Why Public Channels Dramas Recorded Disappointing Ratings In 2018 And Were Overtaken By Cable Channel Dramas


This is an opinion based article! This article discusses only min-series (16 episodes or less, not daily dramas)

2018 is coming to an end, which usually means just about every establishment/news outlet will publish data on the best and the worst of 2018.

According to an article published by Allkpop, it was revealed that more than 100 different dramas aired in 2018 on Korean television, that’s a lot of dramas. However, whats not-so-shocking was that public channels (SBS, MBC, KBS) dramas rated badly. *acts surprised*

In fact, there were a couple of dramas throughout 2018 that had broken records for rating exceptionally bad considering that people don’t pay to see public channels dramas.

tvN, OCN and JTBC (cable channels you have to pay to access) dramas enjoyed great popularity and rivaled the public channels dramas at all time, in many cases actually rating way higher.

2018 was a disappointing year for kdramas to me, if I were to look back I can hardly name 5 kdramas that were exceptionally well-rounded cast-wise and plot-wise.

The particular sentence above comes from years of watching kdramas and it doesn’t necessarily mean that all kdrama fans will agree with me when I say this and I totally understand since some of you reading this might have started watching kdramas recently and have no idea why I am saying this.

MBC’s “The Great Temptation” actually broke records becoming the lowest rated drama in MBC’s history and I totally understand why. Bad actors, sloppy storyline and poor editing made it very difficult for me to tune each week.

Having idols lead dramas has always been a matter of discussion and usually I get into heated arguments with Kpop fans who blindly defend idols when they take on projects that they’re not necessarily fit for.

Red Velvet’s Joy acting did improve from “The Liar And His Love” days but she was still lacking in my opinion in comparison to the 3 other main actors she was paired with, what made it even more obvious was that the 3 actors she was paired with were exceptional.

The storyline of “The Great Temptation” could have been better but it really went downhill very fast. I also had problems with the editing of the drama because there were a couple of scenes that had dramatic music overlaying just average situations and it looked so out of sync.

“Risky Romance” and “Bad Papa” also recorded bad ratings. Personally, I loved the idea behind “Bad Papa” and felt sorry for Jang Hyuk since the drama did poorly.

I think MBC struggled the most in 2018, mainly because their dramas lost in the rating battle almost every single week with the exception of “Terius Behind Me” which I found pretty difficult to watch but understood the reason behind its popularity.

“Less Than Evil,” another MBC drama that’s currently airing, is actually doing well in the ratings battle and getting good reviews.

KBS’s “Lovely Horribly” did extremely badly for KBS, one episode recorded 1% (the 25th episode to be exact, according to Nielsen Korea). Personally, I liked the idea behind the drama and I liked the mixture between horror and comedy, I think 5% ratings number would have been fine but sadly that wasn’t the case.

What comes to mind when I am reminded of KBS this year was “Suits” which was led by Park Hyung Sik and Jang Dong Gun, the drama is based on an American series of the same title and it recorded good ratings with an average of 8.9% (source.)

SBS’s drama did (I think) the best out of the three public main channels with their dramas, “Return” recorded amazing ratings due to its intriguing shocking plot reaching as high as 17.4%, “Your Honor” also did well.

“Wok of Love” fluctuated and “Switch: Change The World” didn’t do that well, although, I believe it had a good story line. One SBS drama that comes to mind when I am talking about bad ratings would be “The Undateables” led by Hwang Jung Eum and Namgoong Min.

That drama got scathing reviews, many criticizing Hwang Jung Eum’s acting as well as the poor plot and the cliché characters. It scored a low of 2.1% and wasn’t able to recover from bad reviews throughout its runtime.

Some dramas I was able to understand the justification behind the low ratings while others I struggled with until I looked at the competition it had, many of these dramas that I mentioned above were up against some pretty seriously good contenders from cable channels.

When you’re a Korean person and you have to choose one kdramas to watch at 09:30 p.m. for example, you will choose the drama with the most interesting plot line and cast.

Look at the below dramas that competed at one time for viewers eyes each Wednesday and Thursday:

tvN’s “Whats Wrong with Secretary Kim”

MBC’s “Come and Hug Me”

SBS’s “The Undateables”

KBS2’s “Your House Helper”

If I told you to choose the drama you’re most familiar with of these four dramas you’re immediate response would probably be “Whats Wrong with Secretary Kim.”

“Whats Wrong with Secretary Kim” enjoyed popularity during its runtime and enjoyed good ratings as well beating out other public channel dramas almost each week.

“Come and Hug Me” also comes to mind, international fans loved the drama, the plot outline was very interesting and compelling, the male lead was a struggling man with his father who was a murderer and it had a different plot compared to prince charming and damsel in distress we’re so used to.

