According to Korean drama industry officials, dramas must “capture the ratings within three episodes and gain the spotlight from the beginning” in order to be successful.
Such a saying has become quite popular around the media industry and has caused several different television broadcasting companies such as MBC, SBS, and KBS to go as far as cancelling an already scheduled program so that they could broadcast one of their own special drama preview episodes to see what kinds of responses they garner from the public before the first episode of their dramas actually air.
For instance, SBS’s Moonlight Lovers – Scarlet Heart: Ryeo aired a special preview episode two days before its first official episode on August 27th. The preview included the background history of the plot encompassing the Koryeo Dynasty and main upcoming scenes. A week later on September 3rd, SBS consecutively aired a Director’s Cut version of the first three episodes which trimmed the original content and included new subtitles explaining characters’ relationships to one another.
During the same time, the historical-comedy drama from KBS, Moonlight Drawn by Clouds, did not want to stay quiet as their fusion, sci-fi historical drama rival on SBS was testing their viewers. As it had already aired two episodes prior to the first week of Scarlet Heart‘s broadcast, Moonlight Drawn by Clouds aired a special edited cut of the first two episodes during Scarlet Heart‘s first official week as well.
Likewise, drama specials nowadays are aired in the beginning of the series, unlike before when director’s cuts and deleted scenes used to air after the series had ended, as it was considered a way of ‘fan service’ for the viewers to get one last glimpse of their favorite show.
The trend now, however, is to re-edit content that has already aired. This is a solution that the broadcasting companies have created as they decided that merely changing airing times were no longer competitive. The top three aforementioned companies used to air their main programs 10 minutes earlier than originally scheduled so that they could compete with one another. Since 2014, however, they have all made amends and agreed to follow scheduled times.
In addition to the broadcasting companies’ airing tactics, the trends on social media (SNS) have also been extremely influential in dramas’ popularity, thus resulting in the special episodes.
One industry official stated, “Nowadays, the viewership rating trend seems to be ‘winners continue to win, losers continue to lose‘ which makes it unlikely that ratings will suddenly rise in the middle of the series,” explaining that only the dramas which find success in the beginning will continue to do well, while dramas that don’t do well in the beginning will never rise to the occasion until the very end.
The official continued to explain, “We now concentrate on raising expectations before the official premiere through memes, quotes, gifs, and more on social media.”
Another channel’s producer said, “Today, the production of special episodes and scheduling have been much more flexible than before. If ratings are low in the beginning, we now try to re-edit or add extra details to capture the audience’s attention.”
However it is unclear if these special episodes ultimately result in dominating the viewership ratings. The episode of Scarlet Heart which aired on the 5th actually recorded a drop in ratings, making it its lowest rating ever after premiering a special episode the week before.
The SBS drama, Entertainer, which premiered a director’s cut episode in April also saw similar results. The special cut included deleted scenes from the first two episodes and reorganized the scene order, but failed to rise in viewership and concluded last in the ratings war for that time frame.
KBS’s Beautiful Mind, which ended in June of this year, also did not benefit from this ‘special episode effect,’ and was reduced from the initially planned 16 episodes to a mere 14. Thus critics claim, “It is more important to entertain the audience than to reorganize the schedules and attempt such tactics.”
Have their broadcasting tactics been effective on you?