Descendants Of The Sun: Economic Forces Driven By Digitisation And Social Media

Economic forces are driven by a process that comprises a system of production, distribution and consumption of goods and services. These factors determine an enterprise’s volume of demand for its product and affect its marketing strategies and activities.  A new drama series in Asia has clearly shown us this 3-step process. This particular process has rapidly evolved to be much faster and efficient with digitisation and social media.

South Korea, one of the Four Asian Tigers, has once again proven itself to be “Asia’s foremost trendsetter” in the entertainment industry with “Descendants of the Sun”, breaking records in various ways across multiple markets.

“Descendants of the Sun”, also known as “DOTS”, is a 2016 South Korean television series on KBS2, starring Song Joong-ki and Song Hye-kyo. It is a romantic melodrama revolving around soldiers and doctors set against the backdrop of military operations on a UN peacekeeping mission in the fictional country of Uruk.

Shown every Wednesday and Thursday simultaneously in China and South Korea at 9 p.m., the show has broken through the 30 percent viewership rating for the first time since screening and, with their latest episode, appears set for a continuous climb to record highs. Viewership analytics are churned out at a much faster rate due to digitisation. According to Nielsen Korea ratings from March 24, the ninth episode of DOTS that aired on March 23 recorded a 30.4 percent viewership rating.

On a highly anticipated wine kissing scene at the end of the fourth episode and the start of the fifth episode, “ He swept me off my feet as he coolly said that he would find a way to drink the wine and charmingly swooped in to kiss the female lead. It was really cheesy and romantic at the same time!” Ms Lew, a marketing manager, on actor Song Joong Ki in DOTS

Being a major exporter of popular culture rivalling many Western nations, South Korea has led the Asian markets with their edge in information technology. With the developing trend in the Internet of Things (IOT), they are reaping the benefits from the rapid globalisation and the increasing ease of digital video distribution for widespread consumer consumption.

Riding on global digital distribution channels, DOTS is reigniting the “Hallyu” fever boosting the services economy.

South Korea GDP from the services sector increased to KRW 198220.70 billion in the fourth quarter of 2015 from KRW 196575.60 billion in the third quarter of 2015.

Table 1. The services industry continue to push new heights.

Global customers for the drama now represent 19 countries, some of which are outside Asia, the traditional market of Korean drama. Rapid rise of its popularity led to a speedy demand for distribution, digital and traditional. Yonhap reported that at least four European countries are on the list – Germany, Italy, France and Great Britain. South Korea’s GDP for services was estimated at 59.7% (2015).

Directly impacting the entertainment industry, various countries have shown renewed interest in the media content. To pass China’s time-consuming and stringent censoring process, Yonhap News Agency quoted that the producers mentioned the entire show was pre-recorded. This is a steer from the norm as traditionally, Korean shows are produced on an episode-by-episode basis leaving room for tweaks according to ratings.

In China, where it is shown over video platform, DOTS has garnered more than 1.1 billion views, an enormous jump from the 30 million views during the first episode, averaging around 100 million views. After the 8th episode, the preview for the day’s ninth episode had been watched over 22.5 million times. iQiyi reportedly bought the broadcasting rights for US$250,000 per episode.

The risk taken has finally paid off as paid membership on iQiyi grew 50 percent in the past three months to about 15 million people as the drama’s popularity increases.

The popularity of the DOTS drama series in China apparently has the nation’s government on edge, causing China’s Ministry of Public Security to post a warning on its official Weibo site against watching the drama on Saturday, March 12.

“An enormous fandom of Korean drama Descendants Of The Sun starring Song Joong Ki has emerged as it began to air in Korea and China. It is easy to see that many have fallen in love with the male lead Song”, China’s Ministry of Public Security also warned that “watching Korean dramas could be dangerous, and even lead to legal troubles”.

In Japan, DOTS reignited a dying interest in Hallyu dramas. Since 2012, 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. However, DOTS has been sold to Japan for an estimated $100,000 per episode, which has a total price tag of almost 2 billion won (approximately $1.7 million) for the 16-episode series. 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.

In Thailand, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha has urged his citizens to watch the mega-hit according to local news reports on Thursday, 17 Mar. “What I have seen is that they have included a sense of patriotism, sacrifice, obeying orders and being a dutiful citizen,” he told delegates at a government function. He says the Korean drama has a sense of patriotism and sacrifice for one’s country, Yonhap News Agency reports.

“So please watch it and if anyone wants to make such a drama I will financially sponsor it to make people love uncorrupt government officials and make the Thai people love each other.” Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha.

A week later, according to the report in the Thailand daily newspaper, Yuthasak Supasorn, governor of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), asked the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) to help arrange a meeting between Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and lead actor Song Joong-ki, demonstrating the speed of communication through digital media.

Considering the boost in the primary market of traditional video distribution, there still is a huge secondary market for potential revenue generation. Many digital video platforms (such as Waach, Oneload) are sprouting to improve the ease of video distribution. Brands and influencers also lead the pack using the social media space to introduce products directly or indirectly related to the show for mass consumption.

A slew of products from music, fashion, collectibles, beauty, F&B, and tourism industry have all popped up, driving economic growth.

The show’s soundtrack also topped music charts and sales in the two countries, South Korea and China. Social media has played a big part in encouraging viral recommendations for great songs prompting an increase in digital downloads. The top six digital downloads on Melon were promptly taken up by DOTS soundtrack songs.

Other examples from the products include clothes, dollsbeauty, food, candles, etc. are all priced in for the increasing demand for the new age digital consumers.

Even the city of Taekbaek in Gangwon Province plans to rebuild the film set as demand for visits to the DOTS area from travel agencies and drama fans soars.

The set location, which was built on the site of an old mine, was torn down after shooting ended last November. Revising the plan set earlier to reforest the area, the city’s plan to rebuild the film set was supported by President Park Geun-hye. The impact on changing such infrastructural plans to develop the site and neighbouring areas into a tourist attraction can only be due to the digitisation and rapidly moving market forces.

It will be interesting to watch how the digital revolution reduces the communications barrier and drives the global economy. While DOTS will likely end with record-high viewership ratings, there will also be a huge amount of secondary market players capitalising on their franchise. After all, opportunists will do what it takes to make a quick profit while watching two beautiful people flirt, date and fall in love all within the span of 16 episodes. It only re-affirms that the economic system process has shortened due to digitisation with the advent of social media and digital platform tools.