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Actors remain unpaid for MBC’s Night Light and KBS’s Master–God of Noodle

Sigh. I realize that behind-the-scenes dramaland isn’t made up of sunshine and rainbows, but news like this really does tarnish the shiny veneer on the industry as a whole. It’s been reported that actors from MBC’s Night Light and KBS’s Master–God of Noodle still haven’t been paid for their work on the shows. While it’s only been a couple of months since Night Light ended its run, God of Noodle aired its episodes between April and June of last year, which makes it almost a year that they’ve been delaying payment to some of its cast.

Unfortunately, this is far from the first time this has happened, as most of us drama fans who’ve been around long enough know. Just off the top of my head, I recall the off-camera mess in Age of Feeling, and the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of one of Korea’s iconic drama directors. Until dramaland reforms its flawed outsourced production system, we can probably safely assume this will not be the last time reports like this appear in the headlines.

In this instance, the actors who hadn’t been duly compensated for their work recently submitted official complaints to the respective production companies for both shows. Verdi Media, the company behind Master–God of Noodle, owes something to the tune of 300 million won (or US $270,000), and hasn’t made any offer to negotiate or resolve this matter. It’s been reported that the Korea Entertainment Management Association (Korea’s version of the U.S.’s Screen Actors Guild) issued a summons to Verdi Media on April 5 to attend a disciplinary/ethics hearing regarding this issue.

When this story broke on April 7, early reports indicated that C Story, Night Light’s production company, had also not responded to actors’ attempts to contact them. However, C Story has since come out with a statement, saying they were confused by the reports and that while payments have been delayed, they have been communicating with all of the as-yet-unpaid actors. Aside from the infamous use of PPL, revenues from dramas derive mainly from selling broadcasting rights overseas, and with China shutting the door on all and anything Korean with the recent hullabaloo over military/political issues, companies like C Story are finding it difficult coming up with the money to pay production costs.

This whole China kerfuffle means bad news across the industry, because C Story is certainly not the only production company that relies on the Chinese market. It doesn’t help that MBC and KBS are taking a total hands-off approach to the problem, saying that these issues should be handled by the production companies. Bae Kyung-soo, the KBS producer who oversaw Master–God of Noodle during its run, released a statement saying that KBS had already paid all production costs at the outset, and that actors’ contracts were with the production companies. It’s unfortunate, because there have been cases where the broadcasters have stepped in before (e.g., MBC eventually paid the actors in Rascal Sons when the production company’s CEO actually fled the country), but for now, it looks like MBC and KBS are holding their ground.

This is just bad juju all around because you can’t blame any single party for the flawed system. These production companies are operating on so-thin-you-can’t-see margins as is, so if the drama isn’t a ratings hit, more than likely they’ll be losing money. This is why I’m always excited to hear of alternative investments flowing in through the likes of Netflix, weirdly scheduled episode releases notwithstanding, because diversifying the money flow means less dependency on a single source (*cough* China *cough*). But until that becomes the norm, we’ll just have to hope that the industry recognizes the problem and try to reform from within. I know, I’m not holding my breath either.

Via Sports Donga, Herald Pop (1), Herald Pop (2)

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I wonder if there's any power in having actors just refuse to work with certain companies, or even better, broadcasters tying future work to successfully resolved past issues. For example, no slot until we see a good faith effort to clear up debts. Good faith could be payment plans. New projects would need better financing up front. Why is it so lopsided, though? Why don't broadcasters and production companies alike share the risks?

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@mamaj
I don't think ur power plan will ever work ever buddy. Is too idealistic.

If that by means, will slow down the wheel of kdramas flows & legacy. Kdramas works like robot machine, dramas that re needed to air for 6months ahead already laid down in broadcasters board, trying its best to pitch secure golden time slots/star casts/ppl/song ost n so on..its war zone out there.

No one will be bothered abt secured financial issue by out house producers. If broadcaster see a potential drama will be a hit, are they gonna hold the drama if the producers behind it haven't clean out their financial mess? No.. other broadcaster will be terrific n will cat fight to get the drama on their channel.. sad but truth

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I'm sure you're right, it's the way most things go.

