Korean TV powerhouse JTBC is upping its game and changing its name in order to stay at the forefront of the worldwide Korean content explosion.
While the parent broadcast group will keep the JTBC monicker, its 15-strong cluster of production companies have been renamed Studio LuluLaLa, or SLL, instead of the prosaic JTBC Studios. The word ‘Lululala’ is used in Korea to express joy and adventure. And it translates easily enough.
More persuasive is the KRW3 trillion ($2.4 billion) that SLL is now promising to put into content production over the three years 2022-2024.
That number, revealed at a press event this week, compares with the $500 million that Netflix committed to spending in Korea in 2021 and the $4.4 billion that CJ ENM (owner of Studio Dragon, Endeavor Content and the new CJ ENM Studio) says it will spend over the five years between 2021 and 2025. (Regional research firm Media Partners Asia this month forecast that Netflix would increase its investment and pump $750 million into Korean content in the current year.)
SLL’s subsidiary companies include Climax Studio (Netflix’s “Hellbound” “D.P.”); Drama House (“SKY Castle,” “The World of the Married”; Zium Content (“Itaewon Class” and the upcoming Korean adaptation of “Money Heist”); and Film Monster (Netflix hit “All of Us Are Dead” and 2018 feature film “Intimate Strangers”).
Already powerful, SLL sees itself as growing within Korea and, increasingly, overseas. Signs of that came last year with the acquisition of U.S. producer Wiip (“Mare of Easttown”). Now, SLL says it will open a business in Japan in the second half of 2022 and open a unit based in Singapore, addressing the Southeast Asian market.
“The change of the company name implies that we will take a leap forward as a global content leader by expanding our studio business in all directions, including drama, film, entertainment, digital, CG/VFX, music and management,” SLL’s CEO Jung Kyung-moon said at the presentation. “We will establish ourselves as the best premium content producer [and] captivate viewers around the world.”
He also likened the company to the British Broadcasting Corporation as a production sector role model, albeit without the public service obligations.
Jung said that he expects SLL to deliver 35 shows this year, up from 26 in 2021. These include: fantasy drama “The Youngest Son of a Conglomerate”; the upcoming Netflix originals “The Sound of Magic,” “The Accidental Narco” and “Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area” and Don Lee- (aka Ma Dong-seok) starring film “The Roundup,” which has been presold globally.
JTBC Studio achieved KRW589 billion of revenue in 2021. The target is to increase that to KRW2 trillion by 2024, with 40% derived from overseas. “That means, we will be producing some 50 to 60 TV series in that year,” said Jung.
He named five heads of department as crucial to the changes in production scale and methodology that he envisages as necessary. They are Park Jun-seo, head of production at SLL; Choi Jae-won, CEO of Anthology Studio; Lee Jae-gyu, director of Film Monster; Byun Seung-min, CEO of Climax Studio; and Choi Jae-hyeok, SLL’s director of strategy.
“The expandability of genres is growing to dramas, movies, and entertainment, centered on IP,” said Choi Jae-hyeok at the presentation. “Through global OTT, the speed of contact with the public in terms of physical and cultural influence has increased.” Along with Korean tech giant Naver, JTBC last year became a minority investor in CJ ENM’s Tving streaming platform.
TVing has expressed equally ambitious targets for growth and to production. Netflix is currently the streaming market leader in Korea and with a huge roster of acquired, co-produced and original content is the leading distributor of Korean TV overseas.
“In the past, the production scale and business structure were simple, but now production costs per episode has increased and drama series require the post-production volume of two or three blockbuster films, We need to act as a comprehensive production firm that can plan and share [across units],” said SLL’s Park Jun-seo.
Korea has been a powerhouse in global cinema, and the Korean theatrical market was the fourth largest in the world before the pandemic. But the sector has been severely hit by plummeting cinema attendances and, consequently, anemic releasing of local films. SLL says it is unlikely to neglect the sector, though it may become more selective of which projects are given the theatrical treatment. “Films that make audiences think they need to be seen in a theater, due to their size or genre, will survive,” said CEO Choi Jaewon.