Sunday August 12, 2012
Just maad-uu for the Hallyu
By HARIATI AZIZAN
A Malaysian free video portal is one business venture that is riding the Korean wave to greater heights.
EVERY time the new football season starts, a mini war would break out in the Tan household.
“For three months or so (during the game's seasonal break), my Korean drama-addicted wife would get to hog the television on weekends. So, when the EPL (English Premier League) returns, it would be hard for her to give up her free pass, and we would have a tussle over the TV (remote) control,” says advertising executive Terence Tan.
The return of the EPL next weekend, however, will not see any war of the sexes over who “wears” the control at his house, thanks to the Internet.
The technology boom has changed the way people watch television, says Dennis Lee, chief executive officer of free online video streaming portal Maaduu.com.
Now most people do not rely on scheduled broadcast, recordings or DVD box sets to get their entertainment fix, notes Lee.
Viewers want to watch drama series and other shows at their own time and pace, making the Internet the go-to place for their TV leisure, he adds.
The Internet, which has changed people's TV-watching habit, is definitely the main factor driving the current surge of the Hallyu (Korean pop culture wave), something that the Korean entertainment industry has successfully harnessed for growth.
However, although they have honed the use of the Internet and social media network for publicity, the Korean entertainment industry has yet to conquer its main online competitors, the illegal sites, in the distribution of its content.
This is where the made-in-Malaysia (and Singapore) Maaduu.com, one of the few legal video-on-demand (VOD) sites in the world dedicated specifically to Korean entertainment, comes in.
Lee and two of his childhood friends hooked up with two Singaporean technopreuners to start Maaduu.com in early 2010.
“We followed the Web traffic and saw that Korean entertainment was the craze. We decided to serve the craze rather than create a new demand,” says Lee.
Now almost two years after its launch, it has built up a library of 200 drama titles totalling more than 2,500 hours and has signed up 1.1 million active members.
Their revenue comes from advertising, and they have been so successful that they have started to venture into the other nations in the Asia Pacific region, beginning with Singapore in July 2010, followed by Thailand. The Maaduu team have just returned from Indonesia after ironing out the final details to expand their coverage to Indonesia.
Early this year, Maaduu started its mobile and tablet service, which boosted the membership further. “Some 20% are watching Maaduu on their mobile devices, shares Maaduu managing partner Syed Yazrine Shahab.
Although there is a glut of Korean drama sites online, it is crucial that fans go to legal sites, Lee stresses.
“This way we can support the industry and if viewers love Korean dramas they too should support the industry by watching them on legal sites instead of robbing the actors and production houses. If we keep robbing the artistes, then there will be no more Korean dramas in the future,” says Lee.
A development that have attracted many Korean drama fans to Maaduu is its exclusive screenings of the latest dramas from South Korea's two biggest network broadcasters, KBS and MBC, just 24 hours after they are released in the native country.
Viewers now do not want to wait and want to watch their favourite dramas in real time, or as fast as possible, says Lee.
Unfortunately, although Maaduu has the rights to simulcast (broadcast simultaneously) with South Korea, they need to create the subtitles for local viewers, which is why there is “a lag of 24 hours” before the episode is uploaded onto the website.
Lee says their dedicated subtitling teams work hard to rush out the English, Malay and Chinese subtitles.
Maaduu was awarded exclusive rights from the Korean networks after they saw the portal's phenomenal growth, says Lee, and they hope to secure a deal with SBS, another big Korean network, soon.
While none of the Maaduu partners were Korean drama fans initially, Lee says that most of them are now.
“We wanted to understand why people were crazy about Korean entertainment and we indulged ourselves. Now, I too need to get my own Korean drama fix,” says Lee who claims that he can finish a whole 16-episode drama series in two days (16 hours of screening time).
“Now I'm very immersed in it, and I can understand why Malaysians are so crazy about it. It's an emotional experience that creates an emotional attachment not only to the characters and story lines but also the actors.”
While there is much talk about the waning interest in Korean entertainment by detractors, as well as the transient nature of pop culture, both Lee and Syed Yazrine are confident that the Hallyu trend will not go away anytime soon.
“It's still a niche but it's rapidly going mainstream, something that is reflected on Maaduu. There are enough fans to sustain the business,” says Lee.
Syed Yazrine believes the Korean entertainment industry is too innovative to die out.
“The Koreans are like Madonna. They keep re-inventing themselves to keep up with the times and keep relevant.”
Caught up in a Korean wave