While global demand for Korean content has been growing for several years, 2021 was a watershed moment when it achieved a level of mainstream acceptance that ultimately propelled Squid Game to become the most in-demand new series premiere of the year globally.
Looking at the growing demand for Korean content over the past three years, it’s clear that this has actually happened in two waves. The first came in 2019 on the back of the global success of the film Parasite. From January 2019 to March 2020, global demand for Korean content was up by 80%. This was the first peak in demand for Korean content and came after Parasite’s historic win at the Oscars that February when it became the first non-English film to win the award for best picture.
Through 2020, demand for Korean content was up and down but ultimately didn’t regain the peak demand it saw in March. At the end of 2020 however we saw the start of a strong upward trend in demand for Korean content that has continued through today and has been driven by globally successful series like Squid Game.
Kingdom (킹덤) is a great example of a show that has benefitted from the growing global popularity of Korean content. Its first season, which premiered in January 2019 was moderately successful, with 8.4 times the average series demand globally in its first 30 days. Its second season premiered in March 2020 during the post-Parasite peak of demand for Korean content and had 18.5x demand - more than twice the global demand for its first season. There are two key takeaways from this example: Kingdom benefitted from a growing interest in Korean content and it took audiences time to discover this show between its first and second season when it reached its peak demand.
Below are the ten most in-demand Korean series premieres of the past three years. Five of these ten premieres have been in the past 6 months alone following Squid Game. This shows how Squid Game helped expose new audiences to K-dramas and paved the way for these other recent successes. Also of note is that the four biggest Korean series premieres of the past three years are all from Netflix. The streamer is playing a key role in bringing these shows to global audiences and helping them reach a level of demand that was previously unheard of.
When we look at the top Korean series premiering today, it does not take audiences time to discover them like it did with Kingdom. Instead these series have become immediately successful global hits, among the most in-demand premieres in the world. This is a good indicator that Korean series have reached a level of mainstream awareness and popularity after years of growing in demand. The foundations of this success were laid by Parasite in 2019 but 2021 was the year that demand for Korean content finally reached a critical mass.