S. Korea soaps win global audience, rival S. America


BARCELONA, Spain — South Korean soap operas are winning global audiences and have become major rivals to Latin America’s racier telenovelas, participants at an industry conference held in Spain said. Jordanian television distributor Media Marketing and Production started buying the rights to air South Korean serials in the Arab world last year since they cause less headaches with censors, its manager Firas Al-Homoud said. Telenovelas, as soap operas are called in South America, feature scenes that depict sex or deal with topics like homosexuality that need to be edited out by Arab television channels or else they cannot be broadcast, he said. “For this reason we are trying South Korean dramas, they cause us less trouble,” he said on Friday on the last day of the two-day World Summit of the Telenovela and Fiction Industry held in Barcelona. South Korean dramas arose after the country began deregulating its economy in the wake of the 1996 Asian financial crisis, leading entrepreneurs to reinvent the nation’s entertainment industry with the help of state aid. They usually deal with family intrigue, class differences and love triangles and tend to have less violence and sex than their Latin American or US counterparts. One of South Korea’s most popular soap operas, “Dae Jang Geum,” or “Jewel in the Palace,” depicts a female doctor attending the royal court in the days when Korea was unified.

Over the past three years South Korean serials have surpassed Latin American ones in popularity in the Asian nation’s neighbors like Malaysia and the Philippines, said the organizer of the conference, Amanda Ospina. “They want to reach not only the Asian market but the whole world,” said Ospina, who is the editor of industry magazine TVMas. Some smaller national channels as well as regional stations in Latin America have begun airing South Korean serial dramas.

The trend began two years ago when a regional station in Mexico aired a dubbed drama. There are currently three South Korean soap operas airing at the moment in Mexico, Bolivia and Colombia. Cultural difference appear not to be a barrier to audiences. “Through their soap operas we are discovering the similarities that exist between Latin America and Asia, we are all Third World countries,” said Ospina. The South Korean soap operas that have aired in Latin America however tend to be given to producers at low cost to stations that could otherwise not afford them in an effort to open up new markets. “It is unfair competition because who is behind these productions is the (South Korean) government,” said the head of Israeli-Argentine distributor Dorimedia, Jose Escalante.