BH Discuss: Would Hallyu ever be possible without piracy?
Have you ever watched a K-Drama with fanmade subtitles online? Have you ever streamed a K-pop album uploaded to YouTube by a fan? Have you ever watched a clip of a live music show performances online which wasn’t uploaded by the broadcaster? You probably answered yes to at least one of these questions. All are examples of illegal piracy which has become an increasing problem for media companies around the world.
Rampant piracy is a massive headache for the K-pop industry particularly as Korean music streaming services have resorted to selling music at ridiculously low prices to attract pirates to buy music legally. While prices doubled this year, that still brings them up to only one tenth of the cost of iTunes which was enough to turn off many consumers. This lack of profitability is one of the biggest reasons Korea has been pushing Hallyu so much in the first place.
But equally, without international piracy, would Hallyu even exist? Outside of the countries whose broadcasters buy the rights for Korean dramas, for many non-Korean speakers the only way to watch these dramas is by streaming dramas which have been uploaded and subtitled by fans. A huge part of K-pop fandom is a feeling of connection to individual idols largely created by watching fan-subtitled clips of their various variety shows appearances.
It seems many media companies choose to turn a blind eye to much of this piracy but many are starting to crack down on it or offer their own legal alternatives. KBS has started uploading subtitled versions of their shows to YouTube, MNET is streaming more and more of their shows with subtitles through their website and SBS has been cracking down on uploads of Inkigayo performances while providing their own on YouTube. K-pop companies are trying to maximise the revenue they can make from their official YouTube accounts. Dedicated legal video streaming services like DramaFever and strategic partnerships with existing streaming services such as Hulu offer consumers legal alternatives to piracy but most of these services are restricted to certain countries (usually North and/or South America).
As we pointed out in a recent article, Korea reported a surplus of cultural exports for the first time in 2012 i.e. more cultural content was exported that imported, mostly as a result of Hallyu. Yet, undoubtedly even more of this content was consumed in a way which resulted in no return for anyone involved in production. However, on the other hand, for companies without the resources to host and subtitle all this content, fansubbers act as a form of free labour spreading Hallyu across the globe at no cost to its producers. Many of the consumers of this illegal material then go on to spend a lot of money on other content, events and merchandise.
So the question is: could Hallyu ever sustain itself without illegal piracy? Would it be possible for companies to find a legal alternative to much of this piracy which would result in more profit going back into the industry? Does piracy in some forms act as a free form of publicity that companies can capitalise on further down the line?
Most importantly, what kind of legal alternatives would you like to see and how should Korean entertainment companies focus on increasing the amount of legal content consumed overseas?
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Let us know your thoughts in the comments!