Drama Casting & News
Failed dramas still result in high star price tags
by | July 7, 2008 | 30 Comments

Bad Love, Rivals

Perhaps as a corollary to this discussion of why ratings are important, for better or for worse (usually for worse), here’s an article that discusses one such ramification: actors who come attached with high price tags that the drama then is unable to recoup when a drama flops in the ratings.

(One thing to note: Despite the high numbers listed, Korean actors find most of their paychecks going to management companies, as actress Choi Jin-shil recently gained attention for mentioning. In the U.S., agents are only allowed to take 10% — though more fees get siphoned off to managers, publicists, lawyers, and the like — but that percentage is much higher for Korean celebs.)

Even if a drama flops, stars’ asking prices continue to soar. It’s not as though market theory applies, and those prices keep rising, defying logic. Even when a drama meets with crushing failure, hurting the production company behind it, a star’s fee still climbs.

This year saw many dramas that failed to draw in good results or produce high ratings, such as the dramas Single Papa in Love, Bad Love, Rivals, Three Dads, One Mom, Who Are You?, Spotlight, I Love You, Robbers, and many others. …


Rivals OST – “지켜줄게” (I’ll protect you) by Lee Shin-sung [ Download ]

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Three Dads, One Mom; Single Papa in Love

However, fees for actors cast in lead roles still skyrocket. These days, star actors are earning close to hundreds of millions of won per episode. A drama role that earned a star 2 million won [approx. $2,000] per episode in 1997 now brings in anywhere from 20 million to 100 million won [$20,000 to $100,000]. At an increase of ten to fifty times its former price in the last ten years, this is an astronomical pay hike.

For a star with a moderately recognizable name, a per-episode fee can be from 30 to 50 million won [$30,000 to $50,000]. For top stars, that number now is in the 100 million [$100,000] range.

Recently, Park Shin-yang attracted much attention for his asking price. He’d demanded his fee for War of Money up front from production company Lee Kim Productions for the drama’s four-episode extension, a total of 620 million won [$620,000]. This amount converts to a per-episode price of 155,000 million won [$155,000]. That may be the fee for bonus episodes, but the fee for each episode [in the rest of the series] is still more than 100 million won [$100,000].

Thus stars’ fees continue to climb without regard to how well a drama performs. Of the dramas this year, there have been far more flops than successes.

Robbers, Who Are You?

These days, the production environment for dramas is sliding into extreme decline. Although the star fees rise, there is a rapid decrease in those willing to invest or enter into product placement agreements.

Furthermore, production costs are shooting up, and aside from a few exceptions, there are numerous dramas that pull in ratings still in the single digits. For that reason, there are some outside production houses that produce one or two dramas, then die out. Here are symptoms of Hallyu beginning to wane, and our drama structure is heading toward deterioration.

In such a serious situation, our film and then drama markets may fall into decline, giving rise to the argument that the drama market is headed for crisis point.

Kim Seung-soo, secretary-general of the Production Company and Drama Producers Association, said, “We can no longer handle these soaring actors’ fees. If we let this problem continue, the drama industry will collapse. We’re even discussing among our membership if we can figure out a way to bind the fees for actors to 20 million won [$20,000] per episode.”

It seems that the general consensus is that star fees are too high. Recently, a poll on a portal site posed that question, and among the 1,621 respondents, 95.3% felt that the prices were too high, 2.7% felt it was reasonable, and only 1.4% felt they were low.

Via My Daily


30 Comments from the Beanut Gallery
  1. ulrine

    first? cool! anyway…i think that the cause of flop is just the script, people are tired of the same things: love triangle, cinderella story….

  2. shro

    OMO! That’s unbelievable. Korean actors are being paid so much. Isn’t that more compared to actors in the US? But how much of that goes to managers? sorry, i maybe have missed it. is about half of what they get? I think they should correlate with ratings…even if dramas aren’t doing well they get the same amount. where’s the motivation for actors to do well, then?

  3. Liv

    Im inclined to believe that ratings are pretty much luck of the draw. Im fairly new to the drama scene, but Ive felt that some of the best dramas Ive seen are criminally underrated – and the reverse applies to the well performing dramas. I guess its not enough to have a big name, or a good plot, or even a hardworking marketing team – but a magical combination of all 3, plus a healthy dose of luck. With regards to the high salaries, I dont know if this is applicable to actors across the board, but judging from the number of stories of Korean performers collapsing due to exhaustion, Id say some of them really do earn their paychecks…

  4. Suhir

    Actually 20,000 to 50,000 per episode isn’t really high at all. I am assuming the 100,000 per episode fees are for the really big name stars. US actors are paid much more. However this is the basic problem with the single season structuring of the show. The fees for a cast will go up as the show becomes a proven ratings hit in the US. Near the end the cast of Friends was making a million per episode each. However when a show is new the $$$ is not nearly as impressive. Unfortunately Kdramas can’t follow the US model in that regard. I think the kdrama Entertainment industry needs to cut out a lot of the useless middle men. Actor fees could go down if the weren’t being robbed by managers. ANy manager that gets more then 10% is committing highway robbery in my book.

