The 4th installment of my interview with the founders of Dramafever.com delves into their relationship with fans and efforts to fulfill what they viewed as a clear market need. Of particular interest is the discussion on how they select content based on observing audience-enagement on fan-driven sites and the site's success in collaborating with the fansubbing community.
Xiaochang: It's interesting that you mentioned earlier that people who are already on these illegal sites are coming and rewatching content on your site. It almost seems like you guys aren't so much direct competitors since you offer a different sort of audience experience.
Seung Bak: To be totally candid with you, we don't really look at Mysoju or some of these illegal sites as real competitive threats because they're filling a market need at this moment and the market need is that there's a demand for this content. If a legal provider isn't going to put it together in a way that's accessible, someone is going to put a simple HTML site together where you can watch it illegally. And the experience is the same as with American mainstream media. Before Hulu and Apple and a lot of these other places started distributing digital content in a legitimate way, there was stuff all over Youtube and other illegal sites. And as soon as legal platforms started taking off, that stuff started disappearing. Mostly organically, some of it due to DMCA notices, but it's not a sustainable model in the long run, when you're operating a media site in a completely illegal way. Quality wins in the long run, that's what we believe.
Xiaochang: How engaged or involved are you guys in the drama-watching experience? Are you guys drama fans as well?
Seung Bak: It's funny that you say that because before we launched the beta, we used to watch dramas. But now that we're running a site for dramas, there's just so much stuff to do. We try to watch when we can and at least click through some of the episodes of the ones we carry, but because we're doing this, it's taking away our time to watch dramas.
Xiaochang: But prior to that, you were fans . . . ?
Seung Bak: Well, we watched enough to know that this content was really high quality and we could see why people would be really engaged in this content. Suk and I both watched a bunch of dramas, obviously not everything that came out, but the ones that were really popular. And we were like wow, this is great, why isn't it available in the US? That was the most basic question that we asked. Why do I have to do to the supermarket to watch this? Which is the experience that a lot of people have here.
Xiaochang: Going back to the features you haven't rolled out yet, are you guys planning on having anything to enhance community engagement? Forums, or anything of that nature?
Seung Bak: Yes, yes. We're definitely going to have those. The forums will come when we get a little bit more traffic. It will come in due time.
Suk Park: There's nothing more sad than an empty forum.
Xiaochang: So going back to your personal relationship with drama for a moment, how did you guys personally get into drama? What was that history like?
Seung Bak: As Suk mentioned, we've noticed that Korean dramas are pretty popular. Something we've been keeping an eye on and it's pretty easy to see. Everytime I see my parents they're watching a Korean drama. Your friends are watching this stuff. You go to some hotel room in China and you have nothing to watch and I think CCTV 9 has Korean dramas running 24/7. You go to Mexico, there's some international channel showing Korean dramas in Spanish. It's everywhere, except in the US in a very accessible way. So clearly we saw a business need for this, so the next step was trying to figure out if there was a real demand for this. That was the research process where we took just basically took a look at every drama-related site out there and we were pleasantly surprised at the amount of traffic going to mysoju and a lot of places. And so we decided to do something about it and built a site where people could really consume this stuff in a much higher quality way.
Xiaochang: So what sort of criteria do you look at when you're deciding which dramas to host on your site? Is it just based on popularity in Asia or are there other considerations?
Seung Bak: It's interesting you bring that up, because we are addressing the market that's in the US right now, so it's driven by popularity in the US channels right now. So we're looking at what seems to be working on places like d-addicts, where people are talking about this. We're getting very good feedback from bloggers about what's popular. And it's pretty easy to figure out what's going to stick. There are some shows that were not that popular in Korea per se, but a lot of people were engaged by it here.
Xiaochang: Can you give me an example?
Seung Bak: La Dolce Vita was an interesting example. It didn't do all that well in Korea when it was airing. But here, there's a certain about of people watching that.
Suk Park: Relative to how many people are watching the other things on out site. For instance, we know that one of the dramas we want to get right now is Boys Before Flowers as we've gotten a ton of request for that Drama.
Seung Bak: Every day, every hour . . .
Xiaochang: Related to that, actually, how soon after they air in Korea and in Asia are you looking to get things onto your site?
Suk Park: In the beginning, for a lot of the content owners -- you can understand the site hadn't launched yet when we wanted to sign contracts with them -- they wanted to give us some of the older stuff first. And from the older stuff, we focused on the blockbusters. Going forward, once this model has been proven to the content owners, we expect to launch their content as soon after broadcast as possible.
Xiaochang: So going on that, I've read rumors in the drama blogosphere that you guys are talking about working with fansubbers in order to subtitle content.
Seung Bak: Well, I mean, the basic mindset is that the fansubbers exist because there's a void in the market that isn't addressed. So these are true fans. These are people who are very passionate about being able to enjoy this content and being able to share with others. And once you look at them in that light, they're your best allies. So a lot of the content that's coming out of Asia, [major producers] are only creating English subtitles for the ones that are selling through DVDs and it's only a small subset of the content that's being produced. So over time, as we start ramping up our site with a pretty broad selection of content, it only makes sense to work with these fansubbers because they're also the audience. So the key point that I want to emphasize is that we want this to be a very community-driven site. We're making our content selection, we're making our functionality development choices really based on what we're observing out there. We're simply reacting to a market need and what the market is telling us.
Suk Park: We can talk a little bit about how fansubbers would sub not always dramas, but anime and so forth and they never got credit and they're looking for a platform.
Seung Bak: Yeah, if you look at the fan community sort of as the Open Software development community, these are very talented, passionate individuals. And for the most part, they're looking for some recognition for the work that they're doing. And we think we could be a platform that could provide them with that, while addressing a very real need, which is creating a place where people can consume Asian content with English subtitles so that they can understand it.
Xiaochang: So traditionally fansubs were originally created with the idea that it could be widely shared throughout the community so long as no one is making off of it. How are you going to renegotiate that relationship now that money does enter into it.
Seung Bak: First of all, one of our key principles is that we do everything right. So we always ask permission before we do anything. And anyone (? This part was a little unclear on the recording) that we start working with in terms of putting our product out there is after we have conversations with them about the best way to work together. So when we say that we work with fansubbers, it's not that we go to d-addicts and download fansubs and putting it up on the site. It's going to be done in a way where we talk to them and set down some business terms that are acceptable and that both parties can be happy about.
Suk Park: So, one of the problems was that the minute the fansubbed material is included in sites like mysoju or crunchyroll and we start to make money off the fansubs, the fansubbers can be persecuted for infringement. Now, in our completely legal platform, the fact that we make money off the site, that doesn't become an issue as long as we ask permission and, depending on what the fansubbers want, come to an agreement. In our experience, it seems that what the fansubbers want is recognition for what they've done.