It did enjoy okay ratings; its last episodes rated an average of 5.1% and 5.9% and whats shocking was that it was the highest rated public channel drama in its time slot with 5%~.

These numbers were disappointing considering the fact that “Whats Wrong with Secretary Kim” was enjoying 7% and 8% in ratings despite the fact that it aired on cable TV channel (that you must pay for unlike public channel dramas).

Personally, I felt that public channel dramas failed to capture the general public attention due to the cliché stereotypical plots that bring nothing to the table.

In comparison, cable channels really went out of their comfort zones and created some of the most memorable dramas of 2018, there were some very interesting dramas with unique plots and stellar cast.

“My Ahjussi” had a very interesting plot and a stellar cast, the drama basically tore down all the clichés we were so used to see in kdramas and was picked as one of many critics best 2018 kdramas.

JTBC also had a great year, arguably its best year so far since its inception.

JTBC “Just Between Lovers,” “Laughter in Waikiki,” “KY Castle” and “Something in the Rain” were some of the most talked about kdramas of the year.

When I was in Seoul back in April this year, even the ahjussi who drove us for a tour around the city was talking about “Something in the Rain” as one of his favorite kdramas.

Our tour guide (in her late 20s) also agreed. When I asked others around, I almost found no Korean mentioning any public channel drama (at that time).

Cable channels also had some pretty serious high budget dramas, tvN’s “Mr. Sunshine” had an estimated budget of 40 billion won (around $35 million), it recorded astonishing numbers and went as high as 17% rivaling the hit tvN drama “Goblin” ratings.

“Mr. Sunshine” is now the second highest rated drama in all of tvN’s history, and let us not forget the immense success of “100 Days My Prince.” That drama is also one of the highest rated dramas in tvN history (at number four to be exact).

tvN’s “Memories of the Alhambra” who is currently airing has a budget of 25 billion won (around $22.2 million). The drama premiered with good ratings and has been rating higher ever since, its most recent episode (episode 8) recorded an average of 8.5%.

Personally, my favorite list of 2018 kdramas has no public channel dramas.

It could also be that public channels also played it extremely safe in order to return in revenue to investment but that failed. Marketing wise, public channels dramas hyped up so many dramas and created high expectations for viewers and when viewers tuned in to see what the fuzz was all about, they were disappointed.

Excessive marketing is almost as bad as no marketing at all. When you excessively try to promote something as the next IT you subsequently create high expectations.

As long as you know well the drama is exceptional and the plot is amazing you should be fine, but the problem with public channel dramas were that in most cases, those heavily advertised dramas were nothing particularly special.

KBS, SBS and MBC all had dramas with disappointing ratings of 1% and 2% because of the reasons mentioned above. I do hope that they pick things up in 2019 and show better results, at this rate, cable channels are replacing them to the point of no return.


  1. I actually think Joy’s acting in Great Temptations which in no way great was worse than Liar and His Lover. In LAHL i think she’s a little laid back? and in GT she seemed more robotic than usual? Haha just my opinion and i agree with you on My Ahjusshi breaking lots of norms and cliches of kdramas we normally see (I think Live could be in the acategory of its own as well), two of the most compelling dramas of the year for my liking. Come Here and Hug Me holds a very special place in my heart and while i feel like the romance parts of the drama proned to revolve around the “are you okay” questions and ”look in my eyes i look in yours too” thing, its plot line and how great it was presented, oh goshhh don’t even get me started . I haven’t watched the Memories of the Alhambra yet but some knetz are really giving this drama some outstanding reviews so i be sure to watch it once it reach uts last two eps cuz i’m so bad at waiting for new eps of a drama which entices me but the budget thooo wowww that’s crazy high!!! . Anyway thank you for breaking down this topic, i very much appreciate it

    • I highly recommend you watch Memories of the Alhambra or you know what? wait, because its torture to wait each week for new episodes. joy isn’t bad but my problem with her (personally) is that sometimes she seems immersed in her character while at other times she seems robotic. in comparison to the people she was paired with she is extremely lacking.

  2. For me I have had my expectations raised way too high. I started back at the beginning of the drama side of the Hallyu wave with Winter Sonata. I watched many, many dramas over the years and have seen this industry grow exponentially.

    2016 really ruined everything.
    Descendants of the Sun, Another Oh Hae Young, W, Mirror of the Witch, Cheese in the Trap, Moonlight Drawn by Clouds, Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo, Romantic Doctor Kim, Doctors, Scarlet Heart: Goryeo, Goblin and so many, MANY more (China had a strong year as well).

    So now I am spoiled rotten. Still fat from 2016 and yelling at the TV to show me greatness. Which is sad because there are great dramas being produced all the time both on networks and cable. I think we have become jaded as a consumer.

  3. I read that “The Package” also had low ratings but I’ve seen it and I thought it was great. Is it because of its rivals? I really don’t get the lie rating of this drama series.


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