. Emails from viewers and other observation suggest that people who have already seen dramas from one site will watch them again on dramafever.com, thanks to the quality of video and the ease of use. “We’re not trying to become d-addicts or mysoju or these other places where people are hanging out. We’re trying to compliment the overall ecosystem of Asian entertainment consumption in this country.”

Some thoughts as Dramafever develops
The platform, of course, is still in development. They’re working out some bugs and implementing community-oriented interactive features. A couple of things on my wishlist as they move forward:

– Ability to share and embed clips and images taken from the videos, and easy screenshot tools to use while watching in order to facilitate what are known as “pimp posts” and recaps (like this one for the Korean version of Boys Over Flowers) that play a significant role promoting content.

– Places for fans to add their own self-created ancillary content: recaps, reviews, fanvids, fiction, etc.

– Tools or interfaces to schedule viewings with friends to share the experience, and possibly collaboration with services such as the open-source Boxee that Sheila just posted about recently.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Reddit
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • TwitThis

Leave Your Comment

Your email will not be published or shared. Required fields are marked *

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>