Less than a year ago Disney Plus began riding the Korean Wave (Hallyu) to monopolize more media markets. It's an awesome business move and we applaud their ability to pivot towards new media regions. Their Korean content division is picking up excellent dramas with big name actors and good quality stories as well. Hats off to them for their drama selections so far.
Now, this is where our accolades end! Disney Plus is moving like it’s 1945 and (media) segregation is widespread. It is 2022 and most anything happening on the other side of the world can be accessed and experienced almost as quickly by us on this side of the world. And the same is true whether you are in Kenya, Canada, or Mexico. Technology has moved us by leaps and bounds to ensure that we can all live in the moment of whatever is happening, wherever it's happening. Concerts, news spotlights, interviews, live television, etc. are all almost immediately available now.
So why are our Disney Plus "friends" only making their awesome South Korean content available in Asian markets? WTF, Disney?! Why? Do you not know or have you totally missed that the Western audience is eating East Asian (specifically Korean) entertainment up with a soup spoon?! Have you heard of Netflix's wins in Western audiences with Squid Game and Crash Landing on You? Why are you blocking out the non-Asian market, namely America? What are you gaining by not sharing shows almost simultaneously to growing markets?
Is Disney Plus satisfied with maintaining regional barriers?
We get that there may be contractual and licensing issues. We understand that there might be delays in disseminating the content to audiences in other regions. But this also feels like a philosophical debate about how East Asian content is valued and sold compared to Western content. In the past Western content was sold to Eastern audiences, but the flow of content in the opposite direction was more of a trickle. Disney Plus wants to explore the Asian market to sell to Asian audiences but can't imagine that American, African, or Canadian audiences would be just as interested in consuming this content in any permanent, continuous way. Is Disney Plus satisfied with maintaining regional barriers? Are they incapable of delivering the same content to a worldwide audience, or are they just out of touch with who and where global audiences are going in the future? Because it can't be about money since Disney Plus is rich as f*ck!
Right now, there are about 8 or more dramas that Disney Plus is currently streaming. Those titles are Snowdrop, Grid, Soundtrack #1, Rookie Cops, Outrun by Running Man, Love All Play, Bloody Heart, and Crazy Love. While on the U.S. Disney Plus front, we only have access to Snowdrop and that was after it fully aired in South Korea. That's subpar to those of us who watch, blog, and podcast about currently airing dramas. Hell, they aren't even making the remaining shows available after they first broadcast in Korea. While Netflix has caught a clue and expanded its Asian drama catalog with both older and first-run, original Asian series, Disney Plus is damn near giving us the old school, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on a floor model, black and white TV. While Viki.com is delivering East Asian content while giving us all kinds of community-building and scrolling commentary in the chats, Disney Plus teases us with shows that we can't actually watch!
As they continue to ignore Western markets, Disney Plus pushes viewers who have gotten accustomed to watching dramas alongside our Asian counterparts to find alternative ways to watch dramas. People are now using VPNs or watching on sketchy sites to get their fix. We, at Black Girl Seoul, have been viewers for years and have shared with you, our drama pals, the lengths we went through to see dramas. Welp, thanks to Disney Plus, we have reverted back to the early 2000s. One of us has purchased a VPN and watches on sketchy sites to stay current. How sway?
Disney Plus is damn near giving us the Micky Mouse Clubhouse on a floor model, black and white TV.
But why have we gone backward in time?! Let's take a look at Disney Plus's motivation. According to a Variety.com interview by Patrick Frater with Jessica Kam Engle, Disney's APAC head of content and development:
What is the time frame for achieving these goals [telling authentic stories to worldwide audiences.]? How far has they got, so far?
We have ambitious goals and hope to greenlight over 50 APAC originals by 2023. ...we have launched several titles including “Grid,” “Rookie Cops,” “Blackpink The Movie” and “Snowdrop” from South Korea; “Anita: Director’s Cut” from Greater China; “Susah Sinyal The Series” and “Virgin The Series” from Indonesia. This year alone, we plan to release over 20 Korean titles including at least 12 Korean originals on Disney Plus.
Hollywood studios have repeatedly failed at local film and TV production in Asia, often citing differences in business culture as a prime reason for withdrawal. What is different this time around?
The environment has changed dramatically in recent years with OTT going mainstream, more and more world-class content emerging from Asia Pacific, and consumers’ tremendous appetite for local language content. Streaming has offered a platform for local productions from this region to be distributed to and viewed by global mainstream audiences.
With our new focus on APAC content production, we have set up local production teams across the region. Our teams are market driven and empowered to create and curate premium quality content that is locally relevant.
The Walt Disney Company is here to build long-lasting relationships with the local creative community, to open new doors for APAC storytellers through creative collaboration, so their stories can be showcased on the world stage.
Ms. Kam Engle often used the word "global," as in "global audiences," "global storytelling, "and global mainstream audiences," but so far that global ideal isn't reflected in what we are seeing. It would appear that Ms. Kam Engle thinks in terms of the world stage (which we heartedly applaud), but Disney Plus isn't on par with her vision. It feels like Disney Plus lacks faith that American audiences will watch Asian content despite the burgeoning American viewers, like us, who do.
Because until they fix this issue, Disney Plus won't be in the same class as Netflix.
Kdrama watchers on social media often say, "Song Rae, just be patient." But she is erring on the side of concern and tossing her voice into the wind to shout, "Hey! We want to be included too! We too want to see the great content that Disney Plus is making and share in the authentic stories being told." Something Else, on the other hand, is betting on Disney's capitalistic desire to gain its competitive edge in this burgeoning genre as a motivator. Nevertheless, we both hope that non-Asian audiences will eventually see more East Asian shows from Disney Plus. Because until they fix this issue, Disney Plus won't be in the same class as Netflix. So, the big question isn't if Disney Plus will release its content to all markets, but how long it will take for them to realize that they need to.