Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Drama Fever: A Lovely Way to Burn?

(HOT OFF THE PRESSES! [Erm... HOT OFF THE INTERWEBS?] According to a number of posts on the November 9, 2012, Drama Beans open thread, Drama Fever is testing the water by allowing international viewers for a limited time only. If you’re not in North America, now’s your chance to see what the fuss is about! Here’s a post about the offering from Drama Fever’s blog.)

The Drama Fever Google TV app I’ll probably never use—it’s not as good
as the web interface, which I can access just as easily.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about Facebook becoming a “utility”—something as fundamental to modern life as electricity and running water. I’m not on that bandwagon; I never even signed up, believing my privacy to be more important than posting daily updates about my cat or friending elementary school classmates I’ve lost touch with. (Newsflash: If we’ve lost touch, there’s probably a reason.)

On the other hand, it’s getting pretty darn hard to imagine life without Drama Fever. It’s the first thing that pops up when I turn on my television, before even the option for local or cable networks. I spend a horrifying amount of time on the site, and am always relieved when they carry something I want to see. The streaming competition just isn’t tenable: Viki is buggy, Crunchyroll has a tiny selection, and the Drama Crazy class of illegal sites are unreliable, low-res nightmares stuffed with ads that usually cause my computer to freeze.

I’ve been a premium member of Drama Fever for almost as long as I’ve been obsessed with Korean drama. And while the service isn’t perfect, it’s absolutely the best value I get for my entertainment dollar. According to my drama list, I’ve watched 1,285 episodes over the past year and a half (!), the vast majority of which were housed on Drama Fever. That means I’ve paid under 5 cents per hour of of television. If things stay as they are, it’s hard to imagine that I’d ever end my membership.

My worry, though, is that things won’t stay as they are. Drama Fever’s recent redesign was fine and gets better every day, but two months on it’s still littered with features that don’t work the way they should. There are little problems and big problems, ranging from it being impossible to navigate beyond the first page of user reviews to the inexplicable quasi-functionality of the Currently Watching feature. Once upon a time, clicking on a show listed there would take you right to the episode you most recently watched, but now it drops you at the series’ first episode. (Sometimes. Other times it seems to pick a random episode in the 5 to 8 range.) In combination with the redesign’s less-trustworthy “you’ve watched this episode” checkmark and lack of the “watch again” screen for episodes you’ve completed, I’m always having to hit play on multiple episodes to find where I actually left off. And then there are the mouseover notes that have disappeared altogether—they used to be a handy way to see the other shows actors had been in without navigating away from the drama you were watching. With a slowish internet connection, that was a blessing.

Even more concerning is that Drama Fever might just start focusing on their new Spanish-language content at the expense of Asian shows. As a service geared toward North American users, it’s no wonder they wanted to expand their offerings into Latin American programing: there’s a huge population of people here with roots in that region, many of whom are native speakers of Spanish. Now that it’s possible to watch shows on Drama Fever without subtitles, the site is in a prime position to market to this group. The word of mouth potential is so enormous that it’s not hard to imagine this material taking over the site.

I don’t have any evidence to back this up, but it’s my impression that Korean drama gets much less attention in mainstream American media than the closer-to-home Spanish-language programing. For one thing, people are familiar with telenovelas because there have been a number of American remakes, including Ugly Betty and an upcoming Sofia Vergara project. (Dear McG: How about an American Boys over Flowers? Please?) The Hispanic population in America is also about three times as big as the Asian population. Clearly, heritage doesn’t determine viewing habits, but it might just mean more press coverage, more infrastructure, and potentially more buzz.

Nice subtitles—even if they’re blocking
Lee Min Ho’s pretty face.

On the bright side, Drama Fever’s new video player is pretty awesome: I love being able to watch things in high definition, which really improves the experience of gorgeously filmed shows like Arang and the Magistrate. The ability to change the subtitle size is also nice. Drama Fever’s selection of dramas is still incredible and growing every week. They even stream most of the new shows I want to see (although I’m getting a little antsy about the new Yoon Eun Hye drama, which still hasn’t appeared on their Coming Soon list).

