Watcha takes a gamble with 'Semantic Error,' a BL series

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Watcha takes a gamble with 'Semantic Error,' a BL series

A Watcha original ″Semantic Error″ (2022) [WATCHA]

A Watcha original ″Semantic Error″ (2022) [WATCHA]

Watcha, the No. 7 streaming service in Korea, is taking a gamble on an under-the-radar genre as it struggles to climb the rankings in a challenging environment.
It is wading into the world of Boy Love (BL) with "Semantic Error" (2022), its first original.
BL tales are relatively tame stories about close relationships between men. They have long been popular with young women but have been relegated to webtoons and other less visible formats so as not to anger the viewing public in Korea.
"Semantic Error" is a boy-meets-boy, boy-dislikes-boy, boys-get-friendly story that tests the limits of what can be successfully marketed in Korea, and how far streaming services can go to shore up their businesses.
Founded in 2011, Watcha began to provide a video streaming service in 2016, a year after Netflix landed in Korea. It had about 1.23 million monthly active users in April this year, seventh in the market by that measure, according to market tracker Wiseapp.
Netflix had 11 million monthly users in April, according to Wiseapp, Tving 3.24 million, Coupang Play 3.21 million, Wavve 3.1 million, U+ Mobile 1.6 million, Disney+ 1.5 million and Seezn 1.16 million. Paramount+ and HBO Max may also enter the Korean market.
On year, the number of Watcha viewers fell 19 percent from July 2021 to April this year. Over the same period, the number of Netflix viewers increased 21 percent.  
The company's risky move into the risqué comes as the business of streaming faces secular challenges.  
Netflix lost about 200,000 global subscribers to 221.6 million in the first quarter, the first drop since the company began to offer streaming services in 2011, due to viewer burnout, loosening of Covid restrictions and rising inflation.
As competition is getting fiercer, companies are trying to set themselves apart from the competitors with unique and exclusive programming, especially originals.
"The OTT players have to come up with a new genre, new content, or they will not be able to expand viewership," said Jang Min-gi, an associate professor of media at Kyungnam University, using industry jargon for streaming services. "The companies have to tap into the niche market to create its own differentiated brand identity to achieve competitive edge in the market."
BL is fan slang used in many Asian countries, including Korea, Japan, Thailand, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. The stories center on relationships between young men, but the romantic chemistry between men is neither a subplot nor watered down as in a typical popular-drama "bromance."  
The genre traces its roots back to the 1960s in Japan and has remained semi-underground, mostly depicted in webtoons and webnovels, until recently. BL has a solid fanbase in the webtoon and webnovel scene, creating a fairly large market hidden from the eye of the general public, and it is now becoming more mainstream.  
Dramas and films from Thailand, Japan and even China broke ground over the past decade. In Korea, BL dramas and films have become available since around 2020.
Released through Watcha on February 16, eight-episode "Semantic Error" topped the platform's most-watched list for eight consecutive weeks and still remains in the top 2. Based on a web novel of the same title by author JeoSuRi, the series gained traction both at home and abroad.
The original webnovel's sales jumped 916 percent after a promotion ahead of drama's release, according to e-book service provider Ridi. A film adaptation of the series is currently underway as well.
Ridi's webnovel ″Semantic Error″ (2018) written by JeoSuRi [RIDI]

Ridi's webnovel ″Semantic Error″ (2018) written by JeoSuRi [RIDI]

The two male leads — Park Jaechan of DKZ, a boyband, and Park Seo-ham, who was with KNK — have risen in popularity. Jaechan's DKZ, a K-pop boy band debuted in 2018, quickly gained publicity following the success of "Semantic Error," climbing up the streaming charts.
"Semantic Error" is available in about 190 countries including the United States, Japan and Taiwan. KT is offering the series through overseas streaming services to global audiences in North America and Europe. A two-minute clip uploaded by GagaOOLala, Taiwan, Taipei-based streaming site, has been viewed over a million times.
"We already had relevant data on content based on a certain consumer base or fandom, and had a good understanding of such genres," said Lee Bu-yeon of Watcha's public relations team.
Attracting a larger audience is the key to the show's success, according to Jang.
"The BL genre has been largely invisible," said Jang. "Watcha tried to come up with something that even those who are not familiar with the BL genre can easily enjoy, lowering the barrier for the genre."
Though the original webnovel "Semantic Error" is rated R, the drama is rated 12 and above.
"The New Employee," (2016), a webnovel by Moscareto, will be made into a drama and released through Watcha. Next Entertainment World, or NEW, released "Blueming," its first BL drama, in Korea and Japan in March, and plans to offer four more BL series.
Next Entertainment World's BL drama ″Blueming″ (2022) [NEW]

Next Entertainment World's BL drama ″Blueming″ (2022) [NEW]

"The BL genre has a very solid fanbase with a strong purchasing power, meaning that its consumers are very willing to pay for BL content," said Jang.
"In the current media environment, people seek out what they want to watch based on their own preferences, unlike in the past when being broadcasted on public TV networks and watched by everyone mattered," according to Jeong Deok-hyun, a pop culture critic, adding that "if not for such a shift in the content consumption trend, BL content wouldn't have been able to be this successful, or even made."

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