Top K-drama company announces new ‘Winter Sonata,’ hopes to work with Netflix

SEOUL, South Korea – One of South Korea’s top drama production companies will make a second version of the hit TV series “Winter Sonata,” which is credited for spreading hallyu, or Korean Wave, in Japan, the Philippines and other parts of the world.

Pan Entertainment’s Han Ik Hee, head of the Management Strategy Headquarters, also said their company looks forward to providing dramas to OTT (over-the-top) platform Netflix, as well as Apple TV and Disney Plus, which are expected to enter the Korean market soon.

The company was established in 1996 but it started with producing songs first, including those of Korean rapper Psy. Earnings from the music business were used to lay the foundation for its drama production.

Pan Entertainment’s Han Ik Hee (left) and Kim Kyoung Min at the company headquarters in Seoul (Photo by Jonathan Hicap)

Pan Entertainment’s Han Ik Hee (left) and Kim Kyoung Min at the company headquarters in Seoul (Photo by Jonathan Hicap)

Pan Entertainment struck gold through its first drama “Winter Sonata,” aired in South Korea in 2002 and starred Choi Ji-woo and Bae Yong-joon, although at the time, it didn’t rate well in South Korea as it ranked third among three competing dramas, according to Han.

But when Japan’s NHK cable came to the company and bought the rights to air “Winter Sonata” in Japan, it became a very big hit and helped in the spread of hallyu in that country.
“Winter Sonata” was the first Korean drama to be exported.

A poster for 'Winter Sonata' (KBS/Pan Entertainment)

A poster for ‘Winter Sonata’ (KBS/Pan Entertainment)

“It was totally unexpected. For us, I think, we didn’t get No. 1 ranking when it was on air. So we were like ‘It’s one of the dramas just playing.’ We didn’t expect it to go to Japan and become a hit. In Japan, we still have the rights. We’re still making money out of it,” he told Manila Bulletin and other Asian media under the Kwanhun-Korea Press Foundation Press Fellowship program at the company’s headquarters in Seoul.

The company made the drama with a $2 million budget and it earned a hefty $20 million from it alone.

Pan Entertainment became a full-time drama producer and to date, it has produced about 57 dramas including “Winter Sonata,” “Moon Embracing the Sun,” “Shining Inheritance” and “Rosy Life.” Its new dramas “When the Camellia Blooms” and “Never Twice” are currently airing on TV.

In 2022, “Winter Sonata” will celebrate its 20th year since airing and Pan Entertainment will produce a new version of the drama.

“We’re nearing the 20th anniversary of the first ‘Winter Sonata.’ So currently we’re planning to have a second story of Winter Sonata to celebrate the 20th anniversary. I believe in two or three years, we might have the drama ready. If the Chinese market opens up earlier than we expected, we might be able to produce it earlier, too,” Han explained.

The new “Winter Sonata” will not star Choi Ji-woo and Bae Yong-joon but they could be asked to be part of it.

“Maybe they could feature in for like revisiting the memory of the first story. Nothing is decided yet but we will have new hallyu stars,” he said.

Before the emergence of new viewing platforms like smartphones and video on demand, Korean dramas achieved high ratings.

“When we provide to the main broadcasting companies , we have a rating of 30 to 40 percent. We are a company that produces a lot of national dramas, or dramas that have been loved by a lot of Koreans,” Han said.

However, he said that “because there’s a lot of diversified media these days, it’s not easy to get a rating of 30 to 40 percent like the old days. So it’s not easy to get even 20 percent. We produce dramas that get 15 to 25 percent.”

Han said the rise of OTT platforms like Netflix will usher in the third era of hallyu.

“In 2000, hallyu centered around Japan. In 2010, maybe it centered around the Chinese market like “Descendants of the Sun.” We are nearing 2020 and with the spread of global OTT platforms, we are almost entering into the third era of hallyu,” he said.

Netflix has about 1.84 million subscribers in Korea, Yonhap News reported, and Pan Entertainment is looking forward to provide it with dramas.

“You know Netflix is used around the world, also in Korea, too. Apple TV and Disney are going to launch their OTT platforms in Korea soon. So we have Netflix, Apple and Disney, three OTT platforms. We are trying really hard to provide dramas to those platforms,” he said.

He added that “so far K-drama is more popular in the Southeast Asian market. But with the spread of global OTT platforms, we can also target the American and Australian markets.”

“You know Netflix has original dramas. We are in discussion whether we can provide or produce original dramas to Netflix. Apple and Disney will have their original dramas, too. And we also want to provide dramas to those platforms,” Han said.

The rise of OTT platforms has increased competition in the K-drama industry but Pan Entertainment is not worried about their impact.

“There is already a Netflix original Korean drama called ‘Kingdom.’ Regarding concerns, there is an expansion of popular Korean dramas. We are optimistic and positive, and high hopes for that. Pan Entertainment is one of the most famous and representative drama production companies in Korea. So we produce really good quality dramas so we don’t really worry about it at all. We are looking forward to the expansion of the K-drama market,” he said.

The rise in the popularity of K-pop and the expansion of hallyu in different parts of the world saw the emergence of the so-called idol actors, or K-pop artists who have crossed over to acting, such as EXO’s D.O, BTS’ V, IU, ZE:A’s Siwan, BTOB’s Sungjae and APink’s Eun-ji.
Pan Entertainment sees also a positive effect of idol actors in Korean dramas, according to Kim Kyoung Min, deputy head of the promotional team.

“First of all, if you look at the Korean market, like the celebrities, they don’t have any one fixed area that they play in. Even if they make a debut as an idol, they don’t always have a dream of becoming a singer. So they might want to be an actor but they debuted as an idol. Those trainees also get training for acting, too, when they try to become an idol,” she said.

She added, “So for us, it’s a bigger pool for us to select. If idols become really famous around the world, we can bring their popularity from abroad to K-drama. So I think it will be more positive for us.”