  5. Jessica

    Yeah, US big named stars are paid way more, but their pay usually coincides with how well they perform.

    I remember Seinfeld, Frasier, and that guy on Home Improvement were getting $1 million per episode at their peak!!

  6. belleza

    I think the real story is that nearly all of the KBS2 dramas have struggled pretty badly since early last year, even after they’ve paid the big contracts. Even after bringing in tried and true draws (Chae Rim in particular), which has been very expensive for a public run station, their shows have gotten killed with single digit ratings. Hong Gil Dong in fact has been their biggest success since Dal Ja’s Spring. The irony is that their ratings situation has pushed the KBS2 to emphasize the use of teenage idols and high concept (i.e. “hey let’s barrage the market with FUUUSSSSIIOOONN!!”) with their shows in order to bring netizen and mania buzz. And that further drops the ratings because, well, the kids don’t have control of the remote in their households. (You Are My Destiny’s unusually young cast also points in this direction.) KBS2 may end up emphasizing “Johnny dramas” (i.e. dramas starring boy band actors) their programming schedule. Ratings won’t be high, but their sponsors will pay for that market and they won’t have to pay the actors very much. You don’t want to cast expensive stars; now you don’t have to. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy. But we’ll see how “The World That They Live In” and “Kingdom of Winds” do.

    MBC and SBS are doing fine. Robbers did poorly, but SBS’s other star vehicles have been hitting homeruns all year. Spotlight and When Night Comes are doing poorly, but then does MBC have anything to complain about after milking Yi San and possibly Last Scandal?

    In terms of the greater story of “actors get paid too much”, that’s a sign that the industry is healthy. (And if you see a press clip complaining about it, that’s just typical corporate pushback.) It means that the actors, the people who actually bring in the seats, have power. Bad Love flopped domestically, but the producers paid for Kwon Sang Woo’s international draw, and the show recuperated all of its costs within the first month by Taiwan and Japan distribution rights. MBC union resented Bae Yong Joon’s asking price and overbearing effect on the show. But, given how troubled the Legend was and how it managed to succeed anyway, it probably wouldn’t have been possible without Hallyu’s Philosopher King. A lot of top Korean celebrities are forming their own production companies to win creative control. But very very few will ever command that kind of money or power. The laws of averages win.

    The Japanese drama industry is opposite of this. Pay scale is almost strictly dictated now by how well your last show performed. The very biggest draws (i.e. the ones counted on scoring #1 or #2 shows per season) usually top out at about 2 million yen/episode. This BTW translates to about $19K per episode, which is a few times smaller than a popular Korean actor, let alone a top salary for a A_lister. Considering that J-drama run about only 10 episodes, their effective total pay per show effectively runs about 5-10 times less than your popular Korean lead. In addition, most of the top idol actors and actresses do not have much say over what projects they want to do. If their company wants them to do 10 rom-coms in a row where they play the ingenue, they will do it. They have to do it.

  7. javabeans

    It wouldn’t be fair (or feasible) to pay actors’ fees based on show performance because contracts must be drawn up prior to production. The issue is that the going rate for actors keeps going up, so prod co’s don’t have leverage to keep costs reasonable. Management co’s have all the power but if the actors fees get too high, it really does get too expensive to pay for productions that aren’t earning back their investment. Thus the worry for the future.

    Actually, MBC is in worse shape than KBS at the moment (which is why they were so desperate to cling to the never-ending Yi San with such lackluster performances from its other dramas). KBS isn’t doing so hot either but they’ve got both KBS1 and KBS2 (more programming hours), and its other fare is doing better than their miniseries. SBS is kicking MBC’s ass, with KBS in second.

  8. belleza

    Yeah, I think overall KBS is doing fine, especially after Likable or Not broke daily drama rating records. But I still think the article best reflects mostly the KBS2 dramas over the past year and a half (really stretching to the Snow Queen.) KBS2’s ratings have just been terrible.

    Interesting to see MBC gamble their entire season on East of Eden. Talk about hedging bets. 😀 I think the salary issue is a valid concern, but it’s not a new concern. News on underperforming, troubled SBS dramas with problem productions and divas running offset seem to make their rounds every year. I think I’d be more concerned if they could cite average salaries of daily drama leads exploding as well.

