South Korea’s entertainment industry is on a roll. Earlier this year, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, while breakthrough boyband BTS has dominated global music charts. Western audiences are opening up to Asian entertainment like never before.
A notable contributor to this movement is video streaming service Rakuten Viki. Known to the online community as the destination for Asian dramas and movies, Viki has found an innovative solution to the language barrier: a passionate community of volunteers that not only translate Viki content but also help content creators discover and reach new audiences from all over the world.
The platform’s simple in-browser subtitling tools allow community volunteers to easily provide translations for their favorite dramas in their own language, any of the more than 150 languages available on Viki. And the community doesn’t disappoint. Thanks to their hard work and enthusiasm, a large selection of Asian dramas can be found on the platform, subtitled and available in everything from the most common to the most rare and endangered languages.
With 2020 shaping up to be the year of the great indoors, streaming services like Viki have become an essential entertainment escape. In the first half of the year, Viki saw over 50% year-on-year growth in its subscription business as well as its monthly active users, which recently surpassed 15 million among 32+ million registered users.
“We are seeing Asian content take off in many parts of the world,” says Rakuten Viki CEO Sam Wu, who leads the business from its offices in San Mateo, California. “Two-thirds of Viki’s users are outside of North America, in countries across Europe, South America, Southeast Asia, India, and Australia.”
But for Wu, this movement is nothing surprising. Quoting the LA Times: “the Korean Wave may be riding at an all-time high, but it’s been building since the late 1990s…”
From Wu’s vantage point, it’s not just Korea that’s on the rise. “We have seen audiences become interested in not just Korean but broader Asian content on Viki as well.”
All about community
Contributions by Viki’s community have increased 50% year-over-year, which has increased especially more during the pandemic. Top subtitled languages include English, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian. However, crowdsourced translation is far from Viki’s only community-driven feature. In addition to ratings, reviews and user-curated collections, fans also participate in discussion boards to catch up on all the celebrity gossip and upcoming shows, and even create their own fan fictions.
But the function that fans say really lets them ‘feel the presence’ of the community is the ‘timed comments’ feature, which when toggled “enables users to watch VOD (video-on-demand) content with time-synced comments from other users, simulating an experience of watching together with other fans.”
Viki is one of the first companies to bring Asian entertainment to the West, partnering with top production companies in Asia to bring these great stories to global audiences. The platform has even produced some of its own Viki Originals, identifying trends and user preferences from the platform’s robust usage data.
But Viki isn’t in the business of shaping Asian entertainment to fit Western preferences. In fact, fans cite the opportunity to learn about new cultures, food, languages and history as a major reason they use the site. “We have heard from our users that through Asian content, they can see a different take on life, a unique perspective that lets them peek into a world that’s different from their own,” Wu says.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have many people around the world stuck at home, but services like Viki continue to prove that the internet exists to both bring people together and broaden horizons — at least as far as entertainment goes.
“What we have at Viki is very special — an expansive catalogue of Asian content with a thriving community at its core,” adds Wu. “As Parasite director Bong Joon Ho said, ‘Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.’ With our community subtitling breaking down the barriers to great content, we believe that these incredible stories will continue to find fans around the world.”