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A look back at the rating race between K-dramas of different broadcasting networks in 2021

2021 is an exciting year for Korean dramas.

On the last day of 2021, let’s take a look back at the rating battle of various Korean broadcasters. Which network still dominates? Which broadcaster has been in crisis in the past year? And what does the future hold for them in 2022?

SBS and tvN still dominate with the highest number of hit dramas 

SBS and tvN still dominate with the highest number of hit dramas 
SBS and tvN still dominate with the highest number of hit dramas 

In recent years, when cable broadcasting networks began to take over, SBS is still able to maintain its performance in a fair and uncompromising way. In 2021, SBS continued its success with various dramas with high domestic ratings. 

The biggest hit of SBS in 2021 is unarguably The Penthouse: War In Life season 2 & 3. Not only achieving huge success domestically, Penthouse also has a massive appeal in the international market. The highest ratings of each season are 29.2% and 19.5% respectively – desirable numbers for a TV drama in the current digital age.

SBS and tvN still dominate with the highest number of hit dramas 
SBS and tvN still dominate with the highest number of hit dramas 

Not on the same level as Penthouse, but In 2021, many other SBS dramas are also well-received with two-digit ratings, such as weekend dramas One The Woman, Taxi Driver or Mon-Tue drama Red Sky.

In particular, Honey Lee‘s One The Woman can be considered the biggest surprise of 2021 as it achieved success beyond expectations. Starting with a rating of 8.2% and ending with an impressive rating of 17.8%, One The Woman has become one of the highest-rated mini-series on SBS as well as on Korean TV as a whole in 2021. Among the three major broadcasting networks, SBS is still far ahead of the other two when it comes to viewership in 2021. 

SBS and tvN still dominate with the highest number of hit dramas 
SBS and tvN still dominate with the highest number of hit dramas 

If SBS leads among mainstream stations, among cable broadcasters, tvN occupies first place. Although the ratings of tvN’s dramas are a bit lower than SBS’s, the international viewers’ reaction to tvN dramas is much more outstanding. This is something that SBS dramas lack, with the only exception being Penthouse. The quartet of tvN’s most successful dramas this year are Mr. Queen, Vincenzo, Hospital Playlist 2 and Hometown Cha Cha Cha

SBS and tvN still dominate with the highest number of hit dramas 
SBS and tvN still dominate with the highest number of hit dramas 

With the highest rating of 17.371%, Mr. Queen is tvN’s most popular drama in 2021. The remaining positions belong to Vincenzo – 14.636%, Hospital Playlist 2 – 14.080% and Hometown Cha Cha Cha – 12.665%. All four of these dramas also made it into the Top 5 cable dramas with the highest ratings in 2021 and the Top 15 cable dramas with the highest ratings in the history of Korean television. This has proved the power of tvN among ​​cable stations in particular as well as in the scope of Korean TV in general. In all respects, SBS and tvN are undeniably the Big 2 of Korean dramas in 2021.

KBS leaves an impression with historical dramas, MBC bounces back 

KBS leaves an impression with historical dramas, MBC bounces back 
KBS leaves an impression with historical dramas, MBC bounces back 

Apart from the trademark long-running family dramas with extremely high ratings, KBS in 2021 also made a strong impression with the historical genre. All historical mini-series that aired during the year earned good responses from both domestic and foreign viewers, with the average rating of over 10% every drama. Royal Secret Agent, River Where the Moon Rises, and The King’s Affection are outstanding period dramas of KBS this year. 

KBS leaves an impression with historical dramas, MBC bounces back 
KBS leaves an impression with historical dramas, MBC bounces back 

The peak ratings that these dramas recorded, respectively, are 14%, 10%, and 12.1%. KBS’s newly aired historical drama Moonshine also premiered to a promising start with a rating of 7.6%. Moonshine is expected to hit double-digit ratings and help KBS kick off 2022 with high viewership like what Royal Secret Agent managed to do in early 2021. 

KBS leaves an impression with historical dramas, MBC bounces back 

After years of falling into crisis, this year, MBC had a successful comeback with two hit miniseries. In 2021, The Veil and especially The Red Sleeve helped MBC regain its position in the rating race of Korean dramas. If The Veil almost exceeded the double-digit rating with the peak rating of 9.8%, The Red Sleeve excellently tops the current weekend drama time slot across all channels with the highest rating of 14.3%.

KBS leaves an impression with historical dramas, MBC bounces back 

Since The Emperor: Owner of the Mask in 2017, The Red Sleeve marks MBC’s first mini-series with a double-digit rating after 4 years. This can be seen as a stepping stone for MBC to bounce back in the drama competition between major broadcasting networks. The success of The Veil and The Red Sleeve also makes the 2021 MBC Drama Awards much more exciting and garner more attention compared to previous years. 

JTBC goes downhill

JTBC goes downhill
JTBC goes downhill

From a station that occupied the top two positions in the list of cable dramas with the highest ratings in Korean history, JTBC suddenly went downhill in 2021.

Law School with a rating of 6.891% is the most successful series of JTBC in 2021.  Nevertheless, Lost, My Silhouette and Sisyphus: Mythology all have sad results.  They all have poor ratings below 5% while Nevertheless even fell to 0%.

JTBC goes downhill
JTBC goes downhill

At the end of the year, JTBC continued to face bad luck when Snowdrop received great criticism from the Korean public for being accused of distorting history.  Although the drama is still being shown, the response from the public to it could not be more positive.  Looks like Snowdrop doesn’t have better performance either.

Two small cable stations Channel A and TV Chosun quickly rise up

Two small cable stations Channel A and TV Chosun quickly rise up

In 2022, if JTBC does not take timely measures, it is likely that small cable stations will take advantage of the opportunity to replace it.

In 2020, Channel A had a blockbuster Thousand Lie After Lie with a rating of nearly 9%.  This year, two other small cable stations, TV Chosun and MBN, also have such blockbusters and even greater achievements.  Bossam: Steal the Fate with the participation of Kwon Yuri and Jung Il Woo has a rating of 9.759%, becoming the most popular drama of MBN station.  Although it has not been able to reach the double-digit rating yet, this is also an achievement that JTBC must aspire to throughout 2021. 

Two small cable stations Channel A and TV Chosun quickly rise up

The most outstanding is Love (ft. Marriage and Divorce) 2 of TV Chosun as it becomes the second most successful cable drama of 2021 with a rating of 16.582%.  Love (ft. Marriage and Divorce) 2 is not widely popular in the international market, but its achievements in Korea really make others admire. After so many years, TV Chosun finally got a representative in the Top 10 cable dramas with the highest ratings in history next to two familiar names tvN and JTBC.

SBS and tvN seem to continue to show their strength in 2022. Looking at the upcoming projects of these two stations next year, their fans can rest assured about the quality of their dramas.  KBS will probably focus more on the historical genre and will likely have a tense battle with MBC when it is likely that MBC will also focus on this genre after the success of The Red Sleeve

Two small cable stations Channel A and TV Chosun quickly rise up

JTBC should bounce back as quickly as possible if it doesn’t want to be overtaken by small stations, especially TV Chosun as Love (ft. Marriage and Divorce) 3 will soon be released next year.

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