I also find it interesting that Drama Fever has recently replaced their original version of Secret Garden with higher resolution files and re-edited subtitles. I don’t have much company on this one, but Secret Garden is probably my least favorite Korean drama of all time. (The only thing that might make me enjoy it more would be cutting out all the parts that include human beings—I could actually sit through the resulting thirty minutes of pretty scenery and interesting architecture without wanting to scratch my eyes out.) I don’t remember the Drama Fever subtitles or video quality for this show being particularly bad, though. Does this mean they’re going to be revisiting all the popular old series and making improvements? Because their Coffee Prince is grainy as all get out, and its subs aren’t particularly good (even if they are the official ones).

(Some random facts about Coffee Prince on Drama Fever: you can tell by the numbers in its URL that it was the first drama they ever uploaded, and although they recently improved its crappy descriptive copy, it now incorrectly says that Choi Han Gyul is from a “wealthy hotelier family.” Plus, it calls him “Han Kyul,” in contrast to the show’s subtitles.)

I’m also glad to see that new shows are being added from Korea’s jTBC cable network. This channel aired a slew of programs this spring that had Korean-speaking bloggers buzzing, including A Wife’s Credentials and the sitcom I Live in Cheongdam Dong, but as of yet none of those shows have made it to Drama Fever. (As far as I can tell, they’re only available streaming on one legit site, and even then only partially subbed.) Drama Fever once carried new shows aired by this network, so I was wondering if they’d had a falling out that represented the end of the relationship. It seems that’s not the case, though, as both jTBC’s Beloved and Can We Get Married? have been recently added. (I’m dying to watch the later, might I add.)

As conflicted as I may be about some of Drama Fever’s practices, it’s still the website I visit most often, and probably will continue to be. Here’s hoping, anyway.

Drama Fever Facts Culled from the Internet
• It started operations in August 2009 and now has more than over 400 streaming titles, for a total of more than 10,000 hours (“About Us,” Drama Fever)

• Drama Fever has “two million unique advertising-supported monthly visitors, having added an additional half million viewers since mid-March [2012]. Seventy-five percent of current DramaFever viewers are native English-speakers of non-Asian descent, underscoring the broadening appeal of foreign content, which has historically been attractive to art house and independent film fans. Traffic is doubling every six to eight months and is up 400% since early 2011.” ( “Drama FeverCompletes $6 Million Round with Backing from Global Media Giants,” Drama Fever press release)

• “DramaFever sees significant opportunities to attract millions of new users from adding Latin American telenovelas, Bollywood movies, and expanding the service to potential new viewers in Latin America, Europe, Middle East, and Australia.” (“Drama Fever Raises $4.5 Million in SeriesB Round to Found Global Expansion,” Drama Fever press release)

• By early 2013, Drama Fever will carry 60 Spanish language shows from Argentina and Spain (“Asian-Spanish Fusion for Drama Fever,” Variety.com)

• In 2013, Netflix will stream 500 hours of Drama Fever content. (“Drama Fever adds Spanish Flavor,” C21 Media)

• “DramaFever is already the largest single source of online revenue for its Asian content partners.” (“DramaFever adds Spanish-language content, hooks up with Netflix and iTunes,” Gigaom)


  1. "Coming Soon: I MISS YOU arrives on DramaFever very soon! Will you be watching?" Sometimes, Facebook statuses are actually useful.. Also, my cat threw up this morning. Since you don't have Facebook, I wasn't sure you were up on the news ;)

    Hmm. I like this article. It reaffirms my suspicions that DF has suddenly become buggy as hell, and on certain internet browsers barely works at all (I had thought it was maybe just my computer, which is all forms of messed up right now). Point in case: The first two episodes of Answer Me 1997 are jumpy and the subtitles are consistently running several seconds too late, that I had to switch over to Viki. Fortunately, the rest of the series seems to run fine on DF.

    Im also not terribly thrilled with their new low-high-HD player. Probably because I'm in a rural area, and despite paying for very nice internet service, from mid-day to late evening, it takes FOREVER to load a video! And that's on HIGH. I'm paying a Dramafever subscription for HD quality, and can't even watch it unless it's in the middle of the night. Phhewww.. Ok. Rant over. All I know, is that I NEVER had problems waiting for a DF vid to load before.. Okay, maybe the rant wasn't over.

