MK Capital-Backed DramaFever Brings International TV Shows to the Web

4/4/12Follow @jpruth

While some cable television channels such as BBC America offer entertainment from overseas, there are even more shows on the global stage looking for new audiences. DramaFever in New York provides access, via the Web and mobile devices, to those hard-to-find shows from countries such as Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. Seung Bak, co-founder of DramaFever, says his three-year-old company plans to expand its content selection this year, thanks to a recent funding round. He believes offering shows, mostly for free, from such diverse sources can disrupt old broadcast models that limit viewership of these programs. “There has to be a better way to get content on demand when you want to watch it,” he says.

Bak says what gives DramaFever an edge on the competition is its growing library of some 400 on demand titles—many of which are subtitled in English for nonnative speakers. He believes making these shows accessible to a broad audience differentiates DramaFever from cable and satellite television channels, which may focus on very specific audiences. “A lot of those channels are geared toward the ethnic, in-language crowd,” he says. “DramaFever is all about making content available for a mainstream audience.”

Currently DramaFever can be viewed in the United States, Canada, Guam and Puerto Rico. The company also curates Korean drama shows that appear on Hulu’s platform. Bak says he saw an opportunity to work officially with media sources to reach new audiences in response to online fan communities that share videos—many of which are unauthorized—from these international markets.

On March 16, DramaFever closed a $4.5 million Series B funding round led by MK Capital. The company will use the money to make the platform available in 150 countries within the next 12 months. Bak also wants to triple his staff of fourteen full-time employees this year. DramaFever has thus far raised more than $6 million since 2009 from backers that include YouTube co-founder Steve Chen, StubHub founder Jeff Fluhr, Capital IQ co-founders Steve Turner and Randy Winn, and Wikets CEO Andy Park.

Bak says the latest funding will also help him diversify his content sources beyond the seven countries that now provide programming. DramaFever offers shows from Korea’s three major television broadcasters, KBS, MBC, and SBS. Other content providers include Taiwan’s Sanlih Entertainment Television and Asahi TV in Japan. Bak wants to add shows from countries such as Chile, Brazil, Columbia, and Argentina. “We are taking primetime shows that are very popular from around the world and curate them for an international audience,” he says. “The funding allows us to accelerate expansion across the board.”

Some of the most popular shows from the international market, Bak says, are soap opera-style dramas. “There is a guy and a girl who want to be together but there is a mother getting in the way or a love triangle,” he says. There also primetime shows that are analogues to U.S. hit series such as CSI and Desperate Housewives. In spite of their local appeal, Bak says many shows produced in other countries face challenges reaching audiences in outside markets. That is why he focuses on shows that do not already have international distribution through official channels.

Viewers can watch shows through DramaFever for free with accompanying advertisements, or pay about $10 per month for commercial-free programs. In addition to the Web platform, DramaFever is available through an app for Roku media players and for mobile viewing as an Apple iPad app. Paid subscribers who use the app can also access additional content on their devices. An Android-based app is due later this year, Bak says. DramaFever is also expected to be available on the Google TV platform this year. The company is in discussions to bring its app to Web-connected smart televisions, as well.

Bak got his start in the startup arena as chief marketing officer for financial information platform Capital IQ. He says he joined the company right out of college, watched it change business models, raise capital, and grow into a $400 million business before it was acquired in 2004 by The McGraw-Hill Companies. Capital IQ’s founders eventually became backers in DramaFever. Bak says his time with Capital IQ helped him prepare for launching his own company. “That experience was invaluable,” he says. “I went through the full lifecycle.”

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at jpruth@xconomy.com and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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