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From now on I am not going to make any PPL jokes, if their existence means that money goes to those who are working hard to entertain us.

I still will however laugh at the subway jokes. Can't help it otherwise!

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So less Subway jokes from now on? :/

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Agree. Until it sorts itself out the fandom also needs to do its part. I too thought the Subway ppl was done in a way that was jarring, but thought it was unwise to criticize the brand since they were obviously spending a LOT of money.

Another thing that should happen is that the fandom should exert social pressure on people who use illegal sites when legal ones are available. I bet that would make a significant impact on the actors ability to get fairly paid.

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I don't know if it would. I can watch DramaFever without signing up to Premium and without ads because I have Adblocker, so what are they getting from my views?

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Traffic.

But then again, if they can, people should pay. That's how actors get paid. DF only costs a pittance every month. Forego a trip to Starbucks and it's paid for.

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In my own case, I only use DF when a drama isn't available on Viki, which I contribute to. DF wasn't available in Australia until recently so I'm still getting used to actually being able to watch dramas on there, lol. I'm not sure what DF pays the network of the dramas they air though. Whatever it is, it would be a very small portion of the drama's actual income.

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I don't think anyone truly minds the PPL much to be honest, I personally don't. It's only when it's done to blatant and plays no contribution to the story then you really dislike it.

Subway is just shameless, end of story haha

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While I recognize the need for them and usually don't mind seeing the characters enthusiastically enjoy their sandwiches, I will NEVER forgive Subway for K2's final thoughts being overshadowed by it's PPL. It made the entire show a joke.

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Hahah that's gonna be a classic one that no one will ever forget.

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Yikes! Another reason to be glad Netflix has taken interest in Korean dramas.

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Or you could spin it as a *really* bad start for Netflix kdramas. Wasn't Night Light their first one?

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Yah, remembered it was exclusive to netflix, thus the unavailability of the drama.

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I think it WILL make a difference with Netflix originals, though. Netflix probably doesn't have much control over dramas they "only" have streaming rights for, so I'm not sure how much they would actually have to do with the Night Light issues. Their originals are another story, though. I'd expect those to not have these types of issues. We'll see!

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It was the first "currently airing" drama that Netflix bought exclusive rights to (i.e. why DF and Viki couldn't get it). I don't think they were involved in the production.

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that was such a bad move because most k-drama fans watch on DF and Viki and i can't see too many average netflix viewers hopping on the k-drama train. much like anime, it'll probably always be a niche market that is very successful but doesn't really become super mainstream outside of the region/continent of origin.

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Lol, ikr? This doesn't seem like a great start to me. But maybe it will yield more positive results in the long run...

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I think it did revealed some stuff to Netflix that their exclusive rights with Night Light didn't work so well. The next drama they bought exclusive rights is Man to Man which they decided to stream for everyone with available subtitles in different languages. Except America gets two batches of 8 episodes each (delayed airing time).

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While this article shows me the need for Netflix, I'm dreading Netflix getting their fingers in the Kdrama pie. I need to watch Kdramas while they air so that if I don't understand some cultural thing going on, I can read a DB recap or ask my fellow beanies or check other forums. If I have to wait and watch after the rest of the world has already watched, when I come to the forums later to see if my question was addressed during the original broadcast, chances are I'll run into spoilers. Or, if my question was not addressed, there'll be no one around for me to ask in an old thread. *sob*

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They actually have had a lot of Korean dramas available. I frequently see things that have been on Viki or DramaFever already show up on Netflix 2 months or more later. And I immediately would 4 or 5 star them as appropriate. I figured that if I'm rating the shows but not watching them that's sending a Netflix a "Nice but too late" message.

Here's proof that thought worked. They emailed me that "White Nights" (aka Night Light) was now available. I had already noticed it was up but they emailed me showing that they clearly understood I was interested in the genre.

Still it's a bad sign that the 'Flix bought Night Light and the production company is still short on funds.

