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Programming Profile

K-format pioneer CJ ENM lines up new unscripted IP for MipTV


Diane Min, head of format sales at Seoul-based CJ ENM, discusses the changing market for TV formats from South Korea, in particular dating and singing shows, and talks through the slate of new formats the company is showcasing via C21’s Digital Screenings this week.


South Korean media and entertainment group CJ ENM has been a pioneer in building global demand for K-formats for many years, having had early success with unscripted formats like Grandpas Over Flowers (aka Better Late Than Never) and I Can See Your Voice (ICSYV). The company later led the charge into East-West unscripted alliances with the likes of ITV Studios and Warner Horizon.


More recently, the company’s activities in the unscripted format space include teaming up with Wonwoo Park, the creator of globe-trotting format The Masked Singer, to launch talent format My Boyfriend is Better on CJ-owned channel MNet this month. CJ ENM will be distributing the new format internationally, starting at MipTV next month.


Diane Min, CJ ENM

The company will also be in Cannes shopping new unscripted formats including EXchange, a dating show that debuted on CJ-backed Korean streamer TVING last summer, and Mama the Idol, a talent show that arrived on CJ’s flagship channel tvN in December, as well as continuing sales of pioneering K-format ICSYV.


C21 Digital Screenings caught up with Diane Min, CJ ENM’s head of format sales, to hear about the changing market for dating and singing shows from South Korea and to get details of her unscripted formats slate for her trip to Cannes next month.


How is global demand for dating formats changing?
Dating formats have been increasing their popularity since the Covid-19 pandemic began. Perhaps audiences are feeling a little lonely after getting isolated from their families and friends. Also, due to the success of ICSYV [CJ ENM] and The Masked Singer [MBC], interest in K-formats has been rising. Because of that, inquiries about Korean dating shows from other countries have increased.


I Can See Your Voice
I Can See Your Voice

How was EXchange created and how did it perform in Korea?
Dating usually starts without the partners fully knowing each other, and it takes quite a bit of time for that to change. However, the person who knows most about these potential partners is that partner’s ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend. If they are able to give feedback to the current dates, wouldn’t the current partners start their date better, with fewer doubts? The creators of the show tried to find the answer to this question and this was how the show was created.


The show premiered on Korea’s SVoD platform TVING in 2021 and showed continuous growth of unique visitors every time new episodes were released. It has since become the most viewed show on the platform. TVING also recorded the highest number of paid subscribers with the show’s release.


What is the international appeal of EXchange?
There are many types of dating formats but EXchange has a unique aspect in its story and how it is told. There have been dating shows where ex-couples meet, but EXchange is the first show that tells the story by hiding who the ex-couples are. Due to this uniqueness, ever since the show premiered in Korea, buyers all around the world have been inquiring about the format. Currently, it is being developed for local adaptation in 13 countries.



How was Mama the Idol developed and how did it perform in Korea?
Mama the Idol was created by producer Min Chul-gi, who used to be the showrunner for The Masked Singer. K-pop has gained popularity worldwide in recent years, but it has always been loved within Korea. Many fans here often reminiscence about the times of their now-retired idols who led the K-pop scene 10 or 20 years ago and want to see them on TV again. The show has been created to bring back those former stars back to TV for the fans who have always been waiting.


The show’s performance has been great here in Korea, with ratings of 4.1%, and number one same-time ratings among the target demographic of 20- to 49-year-olds. The channel’s social networking service [SNS] goal was to reach 30,000 followers on Instagram, but now they have over 80,000 followers.


How was the demographic that watched Mama the Idol different to regular talent shows?
Although it reached number one among the 20-49 target audience, by looking at SNS data, it seems it has generated most interest from 30-49 female audiences, because many of them have devoted their own lives to their families and children after marriage. By seeing their retired K-pop stars going up on stage once again for their goals, it must have gained their interest, leading to higher popularity.


Mama The Idol

How are talent/singing shows changing, with things like streaming, the internet and lockdown?
Luckily, I don’t think talent or singing shows have seen much impact due to lockdown. In Korea, productions have been ongoing during the pandemic, but without the studio audiences, of course. Our industry has changed a lot due to the streaming services. It’s difficult because it has a different sales and distribution structure compared with other platforms. However, because they provide diverse opportunities, from format sales to original productions, it is fun to work with them.


How has the success of ICSYV changed CJ’s format export revenues and international profile?
CJ ENM’s international profile has changed very positively due to ICSYV. Before that show launched, CJ ENM was known more as a drama powerhouse in Asia, but now, due to the success of ICSYV and Better Late Than Never, it is also being recognised as a company that makes good non-scripted formats as well. It is great to note that ICSYV has been successful in most of countries that have premiered the show, leading to subsequent seasons. For example, in Thailand ICSYV has aired more than 300 episodes in six seasons, and in the Netherlands it took less than three years to finish three seasons. Due to this reason, revenues are also showing a great result.


How do you think K-formats differ from other entertainment formats on the market?
K-formats are unique. Entertainment formats are very competitive in Korea and audiences’ expectations are very high. Because shows have to survive in this competitive country, creators challenge themselves to make something that is really fresh and distinctive. So aren’t Korean shows very new and unique? Who else would eliminate a participant in a music show without hearing them sing, or who would think of making ex-couples live in the same house for three weeks while looking for a new love? Aren’t they all unique? We think so.


300: War of United Voices
300: War of United Voices

Where is foreign demand for K-formats highest and growing fastest?
In the past two years, when new shows come up, companies in the US inquire the most about K-formats and we quickly sign an option or development deal with them. CJ ENM had a first-look deal with Warner Horizon for two years and currently we are in talks about developing diverse formats in the US. It is not only CJ ENM, other Korean companies are in similar situations in the US market.


Can you tell us where ICSYV has been licensed or produced so far?
Now a globally successful format, ICSYV continues to roll out international versions with the latest being a Portuguese adaptation. Broadcaster SIC will launch the show this year as a part of the channel’s 30th anniversary celebrations, hosted by Cláudia Vieira. The Portuguese series will comprise six episodes. Furthermore, this widely popular format has been commissioned in 25 countries, including the US (Fox), the UK (BBC One), Netherlands (RTL4), Spain (Antena 3), Germany (RTL), Philippines (ABS-CBN) and Thailand (Workpoint), to name a few. The format has recently been produced in Estonia and its first season is airing on Kanal 2 this month.


We are proud to see that the format has become extremely successfull globally, especially amid the widespread uncertainty that challenges our industry. We are confident to say that the format will also be a big hit in Portugal too, as it has proven to be in other countries. As CJ ENM’s most acclaimed entertainment format, ICSYV is also on its ninth season on MNet in South Korea as well, having premiered in 2015.