Earlier this year, I conducted an interview with Seung Bak and Suk Park, the brains behind dramafever.com, a fully-licensed, ad-supported online streaming site for Asian media content much in the style of Hulu (for an introduction, check out this previous post). While I have already written a fairly extensive summary of the key take-aways from that interview (posted here), I thought some might be interesting in seeing the full transcript.
Below is part 1 (of 4 or 5, depending on the final transcript length), and deals mainly with a quick history of how the site came to be and its general premise.
Xiaochang Li Can you remind me when you were planning on launching officially?
Seung Bak It's sort of a floating date right now, but we're targeting end of Q1, beginning of Q2, so I guess around a March/April time frame. And the reason we're in closed beta right now is to work through some kinks and develop some cool new features. We want to fully vet those things and have more content before we open it up so everyone can see it.
Xiaochang Li Can you tell me about these 'cool new features' you're planning on developing?
Seung Bak Sure. Right now when we launched the beta, it's essentially to make sure we get the core experience right -- to put it simply: that you can watch dramas and [the experience] is high quality and enjoyable. And we for the most part accomplished that. Some of the features we want to build on are really to build on the experience. So you're watching a Korean drama and you want to know everything about it, so there will be ancillary assets like pictures. You could have fun playing with, maybe with simple downloads, or you could add your pictures to pictures with actors. There's also an opportunity to become an aggregator for news related to Asian entertainment that'll help people save time and discover all these cool blogs that are out there that you would know if you spent all your time hanging out at Soompi, but which for the most part are sort of obscure. We would be a place that brings all of these good blogs to light and help people discover them. And there's all kinds of stuff we could do around adding all this meta-data to dramas and actors and a lot of people could really engage in the storylines and really be able to discover new stories and really feel like they're getting to know a certain celebrity. So, lot's of ideas.
Suk Park To add to what Seung said, basically we want to be able to create a community for people who enjoy this content as well as an information site for all the content relevant to the dramas, the actors, and so forth.
Xiaochang Li So you guys see yourself as more of an Asian media content hub, instead of just a distribution platform?
Suk Park Exactly. We wanted to build a place where you can watch the best of what Asia has to offer in terms of videos. We started out with kdramas, but it doesn't have to be just kdramas. We're going to get dramas from other parts of Asia, as well as other types of video content including TV variety shows and potentially movies and material related to music. And then we want to build all these tools for people not just to consume media but also have some fun on the site and be able to engage with other users.
Xiaochang Li So what made you start out with kdrama?
Suk Park So Seung and I met in college a long time ago -- 1995, 1996--
Seung Bak We're both Korean, by the way.
Suk Park And we always talked about doing something together. Because of our prior jobs, we had traveled across Asia and we noticed about two years ago that throughout East Asia -- China, Japan, and Korea -- and Southeast Asia --a lot of the Korean dramas were being played in prime time, either dubbed or subtitled. The Korean wave was taking over in a very obvious fashion. We came back to New York and we spent some time doing research to see if people in the US were consuming this type of content. And we saw the regular mediums: the television broadcasts, the DVD rentals, but it just didn't seem like those were the only two distribution channels. We go online and we find about a dozen or two sites that feature this content, with very strong traffic numbers and every single one of these sites illegally using this content. My background is in international business and licensing so I jumped on a flight back to Korea to meet with the broadcasters, followed by trips bySeung and I to LA to visit the [Korean] broadcaster headquarters in the US and after going back and forth a couple of times, we were able to get the licensing for the for the dramas we have now.
Xiaochang Li Can you give me a sense of when this was happening?
Suk Park We went to China around the end of '07 and we started conversations with the broadcasters in the beginning of '08 which lasted for about eight or nine months before we signed the first contract.
Xiaochang Li And why did you start out with MBC? And not KBS or SBS, for example?
Suk Park Those guys were very forward thinking. They're a group from LA. The other two companies were also very supportive of this idea. KBS is a little more cautious because they have to work within a strong hierarchy from Korea, and because they are government owned. MBC was really supportive and we were able to actually sign a contract with MBC to launch the beta site and move forward to the formal launch. From there we expect the other broadcasters to join us.
Seung Bak We have active conversations with the other media companies right now. We just happen to have all the MBC stuff already done and prepared. But we're going to be rolling out content from other sources throughout the year.
Xiaochang Li So when you say that MBC was really forward thinking, what sort of reaction did you get when you guys first approached them?
Suk Park There was a certain unfamiliarity with licensing for the online space. A couple of things we noticed with all the broadcasters were that everybody was struggling with online piracyand they were faced with serious doubt about the existing business model from cable and DVD rentals. Both of them were declining -- television because the CPMs you get for television ads have been hurting badly and DVD rentals because it's an obsolete form of consumption. We were able to address those issues with our business model, which presented to them a new revenue channel. Of course, by having a free product which is advertiser-supported and better than the existing pirated product, it becomes a strong weapon against piracy. That's why all the broadcasters were actually very supportive of our model. The second question that came up though was "who the hell are you guys?" Because all we had was a powerpoint and a lot of passion. We had to prove to them that through our network of advisors and through our career history that we could pull this off. I managed the licensing aspect and Seung managed the operational aspect. Concurrently, I approaching and establishing a strong relationship with the licensing sources while Seung was building something that we could show them. And towards the end of last year we were able to launch the beta site and everyone was very happy with the results.