Seung Bak is cofounder of DramaFever.com, a streaming service for foreign prime-time television, subtitled for North American markets. Last year, the site closed a multi-million-dollar funding round, gaining backing from YouTube cofounder Steve Chen, among others. In this interview, we talk with Seung about everything from the joy of discovering an unusual untapped market – to the challenges of competing for venture capital funding.
Q: What has been the greatest challenge in creating a business based in the US but built on Korean content?
We're first-time entrepreneurs building a business from scratch in an industry we had no prior experience in. We started with a dream and modest personal savings, so everything turned out to be very hard.
There is an audience out there for any type of premium content. But the challenge is determining how to license content, build a tech/distribution platform, acquire/retain users, monetize, recruit talent and raise capital. And doing it all while competing against a host of online pirates at a price point of zero.
Everyone was skeptical. But we've demonstrated that if you properly curate and package content, millions will enjoy binge-watching subtitled foreign TV shows online. We started with archive-quality Korean TV dramas but now have over 14,000 hours of shows, including many currently airing worldwide.
Q: How have changes in the way our culture(s) accesses/shares information today helped shape the way you designed DramaFever?
We started DramaFever in 2009 after noticing a trend. Millions of non-Koreans were hanging out on online forums and torrent/linking sites, and sharing fansubs to watch Korean TV shows online. This indicated massive latent demand, yet no one had built a real cross-border business around it. So we decided to take the plunge. Clearly, the Internet had a profound effect on how media gets spread and how audiences develop worldwide.
We're at the nexus of a number of global trends that are highly favorable to our business:
- First, media is increasingly consumed online as broadband and new screens on connected devices proliferated worldwide.
- Second, pop culture is rapidly globalizing as societies become much more interconnected through web platforms like Facebook and YouTube.
- Third, the production value of international TV shows and movies have gone up dramatically, and many are now on par with the best of Hollywood.
- Finally, the technology ecosystem has evolved to the point that a company like ours can cost-effectively build a large media business by going directly to consumers with innovative user experiences.
Q: Why should entrepreneurs pay closer attention to South Korea?
Entrepreneurs should pay closer attention to what's happening in other countries in general. South Korea is particularly interesting from a media and technology standpoint because the country is so wired and its people are so receptive to new technology.
South Koreans have enjoyed wireless broadband, video on demand, social networks, and various online services years before the rest of the world. The country is also a trendsetter in Asia for pop music, movies and TV shows. For Internet entrepreneurs, South Korea can provide a sneak preview of what's possible in the future.
Q: How do you approach marketing DramaFever differently, considering it is a company about the digital distribution of content?
Our marketing objectives aren't dissimilar from TV networks like AMC or Fox. You want maximum audience for your best shows. The challenge is that our content is online, foreign and subtitled, so we need to be much more resourceful with our marketing spend. We're very active on social media and have had tremendous success through search, affiliates and syndication partners to attract viewers.
Q: What has been your greatest lesson learned when it came to seeking investment into a business idea in a market (international digital content distribution, etc.) still very much in formation?
Raising capital is difficult for most startups, especially if you've never made money for people and are entering unproven markets. It is an intense process because investors have specific investment criteria, like to see market traction, and have other investment opportunities.
It's important for the founder/CEO to identify potential investors and proactively build relationships so their confidence in you grows. Unless you're a really hot deal, people generally don't invest in people they just met. You need to be always soft marketing to potential investors to ensure attractively-termed capital is available when you need it.
About Seung Bak
Prior to DramaFever, Seung was Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for Capital IQ, a leading provider of information services to the global financial community. Seung served a variety of marketing, sales, strategy, finance, and operational roles in helping Capital IQ grow from a seed stage startup to a $350+ million revenue business. Previously, he was an investment banker at CapitalKey Advisors, the precursor to Capital IQ, where he advised venture-stage and middle-market companies. Seung earned a BA in Economics from the University of Rochester.
Follow Seung @dramafever.