    The J-drama press also complained about certain actors and actresses drawing 2M/yen, thereby exorbitantly raising production costs. (Not unjustified, given how the domestic viewership has dropped over the past 5 years.) They see nothing wrong with these actors losing almost 30-50% of their going rate because of one failed show. Therefore, a lot of them make their living primarily on commercials. They do drama so they can do more commercials.

  9. uniquetaste

    woa! didn’t noe that they were actually a lot. But neverless, i still enjoy rivals and who are you despite the low ratings:)cheers~

  10. 10 con

    In my opinion everyone must agree on a reasonable price as a standard let’s say $20,000, then if its a hit bonuses be given to actors. If the actor is a big shot celebrity there should be a standard as well about $ 60-80,000. Because even if the big shot actor doesn’t agree with the price in the long run if no one wants to hire you because of your high talent fee then bam you get nothing. I do feel for the actors since they work really hard but at the end of the day someone needs to compromise.

  11. 11 tamu

    As a person who does not live in Korea, and never like to watch drama, but my mind changed after I watched ALL ABOUT EVE….

    So, ever since that day I always watch Korean drama with Chae Rim in it…

    In Korea “Rival” might be not as succesfull as ODJ (since it was broadcasted against “Yi San” the historical drama) although compared to AJW’ drama “I Love You” which broadcasted by SBS, “Rival” did good, but anyhow, in overseas such as US and other Asian countries, people are looking forward for CHAE RIM new drama….

    And if you said that Cha Young Jin is not convincing and skillfull enough to be the bodyguard then we must see the scenario, because in the NG we could see that Chae Rim’s body is the fittest (on the basic training scene)

    So, in my opinion CHAE RIM deserves what she’s got !!!

  12. 12 Illdielaughing

    It’s also my opinion that Korean celebrities and idol stars get robbed of their hard earned money. They get worked like dogs, working more than 14 hours a day, their managers or entertainment companies get more than 10% of what they make (absurd, exactly how much more is it?) and they always seem to be in some sort of peril (car accidents, crazy fans, psycho over-zealous netizens). Though some people get payed a lot and are really untalented they get paid for their celebrity and their draw in terms of ratings so if their last drama did well their fee will go up, if they keep having good ratings companies will want to pay KBS, MBC, SBS or whoever when they find out that that actor is in the cast. But there is honestly so much more.

    I think this article really just scratches the surface of the bigger issues that are jeopardizing the Korean entertainment industry. The world’s entertainment industries are getting smacked because of the internet but I think Korea is having a lot of trouble not just on television but in Chungmoro as well.

  13. 13 Illdielaughing

    Ahh once again I double posted. Sorry!

  14. 14 X

    What Suhir said is what actually happened with Park Shin Yang. For the regular 16 eps of War of Money, he got the usual 50 million per episode. The 4 part special involved new input of dinero from the producers, which is why the price skyrocketed to 150 million, essentially because the ratings were good. Can’t really bitch about that since it’s market power, same with Bae Yong Joon. What people need to complain about is the rest of the 40 fraking million dollars Kim Jong Hak spent on that drama. How come Conspiracy in the Court, which cost 1/50th, made that look like child’s play?

    MBC will end in the black, or just slightly below break even. Who really will suffer is the third party producers, in this case Kim Jong Hak Productions. For Yi San, which would cost around 250-300 Million per episode to make, MBC only paid I think 100 Million. The remaining 200 per ep come from the producing company’s pockets. But the problem, and why there’s been a controversy over this with the government, is that MBC keeps more than half of the pie when it comes to advertisement money, and all of it for what concerns exports. For something as hot as Yi San, which went up to 400 Million Won per episode, all KJH Prod. would get is about 150 Million from ads and that’s it. Factor in publicity and various shenanigans, and it’s easy to see why they’re in the red (they brought this on themselves, though). Same exact thing will happen if East of Eden is not a monumental hit, since they’re spending 4-500 Million per ep on it with a super-stinky cast and a writer-pd combo that shouldn’t touch blockbusters with a ten foot pole. KBS having two channels doesn’t really matter, since there’s no ads on KBS1 (not yet anyway). So Daily Dramas before the 9 o’clock news make… nothing.

    SBS kicks everyone’s ass, but everyone else is riding the same Titanic, more or less. If they don’t make a Salary Cap soon, half the drama production companies in Korea will sink within the next two years. To make an example, Beethoven Virus is spending 70% of its entire budget on four actors (looking at the cast, I guess Kim Myung Min, Lee Ji Ah, Jang Geun Seok and Lee Soon Jae), with peanut butter cups left for the rest. If it were a normal three-way lovefest I’d understand, but something like that? They’re insane. And worrying about today’s paycheck will cause their own downfall, like Chungmuro and its 7% a few months ago.