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And the chance of actors going on strike is probably highly unlikely-- and who knows if it would do any good either. :/ I wish the actors would be paid like they deserve, they offer us so much entertainment to distract us when things get tough in life!

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Geez, God of Noodles happened so long ago... that really sucks for the actors. I wonder why Korea hasn't tried branching into other markets like Japan or South Asian countries in light of the China Ban. Is there just no money there? I know they're smaller.

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I remembered when Kpop was "exploding" in Japan, they kinda slowed down for some reasons. I think Japan wants to appeal their own domestic music and doramas and thus, lessen the Korean entertainment influx. As for South Asian countries, the Korean influence is pretty large in my opinion. I think I saw one broadcasting station that started airing subbed Korean dramas like Chief Kim. So I think Korea is looking out for ways to branch from China. But it's terrible God of Noodles and Night Light actors and actresses aren't getting paid, especially the folks who have minor roles.

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Yes I remember that time! But then social pressure was on the entertainment industry in Japan to stop with the hallyu wave, because of Korea's past history with Japan in the war.

That's why there was a time when KARA, Girls Generationm and 2pm were super big in Japan. However after the backlash from the public it slowly dropped.

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So much memories back then with the surging fever of kpop and of course the continuous Hallyu wave influence :P
I feel old lol.

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It is large. Everyone I know in here in south east know korean dramas, even though not everyone watch it. Especially after Goblin was rocketing.. I guess practically everyone with gadget on their hands know gong-yoo.
But, we are watching it on stream. With all of the ridiculous rules our broadcast ethic pressed on, the censorship and cut scenes. We would have nothing left of the drama. Purchasing it would be such a waste of money. No one would want to watch their favorite dramas being chopped and censored all the time on television while we can watch it uninterrupted on line.

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Oh, I knew it was big in those countries, I forgot about censorship though... that would simulcast difficult.

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make*

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Yeah it's one of the problems here. Since the majority of my country is moslem, no kissing/bed scene is allowed, no violence is allowed, the ep being chopped and cut to make way to ads that interrupt the episode. I still remember how I thought every Kdrama is pure and innocent just like our own drama/soap opera, only to found the original drama on internet with all its glorious kiss scenes hahaha.
Of course I prefer the original version *grins.

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That's practically bearable..
You have no idea how bad our censorship in here. Ever seen cigarette and boozes being blurred? Or even woman's slight cleavage? Yeah. It is that bad.
There was a time when descendant of the sun was aired in the national tv and all I wonder about is how are they gonna blur the drama... ?

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Wkwkwkw... I guess you are from Indonesia, the same country as mine? *grin

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I think they're definitely exploring ways to branch into South East Asian markets. I'm from Singapore, and ever since the China ban, I've seen so many Korean actors coming over to promote their dramas or hold fan meetings. Lee Je-hoon came to promote Tomorrow With You a few weeks ago. Lee Dong Wook and So Ji-sub are holding fan meetings soon.

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Another reminder that the production environment of dramas still needs lots of improvement. In cases like this I find myself especially worried for the actors with smaller roles, since they must be much more dependant on their income to put food on the table compared to the big stars :/

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Netflix did pay for license to Night light though. sound like this is something that need to get fixed inside the industry so they know they can pay actors and staff before camera roll. surprised to read that they can start production before they have their finance in order.

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It took 4 years (mid-2016) for Touch the Sky Productions to fully pay the cast and crew of "Bachelor's Vegetable Store" which finished airing in February 2012. Broadcaster Channel A refused to get involved in the non-payment issue, and subsequently decided dramas would stop airing on their channel after 2012 because they didn't make enough money to cover their costs.

Reforms will never occur unless the K-drama industry guts itself and reforms under a more equitable system. Which means it ain't gonna happen ever.

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The writer of Bachelor's Vegetable Store should have been banished from the industry.

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It still boggles my mind how dramas keep coming out using systems (financial, filming and more) that are essentially gambling. Dramaland tosses darts and everyone's livelihood but that of a-list stars and creators seems to depend on one landing just right.

