Audio dramas — today's radio dramas — get a webtoon boost
The radio dramas of yore are making a comeback as audio dramas based on web novels.
Radio dramas are a form of sound-only storytelling that started in the 1920s pre-television era. They are regaining popularity through online streaming services, which allow audiences to pick and choose the time for listening rather than following the schedule of the broadcaster.
Web novels and webtoons are helping their resurgence, according to companies in the webtoon business.
Of Naver's top 100 audio dramas, almost all are based on web novels or webtoons. Works with the highest number of subscribers are "Remarried Empress," with 110,685 as of Monday, and "Cry, Even Better If You Beg" and "The Problematic Prince," which both have over 100,000 subscribers.
In terms of one-month popularity, "Marry My Husband," is No. 1 with 95,581 subscribers. It has 128 episodes. The original web novel was downloaded over 30 million times and is awaiting television adaptation.
Naver's "Your Throne" is a webtoon that will be made into an audio series. A crowd-funding project was started last year to collect 95 million won ($72,740) to turn the webtoon series into an audio drama series, but 830 million won was collected within 40 days.
"Audio dramas gain popularity through the well-made storylines of the original work," said Ro Seung-yun, the head of Global intellectual property business unit at Naver Webtoon. "The life-like acting adds more to the work, which attracts not only the fans of the original or the voice actors, but listeners who aren't fond of the original."
Kakao Page, a Kakao subsidiary, rolled out an audio drama last May based on its webtoon series "Painful, but Desirable," featuring K-pop singer Park Cho-rong of girl group Apink and actor Lee Joon. "The Office Blind Date," a web novel series that was adapted into webtoon and drama, was made into an audio drama in January.
CJ ENM and Welaaa have created 23 audio dramas from both prominent and rising scriptwriters and started presenting them in June. The two companies will expand into audio entertainment shows and other types of programming in the future.
The audio programming market is growing internationally. According to a research by Goldman Sachs, it is expected to increase by 242 percent from the $22 billion in 2019 to $75 billion by 2030. Developments in audio technology, such as smart speakers, are accelerating this trend.
"Sixty-two percent of the U.S. 12+ population, around 176 million people, are now weekly online audio listeners, an all-time high for this category," said Edison Research in a report in March, 2021.
Amazon acquired podcast creator Wondery in 2020 and started providing new audio drama series starting March this year through Audible, an Amazon subsidiary.
Audible recently signed an exclusive deal with Higher Ground, a media company founded by former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, to create and distribute audio programs.
Last year, Marvel rolled out "Wastelanders," an audio drama series based on the "Avengers" franchise.
BY HWANG JEE-YOUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]