The Kdrama fandom suffered a big loss with the shuttering of the streaming service, DramaFever. It’s one of those things, first it was there, you never could have anticipated anything could have happened to it, and then, poof, it’s gone.
But could we have anticipated it?
Background. I owe, A LOT to DramaFever. Some of my biggest milestones here on the site were due, in large part, to DramaFever. The very first time I ever got over 100 hits in a day? Was a review of DramaFever’s new Android mobile app. (Yeah, it was that long ago.) I was so excited to realize after I had posted the article, that they had retweeted it. I remember actually calling Mrs. McFeeley as I slowly watched the number of hits on the site, on that post, rise. There was screaming when Crazy for Kdrama hit it’s first 100 hits.
A short time later, I was going to NYC to experience my first Kpop concert, BigBang, and realized their offices were in NYC, after much propping up by my friends, I reached out and requested an interview which — to this day it still boggles my mind — they granted. I got a behind the scenes look at their offices, and insight on their history and their hopes for the future.
One day, I received an email from one of the people I had contacted there, asking me if I wanted to write for them, to do a weekly post on a new variety show, Barefoot Friends. I was thrilled. They took my suggestions on who I wanted to work with and the trio of Stephanie, Cherry Cordial and Kfangirl was born. Not only did this get me friends and colleagues that I treasure to this day but, as this was my first ever experience of actually being paid for my writing, it was a huge rush.
When I moved to NY, I was invited as press to their Heirs premiere party, held in a swanky NYC loft. Press. I was considered press.
The list goes on and on. Through good times and bad, reflecting honestly? I wouldn’t be where I am today, wouldn’t have a good portion of the friends I have if it weren’t for DramaFever. And for it to be gone? Well, it’s a blow.
The first signs of trouble came the night before when, instead of new episodes, there were banners warning of a suspension or delay of new content. Throughout the next day, I continued to get texts and pings, everyone wondering what was going on over there. Then it happened. An article on Variety proclaimed the demise of DramaFever. Citing business decisions, the exorbitant costs of getting the rights to shows parent company, Warner Brothers, announced they were closing down for business, effective immediately. Immediately happened a couple of hours later, when the apps stopped working and the site simply said:
Was this to be expected?
It’s no surprise that DramaFever was hurting. Despite its big plans, assurances that they were the biggest and best in the industry, with the formation fo Kocowa (a streaming company created by the actual Korean broadcast companies), and then further the collaboration between Kocowa and Viki, DramaFever was shut out. Why sell your rights to someone else when you can do the same thing just as easily yourself? DramaFever lost a lot of it’s access to dramas both past and currently airing. It tried to expand, getting more Chinese titles, but it wasn’t the same.
This leaves us with a lot of questions not just for their subscribers (as, though it couldn’t have been completely unknown to them that this could happen) they continued to sell subscriptions to their service to the end, but it also calls into question the future of the American experience.
Let’s hit subscribers first.
DramaFever was primarily a subscription-based model. While you could watch for free with limited titles and commercials, the main choice of viewers were the monthly or annual subscriptions. One can only assume monthly customers will just stop being billed, but if I were you, I’d just keep an eye on your bank account for the next few months. If you were on an annual subscription, things are a little tricker. If it’s something you purchased recently, I’d recommend going to your bank or credit card agency and filing what is called a chargeback. Essentially you put in a claim that you purchased something and did not get it. There are some companies like Amex and Paypal, which are really strong in the customers camp and will almost always give you your money back. With your bank or another credit card, you still have a pretty good case, but, depending on how long it’s been since you’ve paid the fee, your chances may go down. It’s a matter of, it doesn’t hurt to try.
The pretty sucky thing for in this, from a user standpoint, is the fact that there was no warning. There was no email that went out to their subscribers letting them know what was going on, letting them know they were closing down, nope, a lot of people had to learn from online, or, even worse, by going to the website and finding out that their stuff didn’t work anymore. There are people out there who are stuck in the middle of shows that they’re not sure they’ll be able to finish. The fact that they’ve shut down without a single word to their subscribers either via email or included on the notice on the website is pretty weak. They may appreciate those 9 years but it’s a pretty crappy way to go out.
Which is also part of the memory of DramaFever.
They did a lot of things for the average Kdrama fan. I think a lot of us are here because of DramaFever, but that doesn’t mean that they were without fault. Time and time again throughout their history they showed that they just didn’t understand the fandom. Their dealing with the actual public and “it’s not us it’s you” mentality, meh subs, and flawed video players made a lot of people make other options their main choice for dramas. Personally, it had been a while since I’d had a subscription myself after tussle after tussle over my annual subscription and “grandfathered” rates came into question. I just didn’t seem appreciated and I’d had enough, and while I wasn’t alone, I certainly didn’t think anything would ever happen to the company with a few cancellations. But now that it has happened, the kdrama fan has to ask:
What does this mean for the international, non-Korean speaking fan? Though a lot has changed during my years as a fan, I’m still one of the lucky ones who came into the game after the creation of DramaFever, of Viki — heck, I was first introduced to Kdrama via Hulu. I wasn’t one of those old schoolers who had to hunt around for soft subs, for non-diseased torrenting sites in order to get my fix. (Not that we still don’t have to do that for some titles.) This being the case, it’s a little terrifying to think there may be a day when we’re reduced to that again. What happens if Kocowa decides not to continue? If it breaks up with Viki? Sure there are ‘other’ places to get dramas, but the question is, where are they harvesting their subs from? Through the last few years, a lot of the subbing sites have either closed their doors willingly or had them slammed shut by those sites which purchased the US rights. Would these places open back up? Have they moved on? Am I getting into a tizzy over nothing? I think it’s just concerning if the dramas/movies are only available to us via one path, where do we go when something happens there? Where are we going to get shows from the smaller networks? With competition comes better options, better services, better prices, without it? Well, I thnk that’s called a monopoly, and just like the board game, that’s not good for anyone.
I guess there isn’t going to be an answer. I can’t imagine any of those people who lost their jobs today (they’re reportedly absorbing some of the company and laying off about 20%, my guess is they’re keeping the tech people and getting rid of the people we actually knew and interacted with) are going to want to face the masses. At this point who would even hold the higher-ups at DramaFever or Warner Brothers accountable for what happened. It’s too soon to tell what the future of the genre is going to bring. But one thing I can say is that Kdrama was around before DramaFever and I figure it’s going to figure out a way to survive after.
Whatever happens next, thanks for bringing me to the party, DramaFever. I’m still happy to be here.