I hope that the China mess will at least push them to look for a more independent method of stability for productions, but then again Dramaland can be kind of slow with some things, so let's see.

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this is really sad I really pity the smaller actors

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1. Is it the whole cast who haven't been paid or just everyone who isn't the main leads?
2. This is just atrocious and makes their companies look even worse. I thought people got paid in parts throughout the show? Or atleast by the time the show is over

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The whole cast. I remember some actors who are rich enough to pay their own salary refused the pay in similar situations. Lee Min Ho in Faith and Moon Geun Young in Goddess of Fire refused the pay, so that the production company could pay the rest of the cast.
Of course the ones who suffer are not the main leads, but the supporting actors with no name/popularity.

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On one hand, I consider the China ban a blessing in disguise in that nothing says find alternative source of generating funds like being cut straight from the source. The fact that China knows that they can use this as a bargaining chip and that it's working so far also grates. Now I just need dramaland to band together and actually talk about how they're going to solve this mess, because the ostrich with its head in the sand approach is not benefiting anyone. Especially the actors and the crew who've put so much effort into their work.

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I agree somewhat except "banned" means the Chinese fans illegally streaming the Korean content anyway.

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you're right about that. Urgh! The level of hypocrisy grates!

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I was afraid the Chinese ban would affect the industry like this. But didn't Master of Noodle air before the ban? Since a change in the industry itself is highly unlikely (and obviously not as important), I just hope that the political issue will sort itself out sometime soon and end the ban. It's probably affecting a lot of other parts of the Korean economy as well.

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It escalated pretty badly. The ban pissed off people from Korean (mostly the netizens) and both sides (China and Korea) the netizens are throwing insults at one another. Of course, people are finding way to access the Korean dramas over at China, illegally. In light of all this, both industries are turning to other countries to make money. And there were losses from major companies (the big three broadcasting) and the the three major kpop companies (YG, JYP, and SM). It extended to Chinese people reluctant to board vacation trips to Korea as well. Not sure if vacation trips are affecting China, I would think to some extent.

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Sigh, why can't the world just get along? Seems like FNC made a wise choice in focusing mostly on Japan instead of China. Maybe this'll push them into the Big Three for good, they've already been on the verge of kicking out one of them for a while now. So, as always in life, maybe someone will actually benefit from the ban.

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The power dynamics is very lopsided, China's tourism hardly suffers from Korean boycott because Korean tourists make up a very small portion of China's tourism revenue. In fact with the sheer size of the Chinese population, tourism is basically self-sustaining with their own domestic tourists. Korea on the other hand is very badly hit because China makes up the greatest portion of tourism revenue for them. I just came back from Seoul 2 months ago and they have Chinese store assistants in essentially every shop in the major shopping districts.

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The supporting actors are probably the worse ones off

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That's very interesting. I actually hadn't known about actors not being paid by production companies and it's an even bigger shock to hear that Faith's PD committed suicide. :/

This opens my eyes up even more because usually I'd hear about Kpop stars who usually go into other markets such as China & Japan to attract a bigger audience towards their music. I never knew S. Korean production companies somewhat depended on China to also bring in more revenue (I hope I used it correctly). This is very sad to hear.

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Wait, aren't there any thugs for hire to go around and demand payment ? /s

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In kdrama-land at least -- but are there in real Korea?
Anyway, if you are a supporting actor and haven't been paid, you can't afford nearly as many thugs as the production company. :(

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Imo, the system is just unsustainable. The fact that the fees paid by the local broadcasting station cannot cover all of the production costs (and more) means that they are reliant on other sources of income (DVD sales, export overseas). And now China has closed the door to Hallyu.

It's interesting, because this is really only a concern for the Korean entertainment industry. If you look at other countries, most of the production companies get all of their investments back from selling broadcasting rights to local stations. Earnings from overseas markets are just icing on the cake. It's not an necessarily an issue with the production company, and nor should they blame the Hallyu ban. I mean, none of the other markets will be affected by the ban.

