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Leading South Korean OTT Platform Content Wavve CEO Talks $900M Originals Drive, International Roll-Out & Season 2 Of Hit Anthology Show ‘SF8’

Tom Grater
·7 min read

Streaming platform Content Wavve has established itself as the leading local player in South Korea through a smart strategy of commissioning buzzy originals, programming a varied spread of content, including hit Korean web dramas and comedies as well as non-scripted shows and linear channels, and offering attractive, discounted subscription packages.

Last month, the company unveiled plans to spend close to $900M (KRW one trillion) by 2025 to further expand its originals strategy, a sizeable investment that it hopes will give it the muscle to compete with its international rivals such as Netflix and Disney+ by making its own shows and films. As part of the plan, it will build its own content studio to boost its ability to produce in house.

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Deadline caught up with Content Wavve CEO Lee Tae-hyun to discuss the company’s ambitious goals. Below, he reveals to us that the service is planning to officially announce its international roll-out this year. He also discusses the originals push, confirming that the platform is exploring a second season of its hit anthology series SF8, which has been called the “Korean Black Mirror“.

DEADLINE: I understand Content Wavve is now the leading local OTT service provider in South Korea – how did you achieve that position?

Lee Tae-hyun: Content Wavve was established as a joint venture between SK Telecom and three terrestrial broadcasters, namely KBS, MBC, and SBS. Wavve has become a leading OTT service in Korea based on abundant media content secured from the broadcasters along with attractive promotional benefits provided to SKT’s subscribers which amount to nearly 50% of the Korean mobile market.

Wavve’s principal assets are non-scripted contents and blockbuster TV series created by terrestrial networks. Besides, we offer 120 live channels and more than 230,000 VOD TV shows and movies. Popular TV dramas and variety shows are available to users through the “Quick VOD” service, which enables users to watch a live episode in VOD.

DEADLINE: Can you tell us about your main competitors in Korea – is it the global players, or are there other strong local streaming services?

Lee Tae-hyun: With the video streaming market growing fast in Korea, global players are actively expanding to the Korean market. Netflix currently has the largest market share in Korea, while Disney+ is also preparing its first step to advance in the Korean market. Facing a fierce competition in the market, we have already secured competitive media content that can attract Korean audiences through a strong partnership with the top broadcasters and cable channel providers, and we are expanding our investment in original content. We are currently focusing on securing new subscribers and global expansion based on our powerful content.

DEADLINE: Your commitment to spend 1 trillion KRW on content by 2025 sounds impressive, can you tell us more about that plan?

Lee Tae-hyun: It would be difficult to disclose detailed investment plans at this time. At the beginning of this year, we were considering investments centered around TV drama series but now we are actively considering investments in tentpole original series and movies. Since the circumstances of the OTT market and the demands of OTT users are changing very dynamically, it might not be a wise choice to stick to a long-term plan in this field.

DEADLINE: Until now, how important has producing ‘originals’ been in your strategy?

Lee Tae-hyun: We believe the key competitiveness of OTT service is offering well-made content exclusively to users. Wavve unveiled its first original drama The Tale of Nokdo (the Joseon Dynasty romantic-comedy) in 2019. Produced and released in collaboration with the public broadcaster KBS, it was not only watched by many Korean viewers but also watched by viewers around the globe as it was sold to global broadcasters and OTT services.

Wavve released 16 titles of original dramas such as Alice, SF8 and Zombie Detective and we recently released a new title, Taxi Driver. Wavve also plans to release another original show, Go to the Blue House, a political comedy drama, which is produced by Wavve, in the second half of this year. Moreover, further tentpole dramas will be released at the end of the year.

DEADLINE: What type of content has been most successful on your platform to date?

Lee Tae-hyun: Wavve presents a bundle of TV series and original variety shows. In particular, SF8 is one of the original titles which means a lot to Wavve. It is the result of a collaboration between the film and broadcasting industry during last year’s COVID-19 pandemic situation. SF8 is an omnibus TV movie, a series of eight sci-fi films made by eight prominent Korean directors. Each episode covers diverse themes for the near future, for example: AI, AR, VR, robots, supernatural power, and natural disaster. More than 300,000 viewers have watched the series with in two weeks after the release. Exceptional results in the local market also led to invitations from the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival and the New York Asian Film Festival. We are considering an investment plan to present the second season and the spinoff series next year.

DEADLINE: What other types of content has been most successful on your platform? Do you feature international programming and if so, what have been your biggest international hits?

Lee Tae-hyun: The TV series The Penthouse: War in Life which was launched at the end of last year has been very popular in Korea. It exceeded Wavve’s previous streaming data traffic record. There is also Running Man, a variety show loved by viewers from many other countries. Since Wavve plans to officially announce plans to enter international markets this year, we expect to serve global viewers with strong media content line-ups.

DEADLINE: Content from Korea has also travelled successfully abroad in recent years, including films such as Parasite and a variety of TV shows on platforms such as Netflix, why do you think this is? And do you think it will continue?

Lee Tae-hyun: Korea has abundant stories from the long history and tradition, war and division, democratization and economic growth. For a long time, Korean TV and movie productions have actively developed media content based on these wide variety of unique narratives. In recent years, Korean webtoons and web novels have also grown to become great sources of media content.

With the unique narratives and stories continuously developed, I believe that more powerful and attractive Korean content that can entertain global audiences will be produced. Wavve is also preparing to build a content studio this year to provide more high-quality content by leveraging diverse production assets from IP holders, production companies, broadcasters and film makers of Korea.

DEADLINE: Can you give us some detail on the productions you have coming up this year?

Lee Tae-hyun: Wavve Original Go to the Blue House will be presented in the second half of this year. We expect this black comedy, satirizing modern politics, to provide freshness to viewers. Our most recently released title Taxi Driver is a story about a mysterious taxi company and its taxi driver who gets revenge for victims treated unfairly. The Youth of May is a human melodrama that tells a story about love that blossomed in the middle of a historical event, the democratic uprising of May 1980.

Besides the above we will present more TV series such as The Black Sun, You Raise Me Up and a reality TV show of K-pop stars, exclusively. We are preparing to present tentpole TV series by the end of this year. This plan will be specified after the establishment of Wavve’s content studio. They will be announced when the planning and casting is confirmed.

DEADLINE: Have you seen an increase in subscriber numbers and viewership during the pandemic? Can you provide some numbers?

Lee Tae-hyun: In the early stage of the pandemic, the number of Wavve subscribers and the revenues from movie sales significantly increased [Wavve is a SVOD service but also provides PPV movies]. Particularly, disaster movies related to contagious disease such as Contagion were popular. Moreover, people’s demands for live news channels to acquire regional Covid-19-related information has surged. As the pandemic prolonged, the use of OTT has been normalized gradually.

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