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Netflix commits $2.5 billion to Korean film and TV projects

The commitment is double the amount it has spent in Korea since 2016, the company said.
Kim Sang-ho, Heo Joon-ho, and Ju Ji-hoon in "Kingdom".
Kim Sang-ho, Heo Joon-ho and Ju Ji-hoon in "Kingdom."Juhan Noh / Netflix
/ Source: Variety

The global streaming giant Netflix has publicly committed to spending $2.5 billion (about KRW3.34 trillion) on South Korean film and TV production over the next four years. The total is double the amount it has spent in Korea since 2016, the company said.

The promise was made by Ted Sarandos, co-CEO of Netflix, at a meeting in Washington with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol.

“We were able to make this decision because we have great confidence that the Korean creative industry will continue to tell great stories. We were also inspired by the President’s love and strong support for the Korean entertainment industry and fueling the Korean wave. I’d like to personally thank the President for his kind response letter,” Sarandos said in a statement.

“It is incredible that the love towards Korean shows has led to a wider interest in Korea, thanks to the Korean creators’ compelling stories. Their stories are now at the heart of the global cultural zeitgeist,” he continued.  

Netflix has enjoyed success with drama series including “Squid Game” and “The Glory,” and increasingly with unscripted shows such as “Physical 100,” at both a local and an international level.

A roster of Korean content has anchored Netflix position as the dominant streamer within the wealthy and competitive Korean market. And at the same time, Korean shows are increasingly traveling across borders, propelling a "Korean wave" of enthusiastic audiences beyond Korean entertainment’s established markets in East Asia.

The new spending commitment by Netflix comes at a time when other global players, notably Disney+ and Apple TV+, are also trying to up their game with expanded slates of Korean shows.

Korean-based streaming operators, notably Tving (backed by CJ ENM, tech giant Naver and broadcaster-producer JTBC) and Wavve (jointly owned by the country’s three main public broadcasters KBS, MBC and SBS and private sector giant SK Telecom) are also seeking a bigger piece of the Korean wave for themselves at home and abroad.

In response to the booming demand for content, Korean production companies have also expanded their operations. CJ ENM launched a third production subsidiary, while JTBC Studios relaunched itself a year ago as Studio Lululala as part of a worldwide Korean content expansion.

At the height of the content race two years ago Netflix previously committed to spending close to $500 million on Korean production in 2021.

Analysis firm, Media Partners Asia forecast that Netflix would spend some $700 million on Korean content in 2022, but the figure was not confirmed by the streamer.

Sources close to Netflix explained subsequently that the 2021 investment promises were made due to a specific constellation of political circumstances and were unlikely to be repeated.

Around that time, a change in local regulations, Netflix had been forced to disclose its profit and loss figures in Korea. Simultaneously, a Korean internet giant was challenging Netflix to pay fees for carriage on its networks and the company was criticized by an influential committee within Korea’s National Assembly.

In a longer Korean-language version of the new production spending commitment, seen by Variety, Netflix makes several arguments for it to be regarded as a good corporate citizen and a locomotive force within the Korean entertainment community.

“The world’s interest has expanded not only to Korean content, but also to the Korean creators who produce them. Netflix’s investment goes beyond producing great works to create a ‘virtuous circle’ that grows with Korean companies involved in content production, including special effects (VFX), special makeup (SFX), post-production, production finance, and line production,” a translated version of the longer statement says.

It claims to have boosted the dubbing and sub-titling industries in Korea and name check local firms such as Dexter Studios handling digital intermediates and VFX firm Westworld, which have expanded thanks to the flow of Netflix work.

The longer statement cited a 2021 report by accounting and consultancy firm Deloitte that attributed an economic ripple effect of KRW5.6 trillion and 16,000 jobs created by the expanding Korean content industries, and a further KRW2.7 trillion of benefits to other Korean industries such as food, beauty, fashion and tourism.

It cited a recent survey by a Korean business federation “Public Perceptions of the Spread of the Korean Wave,” which found that the global presence and influence of the Korean Wave has increased more than 40 times as of 2023 compared to the early 2000s.