The end of an era for the K-drama wave has arrived in one country that has been a huge consumer of Hallyu products for well over a decade- Japanese broadcaster NHK has announced that it won’t be airing anymore Korean dramas after the network finishes airing Empress Ki. NHK is Japan’s biggest and oldest network and has been airing K-dramas since 2003 when it bought the rights to Winter Sonata which singlehandedly launched the Hallyu drama wave in Japan. A thirteen year run for K-dramas with Japanese audiences may seem either long or shorter than expected, but is worth noting that things have changed irrevocably and to keep up with the tides K-drama will need to continue to evolve and grow.
NHK not airing anymore K-dramas on network television doesn’t mean there is no appetite for the product, it just means K-dramas no longer have enough broad and mainstream appeal and those who seek to watch it will have to do so online. It’s mainly the older audience that still watch network television anyway, and NHK explained that the viewership for Korean dramas have been decreasing steadily in the last few years and reached a point where it no longer is a financially sound investment to broadcast current and future K-dramas. The complaint from the older viewing audience is that the romance and addicting quality of the dramas which launched the Hallyu wave such as Winter Sonata is no longer there.
It sounds like the declining ratings for Korean dramas isn’t just a phenomenon for the domestic viewing audience, and the same type of disappointment and complains are being voiced about the current trends and quality of K-dramas being produced. I think the most alarming for production companies is that current K-dramas don’t have that buzz and excitement factor that used to be there, and most dramas aren’t sticky enough once it airs to build upon the audience. The exceptions to the trend are there but few and far between, and the direction headed is the wrong way.
Perhaps Korean drama producers won’t be alarmed at the nail in the coffin with Hallyu drama exports to Japan and instead double down on China as the growing consumption audience, but that’s like trying to sell the same flawed product to a second customer without fixing any of the problems pointed out by the first customer. NHK claims that it got audience feedback and the general feeling is that K-dramas no longer have the heady mood that lured the Japanese viewers in the first place, plus none of the current drama actors and actresses appeal to the Japanese viewers the way like original Hallyu stars Bae Yong Joon, Lee Young Ae, Won Bin, and Lee Byung Hun.