[THE INVESTOR] Your straight-A high school daughter just found out she has a half-sister. That half-sister is now dead, and as much as you don’t want to call out your own flesh and blood, you suspect maybe it was the work of your little girl. But now, another boy, who just happens to be someone she has a crush on, might be punished for the crime. Last but not least, all this just might be a part of a plot brewed up by your daughter’s sinister “grade coordinator.”
This is the latest update from Korean television drama “SKY Castle,” which has shot to fame in the past two months it has aired. Despite the suspenseful plot, it’s not a murder mystery. Rather, it centers around a group of elite parents who will do anything to put their children through top schools. In other words, it hit the jackpot with Koreans, who are known for their flaming desire for higher and better education.
With only four episodes left, the 20-episode drama has logged close to 20 percent viewing rate last week, breaking the record for JTBC and might even set a new one for local cable TV ratings. Its popularity has also boosted the stock price of its operator J Contentree, which is in talks with distributors to air “SKY Castle” overseas.
J Contentree vs. Studio Dragon
With the growth of JTBC, J Contentree has become the industry’s second-largest enterprise in terms of market share, following Studio Dragon. But all this didn’t happen overnight.
For years, JTBC had been bogged down with losses, but it trudged on to invest in content. In 2017, the broadcaster logged a 9.9 billion won operating profit (US$8.81 million), to swing to black for the first time. Sales rose 56 percent on-year to 311.1 billion won.
“Enthused by JTBC’s turnaround, J Contentree has been spending more on production, and investments in intellectual properties have pushed the competitiveness of its dramas to another level,” said Mirae Asset Daewoo analyst Park Jeong-yeop, adding that the firm is preparing to launch another tent-pole program that will cost over 1 billion won per episode.
Based on such prospects, Yuanta Securities Korea analyst Park Seong-ho said he maintains a “strong buy” for its stocks. Operating profit in the fourth quarter of 2018 will reach 10.1 billion won, up 17 percent on-year, and almost half of the profits will come from broadcasting, he projected.
All eyes are now on whether J Contentree can close the gap with Studio Dragon, the industry leader with an estimated 30 percent market share last year. Citing high growth, margins and strong exports, as well as solid grip on the domestic market, eBEST Investment and Securities’ head researcher Yoon Ji-ho suggested the production company as a “top pick.”
“Growing concerns over a global economic slowdown, partly due to the lasting conflicts between the US and China, intangible goods such as TV and movie contents are garnering more attention,” he said, stressing that Korean dramas, along with Japanese animation, are a solid bet.
Expectations are rising for Studio Dragon, which previously joined hands with Netflix to create the hit drama “Mr. Sunshine” and is preparing to globally launch another series.
Year of Korean dramas
The K-drama market has tripled in size since the early 2000s mainly from exports that have grown to US$239 million, according to recent official data. Netflix has played a growing role in this. Later this month, it will unveil another Korean mega production “Kingdom,” a zombie thriller based in the Chosun Dynasty.
The six-episode series is the entertainment giant’s first original in Korea and cost more than 10 billion won, the costliest for a local drama.
This year, a record-high number of 108 dramas will be released, according to eBEST analyst Kim Hyeon-yong. “In addition to major players such as CJ affiliates, JTBC, Netflix and the three terrestrial broadcasters, other cable operators and Warner Brothers will jump into the market,” he said.
The analyst advised investors to better focus on companies that have their own competitive platforms and are already supplying through Netflix. J Contentree is fast on the heels of tvN and has entered a virtuous cycle on the back of the unparalleled success of “SKY Castle,” while Studio Dragon has secured about half of the tent-pole contents for this year, estimated the analyst.
By Hwang Youmee (email@example.com)