  15. 15 uniquetaste

    Yeah! i thk that rivals is a good too! cheers~

  16. 16 gossip girl

    I can’t say whether or not 100k per ep is a lot because I don’t live in Korea. But based on your article it sounds like a lot. If this is the reason to jeopardize the korean entertainment/drama industry, it’s sad. Actors should be paid less then.

    I can totally understand how companies aren’t getting the return they need to cover all the production costs because of low rating for A-listers actors’s series.
    I love love korean drama, and i don’t think it’ll go down yet. maybe in decades but not years.
    I mean hong kong’s series were popular for a long long time until it kinda lose to korean’s. so i think the korean wave is still going.

  17. 17 asianromance

    i agree a lot with what con said. I think this year’s drama flops starring high profile actors should be a wake-up call for actors/actresses and their agents that actors are only a fraction of a drama’s success and that their celeb status alone is not able to draw a big crowd.

    Some actors/actresses are pushing the envelope when trying to angle for better offers. As they are trying to stretch the maximum, they are also creating a solid minimum offer- almost saying “any actress worth her salt won’t be working for X amount of money. “. I hope a maximum cap is set on agent and actor costs soon. However, at the same time, i do sympathize with actors in certain situations: though BYJ got an obscene amount of money for legend, i felt like he deserved a lot of it because he was in dangerous situations all the time while filming and got hurt a couple of times.

    I just hope that there are actors/actresses out there who are willing to work for less because they really want the role.

  18. 18 Marzy

    i sorta heard that before if an actor really wanted a role they’d be willing to lower salary or wait to paid on later or virtually no pay at all sometimes.. i think some people in hollywood are willing.. but i guess thats for movies or such.

    this has a lot to do also with the popular and buzzworhty article previously discussed.. eventhough yeah lots of dramas flopped but i know some of them were really received well.. so i guess even if they were received well they werent able to reap the rewards of gettting the public’s attention.. same while to the popular ones eventhough not discussed they get the money for the ratings too i guess..

    i really hope they can fix this out.. maybe there’s a way to limit the money siphoned also to the other guys.. and i agree that like in the US they dont necessarily get those huge pay increases not unless they become Friends, SATC, Seinfeld status.. i understand because of the huge status of some they want more.. but whats the use if u cant make it work..

  19. 19 hc

    Just like in Hollywood, how much a star is paid is also highly dependent on their star power outside of their own country (just one of the markets) as well. Those with the abilities to attract offers overseas especially Japan (the biggest market for Korean Wave stars) get paid a much higher fee than those who are big in Korea alone. One of the biggest reasons why the highest paid list is dominated by top Korean Wave stars – their works get exported to many countries (some get sold even before their broadcasts in Korea). Bae Yong-joon’s Legend was sold to Japan at a record breaking price. Song Seung-heon’s East Of Eden was reportedly exported to Japan’s FujiTV for 5 billion Won (almost 1/5 of its cost) even though it’s only in the filming stage right now; DVD release and other tied-in products will bring in additional revenue. Kwon Sang-woo’s Bad Love flopped in Korea, but his works are still in-demand in other countries.

  20. 20 tc

    not to forget some writers get paid a lot per episode …and some scripts are
    plain lousy. Some with good start , draggy in the middle, then rush to end.

  21. 21 ji

    i had no idea these actors were paid so much, but i guess they do deserve it but there should be a better way of figuring how much dough an actor deserves, maybe based on their career/history/previous projects/popularity. most of those failures were up against Yi San so there is not much you can do about that. i think half of the ratings depend on the actors/ their popularity, and the other half depends on the script writers & the plot. i wonder how much do the script writers, pd and crew members get paid?, it would suck it most of the budget went to the actors, since the pd and crew seem suffer too working long hours, like Hong Gil Dong crew, the bts stuff shows them freezing/tired.

  22. 22 Amber

    But they do make some money (the stations I mean) even though some of them are drama flops in Korea. Overseas interest in K-dramas are high— from China, Japan, to South East Asia —the market clamors for it. Korean dramas rate much higher in countries like China, Singapore, The Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, than their other Asian counterparts. Once a K-drama has ended, you know a foreign station is already trying to buy it. Sometimes considerably so-so ratings in Korea, does not always translate to epic failure. For they always have a brand new audience outside of Korea. And even if they do not do as well as expected in that country, the stations still buy these flop dramas especially if there is a big star in it.