If sets + staff pay + actors pay > local broadcasting rights, this means that the stations are paying too little, or the actors are overpaid (likely so), or the production team is being too ambitious. Could be a combination of the factors as well. The fact is that the Korea market is small, and actors shouldn't expect to earn as much as their counterparts in the bigger markets. The production company shouldn't go above their means as well. A top Chinese actor earns ~US$100k per episode, a top Korean actor earns ~US$83k per episode. That doesn't make any sense at all considering the disparity in the size of the markets.

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They're actually failing to capture a major revenue stream. The production companies should take advantage of the many opportunities for ecommerce. They could set up a site similar to Amazon that sell the clothing, accessories, household goods food delivery etc that are featured on the drama. Create loyalty by advertising that buying the goods / services from the production company site helps to pay the show's actors.

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That's interesting, considering that "Night Light" is available on Netflix (under the title "White Nights") so that's another stream of revenue that the production company cashed in on - they should have the cash to pay the actors. As for a production that's over a year completed, there has to be some form of criminal or civil action that can be applied here because it's unlikely they've got the resources to cough up. They're not still producing, are they?

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Money makes the world go round......very cliche but so, so true. I am also glad that they are seeking alternative means of production and distribution like Netflix. The "putting all your eggs in one basket" has got to stop......and it will hopefully allow for more interesting/diverse content if they don't have to please one audience.

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This sucks :(

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The Chinese ban is really damaging..
I pity the actors..

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So the real issue is whether it's better for the fandom to intentionally embrace a brief period of gratuitous Subway and Papa John's ads or to have the nation of Korea (re)surrender its sovereign rights of self defense and self determination.

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Good write-up, tipsymocha! I vaguely knew stuff like this was happening but didn't know it was from the stations outsourcing to production companies, I thought they produced their own stuff. Sounds messy and risky for actors/film crew.

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Some IR perspective here on the hullabaloo. Apologies in advance for the long post. Guess some people already know why dramas can't be as profitable in the past before China's ban. So what is the China's ban? China is banning almost all contents of Korean dramas, Kpop and other related measures while SK insists on deploying THAAD. THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) is a ground-based missile defense system, designed to shoot down short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles during the terminal phase (i.e., when they are coming down). The system is from US, aimed to defend SK from North Korea's missiles. It hasn't deployed yet but it already caused ruckus because China sees it as a threat due to THAAD's radar system that could detect China's own missiles system. All in all, China sees THAAD as a strategic measure from US and SK to "spy" their system. As a response, China placed ban on South Korea's business, especially K-pop/entertainment industry because they know it's one of the major economic souce for SK. SK depends on China anyway since China is their largest trading partner.

So what's SK response? From what I heard, read and see, K-pop and K-dramas industry have been looking for new markets, especially in Southeast Asia, US and Europe. SEA region has around 600 million people, half of China's population, and established Korean Wave following. In my country alone several Kpop groups, So Ji Sub, and Lee Dong Wook make a visit this year. SM Entertainment will hold audition for NCT members in Indonesia. Some TV channels also regularly air Korean dramas programme, even though Kdramas now are much more expensive than dramas from other countries). I heard after China, SEA is their main target, so expect to see more stars and K-pop groups coming there. Regarding Europe and US, you see some Kdramas are being remade in US. Netflix is also expanding to Kdramas so it's matter of time before it spreads wildly to other less-known regions.

Regarding production costs and licensing rights, I believe they will follow the trail of money. Probably it will push Korean broadcasters and prod companies to experiment with new formats and new financing options. As long as there's money there even if it's not from China, they'll be fine.

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Industry needs to fix itself and learn not to depend on just one country

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Very flawed system. And whilst china market n consumerism for kdrama was vy high, that avenue had all but disappeared. Sucks not being paid for ur work.

