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Kdramas Enjoy Dramatic Surge in Popularity In The U.S.

BY Joan MacDonald | Mar 27, 2013 04:44 PM EDT

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If you live in the U.S. and watch Korean dramas, you have plenty of company. In fact, you have more company every day.

The number of people watching kdramas in the U.S. continues to grow at a pace that surprises even those providing the content.

"The number of viewers watching DramaFever every month rose from 1.5 million last March to 3.8 million this March," said Rosally Sapla, vice president of communications at dramafever.com. "It was up to 2.5 million last July and doubles every six months."

Fans of kdrama know exactly what makes viewing them so compelling but the statistics are interesting. DramaFever finds that their audience consists largely of college-age viewers as well as well-traveled viewers with higher incomes who are open to other cultures. Although Korean Americans may find it an entertaining way to refresh their language skills and learn about their culture, the site's viewers come from a variety of backgrounds.

"Over 85 percent of the 3.8 million are not Asian," said Sapla.

How does she explain the rapid growth during what many describe as the greatest financial crisis of our times?

"Young people who are stressed out need an escape," said Sapla. "Watching dramas is an entertaining and affordable way to learn about another culture and a great way to learn another language."

New tools, such as the ability to pause dramas and return directly to the place you stopped watching, as well as access on mobile apps appeal to millennials. When the company placed "Boys Over Flowers" and "Heartstrings" on iTunes last September, the dramas reached the top 200 in a week.

Another well-established provider of kdramas is Viki.com. The company has seen its audience grow from 12 to 22 million in the last year, with 30 percent of that market, more than 6 million viewers, based in the U.S. alone. Their audience also doubles month to month.

Sixty percent of their viewers are between 18 and 35, 80 percent are female and 75 percent have a college or postgraduate degree.

Michelle Laird, director of communications at viki.com, credits their growth with great content that's available on virtually every platform, including computers, mobile devices, tablets, set top boxes and smart TVs. The company has distribution agreements with Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Youtube.

Another plus is the dedicated fanbase.

According to Laird, there's "a growing community of fans who share the content they're watching and contribute subtitles for the TV shows, movies and music videos."

To date, fans have translated more than 320 million words on the site.

While it's hard to predict if the number of viewers will continue to grow at such a dramatic rate, kdrama fans do tend to turn on their friends and that may ultimately be the real secret behind their popularity.

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