    As for the Spanish language content.. I'm not terribly pleased either. (*quickly changes her DF profile description from hispanic back to white*) The only thing I watch in Spanish is Divorce Court (way hell of a lot more entertaining than plain old English Divorce Court!!) But that's about once every 2 years.. However, if it keeps them afloat against the competitors.. thereby giving them more time to fix all these bugs, and keep bringing out more good Kdramas.. I guess I can live with that. :)

  2. So I really do miss out on all sorts of valuable information by not being on Facebook. Facts: (1) Your cat has a delicate constitution (2) I Miss You is indeed coming to Drama Fever. I can't believe they waited so long to announce this drama—it starts airing this week. And still isn't included on their main page's coming soon list, might I add :b

    I've had the same problems with using the high-definition feature at busy times, but in general the streaming is still working pretty well for me. And it's a good thing, because Viki barely works on my television, and even though I pay for Hulu Plus, it still has annoying ads. As an East Coaster, peak times probably aren't as busy for me—people on the West coast are just getting out of work when I'm in prime viewing time.

    I'm not really interested in watching the Spanish language stuff, but I can see why Drama Fever wants to stream it. I just worry their business model will change and my beloved Kdrama will end up with the fuzzy end of the lollypop. Maybe I should look on the bright side: it could expose lots of new people to Asian TV, increasing the demand and ensuring that more shows get subbed and streamed.

    If they start airing Spanish Divorce Court, though, I'm totally there ;)

  3. re Han Gyul/Han Kyul: the g/k romanisation is not always standardised. if it were, "kim" (김) would be romanised as "gim" everytime. and it'd be Han Gyeol instead.

    - snow

    1. Thanks for the info! I definitely appreciate that romanization isn't standardized, but because the show's subs use "Han Gyul," I think Drama Fever's descriptive text should, too. But then again, I'm a fiend for consistency...

    2. maybe you can drop drama fever a note then. it's likely they copied the info (or at least the character names) off dramawiki, which lists it as "han kyul". viki has it as both, and i've seen "han-gyeol" on other sites too. some people write it with the hyphen (han-gyul), others as one word (hangyul), and yet others as two words (han gyul). i wouldn't sweat it, really, so long as viewers know which character it is. :)

      - snow

  4. I have not used Drama Fever very much honestly because I use Hulu, but the last time I tried to use it which was probably a month or so ago it was not working well at all. It kept freezing up and then I would have to reload my page and very often I had to find my place again. I don't know if it wa sin the middle of undergoing maintenance or what.

    Even though I haven't used it a whole lot, it's nice to know it's out there when there is the rare show that is not on Hulu. I really hope they keep their Asian dramas as well.

    1. Drama Fever is definitely still working out the bugs with their redesign and video player, so it might work better the next time you give it a try. I didn't realize it until recently, but a lot of Hulu's Kdramas are actually DF projects—so it's like a backup source when the site itself is down.

      I just signed up for Hulu Plus, and was surprised that even as a paying member I was stuck watching commercials. That's one thing the real Drama Fever has going for it—if you're a premium member, it's totally ad free. I just downloaded a Viki app for my Google TV, and it doesn't seem to have commercials, either. So that's a nice option for shows that Drama Fever isn't carrying.

  5. Wtf: "DramaFever: Watch DALJA'S SPRING on DramaFever FREE"

    I am so pissed off now.. after suffering through it on such poor quality vids.. Lol

    1. I *hate* it when that happens. I'd just wrestled my way through Lie to Me on Viki when it appeared on both Netflix and Drama Fever, and it gave me a serious case of viewers' rage. I wish DF would give us more advance notice about the shows they'll be airing, so we don't waste time watching them on a lesser platform. (That's one of the reasons why I didn't watch Vineyard Man on Drama Crazy, even though I really wanted to see it—I suspected that DF would start streaming it to tie in with Yon Eun Hye's next drama. And that's just what they did.)

      And they must be added coming soon notices to Facebook before they're posted on the Drama Fever main page—this still isn't up there. :b

  6. I agree with everything you mentioned: some of the newer shows (like Vampire Prosecutor 2) have misaligned audio with video, which is a really basic error that they need to fix.

    I don't know how I feel about the new Spanish programming. It kinda makes sense from a business standpoint, but I'll be hella mad if they drop the focus from Asian dramas, since they're the only high-quality legit streaming site these days.

