American Demand for Korean Content: Is Parasite making these shows viral?

22 July, 2020

In the past year, demand for Korean language series has rapidly grown. Between the week of July 14, 2019 and July 5, 2020, US demand for Korean language content has increased by 66.0%. This has outpaced the growth in demand for English language content (+21.2%) and demand for all non-English content (+54.5%). We can trace this back to the US theatrical release of Parasite, a catalyzer that clearly accelerated the Korean expansion.


However, the growth in US demand for Korean content is a trend that predates the incredible success of Bong Joon-Ho’s latest film. We measured a similar growth in demand starting in 2017. The large spike that began around the beginning of February 2018 was partly driven by series like Music Bank and The Return of Superman. Music Bank had 7.6 times the average series demand in the US between February and July 2018. The Return of Superman had 3.8 times the average demand in the same time period. This shows that the most popular Korean language series well exceeded demand for the average series in the US even in 2018. The Return of Superman is even more in-demand now, with 6.1 times the average demand for a series in the US over the last 30 days.


Below are the most in-demand Korean language series in the US in June. It is notable that the top Korean hits are finding a home not in the Goliaths of the Streaming World like Netflix and Hulu, but in Viki, a streaming service specializing in Asian content. Viki is home to 3 of the 4 most in-demand Korean language series with US audiences at this moment. As the streaming market gets more crowded and competitive, personalized curation of foreign content is a successful strategy to cut through the clutter.


The second most in-demand show, M Countdown is actually not available in the US which indicates that there are still gaps to be filled in serving this audience in the American market. It is interesting to note the types of Korean content that are resonating with American audiences. While K-dramas are known for their global popularity, the top two series in the US in June are in fact music programs. This is perhaps tied to the growing international popularity of K-pop. Two series that are broadly available in the US market on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video are animated children’s shows (Pororo and Tayo the Little Bus). I Live Alone is an unscripted reality series, while Weekly Idol and Running Man are variety shows. This shows the growing demand for Korean content is not isolated to a particular genre or format.

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