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If not for the overseas markets, K-dramas will not look as stylish and nice as they are now. I mean, comparing K-dramas with the local shows in my country, the difference in production values is great. It is evident that K-dramas have more money to play around, and some of this is seen in the increasing use of special effects and huge sets and luxurious houses. K-drama has become a regional, if not global industry just like Hollywood. And just like how many Hollywood movies will not break even with just the domestic box office, I think K-dramas also need overseas sales to break even now. They could try to target other markets but frankly, the purchasing power of countries like in SEA cannot be compared to the China market. Not to mention they have already been selling to some of these markets already. China is still the most important market, for both K-dramas and Hollywood. Of course, they should cut down their production budgets for future dramas and not operate with so much risks. But K-dramas nowadays are so extravagant compared to the early days of Hallyu that I doubt it will change. People are used to their K-dramas looking sleek and stylish, and actors are used to their disproportionately high pay checks.

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I vaguely recall that Valid Love is another drama that had issues paying its actors.

I am one that generally doesn't complain about the Subway ads. I know that people joke about them or get annoyed about them, but everyone should be thanking Subway and just perhaps wishing for more creative ways to work the ads into the drama. Product placement is necessary and way more so than in the US.

I think many more partnerships with Netflix is only a good thing. They are going global and can help spread the popularity of Korean dramas. I, like many, discovered K-drama via Netflix and many other countries don't have Dramafever or Viki to rely on for their addiction. Perhaps with enough popularity, legal streaming sites will develop in other areas that don't already have them which creates more $$ for the productions. I do realize Netflix's goal is to get Korean subscribers so don't know how much time they will give to break into the Korean market before moving on.

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I remember that whole Age of Feeling mess. This really sucks for those who have put in so much hard work and dedication. And it's especially devastating when people decide that the only way out is to end their lives. I really hope that reform can happen and there would be more accountability to prevent such unpaid incidents and tragedies from occurring.

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Don't they start these productions with a set budget? I don't get why they don't just factor in the pay and the set costs and everything first instead of relying on other revenues. It's irresponsible to blame on the low ratings or China bans for failing to pay the actors for their fair share.

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I think the problem is that as hallyu and K-dramas become more and more global and the market for it increases, everyone involved in it wants a bigger piece of the pie. And if you want a bigger pie, then you have to make the production bigger in scale and the budgets go up. The higher the budget, the higher the risk and in the end it's like a gambling game. But the networks don't typically want to take the risk so it's up the struggling production companies to take on the risk. The networks do pay for the cost or production, or below-the-line costs. But above-the-line costs for creatives (directors, DPs, producers, actors) are mainly the responsibility of the production company. This is where the problem is. The production company usually has the rights to sell the drama overseas but when the biggest market closes its doors after the doors have been wide open for years then well, there's a big problem. It's not a good system for sure. So like tipsymocha said, it's good that new platforms such as Netfilx is pouring in money into K-dramas. Because, after all, what is life without K-dramas?

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Kim PD suicide is like the worst drama of Dramalands that I've heard. I still feel bad for him :(

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I wonder if the business has become so risky because of the extremely thin margin and all, there wouldn't be anyone doing it.

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Yikes... Netflix had picked up Night Light from the start too...

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That is why they have to stop this obsession on rating to a point that Quality is the second consideration. Producers should stick to their commitment to quality than be swayed by broadcasting stations demands. If they can't generate enough revenue domestically, they have seek more income elsewhere. With poor quality & no budget for marketing, how can their sell dramas outside Korea. At least for high quality dramas, even for lack of marketing funds, quality will speak for itself.

Though big productions company has more edge over the small ones as they can pay or buy nominations & awards & even secure high-end interviews and promotions outside Korea just to create buzz to make their dramas more attractive to overseas broadcasting stations or streaming sites.

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I can finally relate, thanks Anthony Kim.

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Which actors remain unpaid? What about the cast and crew? Call me cynical, but I can't help but feel UEE's salary alone would cover quite a few lesser mortals. If lead actors who don't need the money received payment while others did not, shame on them. I can't bring myself to feel too bad for those top earners who will easily make up the loss elsewhere. I'd rather see those actors advocate for the cast and crew lacking a voice. Why not tell the companies to pay the little man first and worry about their exorbitant salaries later?

Ooh! I think I just came up with the plot for a new Kdrama!

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