New TV drama “One Ordinary Day,” a Korean adaptation of 2008 BBC series “Criminal Justice,” is just one way that newcomer Coupang Play is pushing its way into South Korea’s ultra-competitive video streaming scene.
The market is currently led by Netflix, with Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus as newcomers. The international powerhouses rub up against established local players including Wavve, Watcha, Tving and Seezn.
Coupang Play was launched in December 2020, by e-commerce unicorn Coupang, which has outshone its role model Amazon by offering 24-hour delivery for many goods. The OTT service is offered as a benefit valued at $2.40 (KRW2,900) per month to Coupang’s WOW-tier members, and as part of a bundle that also includes cashbacks, and delivery guarantees.
Stephen Kim, head of Coupang Play, says that the player’s content strategy is quality, over quantity. “Instead of gathering as much content as possible, we try to understand what our customers want to watch, learning and iterating through data how to give them best possible experience,” he told Variety.
Infused with elements unique to Korean society and judicial system, “One Ordinary Day” is Coupang Play’s first original drama series and has received strong reviews since its late November launch.
“I wanted to critique the irrationalities in our society. The main character, regardless of his intentions and efforts, becomes helplessly lost in the tribunal system,” said Lee Myeongwoo, director of “One Ordinary Day.”
The story and style of directing prioritize emotion over action. “We put effort into capturing what was going on inside the characters’ heads, rather than using fancy tricks or spectacular angles,” he said. The cast is headed by A-listers Kim Soo Hyun and Cha Seung Won.
Coupang Play claims to be the fastest growing OTT player in Korea and the most downloaded streaming app since the launch of “One Ordinary Day.” Outside the country it is available on multi-territory Asian platform Viu and on Amazon Japan.
Lee is best known for his Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS) series “The Fiery Priest” and “Punch.” “One Ordinary Day” was his first production for a streamer. “I was given much more freedom of expression compared with the terrestrial channels and enjoyed using it to its fullest,” Lee said. “I was able to focus on telling the story in a speedy manner, filtering out the unnecessary.”
Coupang Play has also taken bets on other forms of content, notably including variety shows and sports. It was behind the revival of comedy sketch show “Saturday Night Live Korea” with a new season launching over Christmas.
It is also the exclusive OTT platform broadcasting soccer from the European Champions’ League where four members of South Korea’s national team play. “Sports was a bet we took, and when we noticed our customers wanted to watch the Korean players we decided to expand.”
Other Korean streamers Tving, Wave and Watcha have eyed or begun overseas expansion. Coupang Play says that is not currently on the cards. “We’re focusing on the Korea market right now as we are still growing and there are huge opportunities here,” said Kim. By the same token, Kim says that the international companies should be welcomed in Korea. “It’s great validation of the Korean market. We don’t see them as competition to fend off. The market still has room to grow.”
For 2022, Kim says Coupang Play will continue to be experimental. “There are many projects being considered at the moment, though not all are original series.” The next that is, “Anna” is a thriller starring Bae Suzy (“Start Up,” “Vagabond”) and Jung Eun Chae (“The King: Eternal Monarch,” “The Guest”).