This South Korean studio has big Hollywood plans
The “Itaewon Class” television series, about a young entrepreneur who seeks to avenge his father’s death by eliminating his rival in a powerful company, has built a loyal global following on Netflix.
But media chief Jeongin Hong believes there are even more leads for the 2020 Korean series.
Hong, whose series JTBC Studios is producing, is keen to develop an English version of the series with the potential help of wiip, a Hollywood company behind HBO’s “Mare of Easttown” and other acclaimed series.
Such a possible collaboration was one of the driving forces behind JTBC Studios’ decision to acquire a controlling stake in the content arm of the powerful talent agency CAA.
“It’s very important for us to enter the Hollywood production market, to produce in English, to produce with American or international talent to develop our business,” said Hong, 36, senior vice president of JTBC studios. “There will be instant synergy.
The deal is the latest and one of the biggest forays by a South Korean company into the entertainment business in the United States.
A subsidiary of South Korean entertainment company HYBE acquired Ithaca Holdings from Scooter Braun in April for $ 1.05 billion. Seoul-based CJ Entertainment and Merchandising invested in studio Skydance last year, in a strategic $ 275 million funding round with other investors.
Korean-language programs have seen an increase in demand after the drama “Parasite” won the Best Picture award at last year’s Oscars and “Minari” received critical acclaim, with Yuh-Jung Youn being the first Korean performer to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in Film.
Korean-language series and movies have become more widely accessible thanks to streaming services like Netflix, which has invested heavily in such programming. In addition, several South Korean shows have been successfully adapted for American audiences, including Fox’s singing competition “The Masked Singer” and ABC’s medical drama “The Good Doctor”.
Korean companies see America’s cultural sector as a largely untapped market, said Dal Yong Jin, a professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada, who has co-authored a book on the globalization of Korean culture.
“Korea has entered several parts of global society, known as the Korean wave,” Jin wrote in an email. “However, the US market is still marginal for Korea, and as a result, a few cultural companies are keen to produce cultural content directly in the US. The acquisition of wiip by JTBC (Studios) is part of this big picture.”
JTBC Studios was looking to expand in Hollywood when the opportunity presented itself, thanks to an agreement between the agencies and the Writers Guild of America. Under the agreement to end a protracted dispute, CAA and other agencies agreed to divest or limit their stakes in the production companies.
By the end of the month, JTBC Studios will own around 60% of wiip, with CAA and Atwater Capital each holding around 20% of the stake. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
“I always thought that, you know, we can never be a so-called Hollywood insider,” Hong said. “But this opportunity has just happened to us.”
Although little known in the United States, JTBC studios are very important in South Korea, where they produce numerous TV shows and movies every year and have seen rapid growth.
The company, which employs 215 people, reported operating profit of $ 12.4 million on revenues of $ 182 million last year, up 28% from the previous year.
JTBC Studios received a big boost in April 2017 when it signed a multi-title licensing agreement with Netflix, which also later agreed to co-develop JTBC’s prime-time TV series globally. .
“Over the past few years, we have had a wonderful partnership with JTBC, driven by our common goal of telling great stories made in Korea, and our members in Korea and around the world have fallen in love with shows like ‘Itaewon Class’,” Run On ‘,’ Sisyphus’ and ‘Nevertheless’, ”Don Kang, vice president of content for Netflix (Korea), said in a statement.
JoongAng Group started in 1963 as a family business. Along with Samsung, Hong’s grandfather Jin-Ki Hong co-founded the broadcasting company TBC in 1964 and acquired the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper a year later.
Decades later, Hong’s father, Seok-Hyun Hong, used his contacts with America’s media executives to expand into magazines, launching the Korean version of Newsweek in 1991 and the Korean edition of Cosmopolitan in 2000. To increase diversity, the company acquired the third largest theater in the country. chain, Megabox, in 2015.
Hong, then a partner at Goldman Sachs, joined the family business in 2015. He now oversees sales of content produced by JTBC Studios. Its programs are mainly distributed internationally via streaming services such as Netflix and the Chinese streaming platform iQiyi.
Companies like JTBC Studios are increasingly keen to expand production to meet streaming sites’ voracious appetite for content and to compete in a rapidly changing market, analysts said.
Hong said he first discovered wiip through Vania Schlogel, founder of private equity firm Atwater Capital, after the two were introduced by a mutual friend. Last year, JTBC Studios became a minority investor, owning just 1.5% of wiip.
Wiip was founded in 2018 by former ABC executive and BBC America founder Paul Lee and Matteo Perale, a former CAA executive. The company, whose name comes from the acronym “word.idea.imagination.production”, employs 32 people. Wiip was a producer on HBO’s “Mare of Easttown,” which was nominated for 16 Emmy Awards and the Apple TV + series “Dickinson”.
“JTBC Studios are fantastic partners who love the content produced by our studio,” Lee, CEO of wiip, said in a statement. “We look forward to growing our business and continuing to attract extraordinary talent together. “
Hong recently traveled to Los Angeles to visit wiip’s Hollywood office, meet the staff, and marvel at the library where producers can sit, read books, and collaborate. He noted that in Seoul, JTBC Studios also have books available on shelves, but some of them are fake, only for decorative purposes.
Wiip was designed to be a welcoming environment. It looks like a real house, with an open-air patio, a bookcase filled with books and a large mustard-colored velvet sofa and a living room with artistic light fixtures. “Compared to this office, our office in Seoul looks a lot more like a head office,” Hong said.
“It’s a home for producers, and they have to be motivated, they have to feel right at home, come here to discuss how to do a project,” Hong said.
Some investments by South Korean companies in the United States have had mixed results.
In 2012, CJ Group set up a laboratory in Hollywood and commercialized 4DX technology that appealed to the senses of viewers as they watched movies, with seats in theaters swaying back and forth. during the action scenes of a movie. While some sites, including Regal LA Live, offer 4DX screenings, the technology has not been widely adopted nationally.
Overcoming the cultural differences between American and Korean companies can also be a challenge.
“They have developed different business styles and cultures, and therefore, in order to develop quality products, they must develop mutual interests and good partnerships,” said Jin.
Hong said he is aware of making sure wiip maintains its culture and that collaborations are not forced.
“My job is not to get them to do something together,” he said, “but my job is that when they decide to do something together, I will make it happen seamlessly and quickly. . ”