“Descendants of the Sun” Sold to Japan in Biggest Deal in 3 Years

KBS2’s “Descendants of the Sun” reignites a dying interest in Hallyu dramas in Japan.

According to an entertainment industry representative, “Descendants of the Sun” has been sold to Japan for an estimated $100,000 per episode. The 16 episodes of “Descendants of the Sun” had a price tag of almost 2 billion won (approximately $1.7 million). This signifies a rebound from the sudden drop in the amount that Japanese companies were willing to spend on Korean dramas in the past three years.

With “Winter Sonata” as the catalyst back in 2002, Japan was the biggest market for Korean Hallyu for almost 10 years, with Japanese broadcasting companies fiercely fighting for the publication rights of various Hallyu dramas. Thanks to this, the cost of these rights also sharply rose.

Well beyond $100,000, the average price per episode for Korean dramas was steadily around $200,000 until 2012, when “Love Rain,” starring Jang Geun Suk, was exported for $300,000. However, its less-than-satisfactory production was unable to live up to the immense cost, and the drama was regarded as a failure, both domestically in South Korea and overseas in Japan, causing a quick decrease in the popularity of Korean dramas in Japan. Other dramas besides “Love Rain” were also seen as disappointments, adding to this downward trend.

On top of this, in 2012, in response to Song Il Gook’s participation in a swimming event promoting South Korea’s claim to Dokdo Island, the Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time stated through a broadcast, “We’re sorry, but it will be hard for him to enter Japan. We think that represents the Japanese people’s feelings as a whole.” This controversial event also contributed to the sharp decrease in Japanese interest in Hallyu dramas. 

After this, the Japanese export prices for Korean dramas fell well below $100,000, and have been stuck in the five-figure range for the past three years.

In the midst of such a situation, “Descendants of the Sun,” with its domestic popularity as a backbone, has managed to break this trend, pleasing many in the drama industry.

One industry representative states, “After its popularity exploded in both South Korea and China, Japanese buyers wanted to be the first ones to buy ‘Descendants of the Sun.’ Because it stars Hallyu actress Song Hye Kyo and recently discharged Song Joong Ki, as well as having a positive response that it is entertaining, the drama had an increasingly expensive price tag, and the competition among buyers became more fierce.”

However, it seems like it will be a while before export prices for Korean dramas can reach $200,000 again. 

Broadcasting companies are expecting SBS‘s “Daebak,” which will star Jang Geun Suk and premiere on March 28, to also aid in the revival of the popularity of Korean Hallyu dramas in Japan. 

Meanwhile, “Descendants of the Sun” airs every Wednesday and Thursday on KBS2. Catch the latest episode on Viki!

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