    Just an example, in the Philippines from local stations to their sister cable companies, they are all saturated with K-dramas. These Korean produced dramas “killed” the once high clamor for Taiwanese and Latino telenovelas in that country. To an extent, “killed” their own brand of drama because people started preferring K-dramas.

    Even the likes of Dal Ja’s Spring is beating the rival local show. Also, the rather dry and lackluster Hello! Miss is having a successful run there.

    Sure, piracy is so abundant that people can either download it or buy it off the black market, but people still prefer watching their K-dramas dubbed in their language. Hence, the high clamor of Korean produced shows in both local and cable stations there.

    Now, it all comes down to this effect. The reason for this supposed high salaries as hc said, it’s highly dependent on their star power not just in Korea but outside of their country. It’s not called the Hallyu wave for nothin’. I think though, 100 thousand dollars per episode is an obscene amount of money. That’s just filthy. Not good for a human being who’s just paid to brood on cam.

  23. 23 belleza

    Yeah, Bad Love is a good example of this. It recuperated all its costs on initial Taiwan and Japanese sales, while it was still shooting. Casting Binnie and Hye Kyo in the same production is essentially an expensive insurance plan. It doesn’t matter if the show does poorly in South Korea; the China (esp. after Hye Kyo officially crosses over in the next John Woo film) and Philippines distributions right will pay for it anyway.

    We are really talking about only a handful of actors here who can do that though. I still think that, for the most part, you’ll end up seeing much younger actors take on lead roles. And possibly you’ll end up seeing a lot more teen-oriented dramas . If the ratings aren’t high anyway, might as well. I mean, to cast Han Ye Seul in an expensive remake of Tazza? Does that make sense?

    LBH’s Iris budget is 20 billion won, but I read somewhere that a huge chunk is really going into his salary. After they sign all the leads, uhhhh how are they going to film in 3 different countries without cheesing up the production?!?

  24. 24 Cass

    well i think bad love, who are you , three daddies and 1 mommy and formidable rivals are all pretty good drama….i really enjoy all these dramas especially formidable rivals….well honestly, those drama with good ratings arent as nice as i had expected where as all these dramas as i had mention above are all good drama!…Good Job to them and they definately worth the price they received!

  25. 25 klutzy

    지켜줄게…. isn’t it officially “keep in your heart” and not “i’ll protect you”? just wondering…

  26. 26 javabeans

    klutzy, 지키다 means to guard, protect, watch over.

  27. 27 Phyllyw

    No one has really asked why ratings are so low. First there are too many plots , many that use the same silly performers in scenes that have nothing to do with the story. Watching Mom’s Dead , the main plot was ten minutes. The rest was stupid conversation. This happens in most of your series. The producers should provide quality not junk. I Would rather see 18 interesting episodes rather than 50 or 100 episodes of people chasing their grown of fspring or screaming for no reason. Could we have fewer scenes where the actors get drunk. and are carried home, please, please produce a drama without this scene. it sets a bad example for young viewers..And why does every scene have ti be during a meal? Also It is sickening to have someone crying every five minutes .Do you really believe that people cry at the drop of a hat. I have stopped watching many dramas that become boring in spite of a great cast and a good plot. Somrtimes I just fast foreward the stupin parts , but it would be easier on the viewers to leave those scenes out completly. I don’t mind a good cinderella drama once in a while. Producers, you need to know what is in the script. before you pay millions
    for performers, that hurt them and me. Don’t let writers run away or ruin a good drama and cause another flop.

  28. 28 snow_drop*

    I didn’t know they are actually paid quite high. I think the reason, in my opinion, to these poor ratings is not in the script being bad (not all scripts are bad), not in the acting, but probably in the tendency of the production to drag. Or actually, to wrap things up in a very plain way as if it’s just for the sake of ending the series. It’s hard to produce high quality dramas when everything is around 15 – 16 episodes. Seems like a small amount of hours but to me that’s a lot of time to tell a story. There is a tendency to add in unnecessary stuff as well. The problem with watching many K-dramas for me right now is how to still be interested for 15 minutes. I find myself past forwarding every 5 minutes, and finished watching an hour’s worth of episode in less than 20 minutes…

  29. 29 diana

    maybe those dramas dont necessarily fail. yes, they fell badly in their home country but a lot of foreigners are a sucker for those kinds of dramas. maybe their real success is in their overseas market, you know: by selling licenses, etc. but, i can understand why this dramas flop big time. i’d say its becoz they’re far too cliche and too much whining. hahhaha

  30. 30 rain

    stars can have reasonable fees as long as they get a share in the profit, esp if the kdrama goes international. but management fees really should have a cap. it’s unfair to the artists.

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