    My big beef though is their subs, which seem to sacrifice quality for speed. Not that they're grammatically incorrect, but they seem to prefer the shortest plainest translation of a sentence, losing a lot of flavor in the process. As someone pointed out for Answer Me 1997, during the scene when Dad tells Shi Won to get rid of the lipstick:

    DF: "Take that off right now!"
    Literal translation: "Do you want me to bleach that off your lips?"

    It's a huge difference. I hope that they follow WITHS2's example and try to capture the original flavor of the dialogue as well.


    1. I've also noticed that DF's subs tend to be serviceable, but not literal or great. I think it's partially because they really take their audience seriously—if they think something won't be understood by North American viewers, they don't include it at all. In an episode of Big, for example, they talked about a girl's parents cutting her hair as a form of punishment. Viki translated this exactly (as far as I can tell), but Drama Fever left it out of the translation altogether.

      I also really, really hate it when they replace relationship words like "Oppa" in the subs. I'm sure they think they're doing American a viewers a favor by simplifying the subtitles, but I think anyone who's willing to watch a subbed drama is also going to appreciate the authentic flavor provided by more literal translations.

      Drama Fever is definitely in a tough situation, though—the longer they take to provide subtitles for an episode, the more likely people are to watch it elsewhere. I think WITHS2 works a little differently, so it allows them more time to do careful work.

    2. As much as I normally like DF, I must confess that I watch Nice Guy on Viki, just because I'm impatient, and their subbed version comes out a day earlier than DF's.

  7. Ahhh!! I just finished watching the first episode of Missing You!! Amanda, I think you are going to love it!!! I was very pleasantly surprised...

    1. I'm so excited to watch this show! I just read part of the Drama Beans recap of the first episode, and everything they complained about sounds awesome to me =X I'm trying to watch only one currently airing drama at a time, though, so I think I'm going to wait until Nice Guy has wrapped up before I start this one.

  8. I'm the opposite lol...I much prefer viki to dramafever. I hate the ads on dramafever, you need to pay for HD now, and I find the subs on viki to flow more naturally (on average). Maybe because I watch on my laptop?

    I dropped Faith after about 2 eps. It was like Legend ,(which had the same writer and PD and some of the same cast, and they've definitely reused some of the sets and costumes) but not as well done. Legend was made in 2007, but the production values still hold up...which may be why I was so disappointed with Faith. I was expecting it to be more epic.

    1. I've never really had an option to use anything but Drama Fever—I watch on my TV, and their site is the most problem-free option. Now that Viki has come out with an app I can use, though, I might try their versions more often. Part of the reason why Viki's subs are better is the open editing option, I think. I haven't made any changes with this, but it's a perfect use of their greatest resource—obsessive viewers.

      Faith is kind of growing on me, although I agree that it's not particularly epic or especially well done. Overall, the show feels like the Kdrama version of a trashy historical romance novel, a genre I have a serious soft spot for. I also happen to think that Faith would be greatly improved by the addition of some bodice-ripper-style smut =X It's a waste to have Lee Min Ho's lovely lips in a drama and not put them to good use.

  9. I haven't been able to use the new video player at all on my home computer. I've tried everything that Dramafever recommended and it still doesn't work. I can only watch it on my Roku now.

    As a side note, they finally added Dal Ja's Spring! I've been wanting to watch this.

  10. I've been watching a series on DF that isn't available on Hulu or Viki, and it's been so frustrating to me. Partway into every episode it randomly skips to the next episode. Then I have to go back and find where i was, then if I pause it I have to completely reload. It's driving me crazy.

    At first I disliked Viki because of the comments, but then I learned how to turn them off. And there are just some shows you need to watch with the comments—like the short parts of Dr. Jin I actually watched. I also love it because I can get my fix sooner, even if all the subs aren't up yet.

    Another thing that's been driving me crazy with DF and Hulu is the inconsistency with some dramas—especially Miss Rose. Sometimes the episode will be up in 1 or 2 days, but other times it takes almost a week for them to put them up. And since they made it so Viki can't post it, I can't watch it there, either. Grrr!

  11. I cant access ti the videos on drama fever...they say sorry for the inconvenience.but this video is not currently available at your location....

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