The 12-episode-drama craze is strong in the broadcasting industry. Beyond OTT, 12-episode miniseries are also common on terrestrial, general and cable channels.
In the past, miniseries in the United States and Japan had generally 10 to 12 episodes, but in Korea, it was standardized into 16 episodes. This is a custom that has been going on since the 1990s, and it is a method that occurred when broadcasters depended on TV advertisements for their revenue structure. However, as the drama production environment and profit structure change, the programming strategy is also changing. The fact that it takes at least six months to a maximum of one year to produce a 16-episode miniseries due to the 52-hour workweek system also affected the preference for short episodes. Thanks to this, an 8 to 12-episode miniseries has settled in the small screen in recent years.
OTT was the starting point of the spread of dramas which were shorter than a 16-episode miniseries. OTTs such as Netflix, Watcha, Disney+ and Apple TV have created self-produced contents apart from serving existing contents. Netflix’s “Sweet Home“, “Kingdom“, “Extracurricular”, Watcha’s “Damn Good Company”, “Semantic Error“, TVing’s “Work Later, Drink Now” and Disney+ “Grid” were produced and provided to viewers in 5-12 episodes. These works were well-received for their solid composition and well-organized stories.
As OTT services spread, domestic viewers encountered various contents and became accustomed to unique short series. Accordingly, domestic terrestrial and cable broadcasters are also actively producing and programming short-run dramas. Last year alone, tvN’s “Navillera”, KBS 2TV’s “Youth of May“, MBC’s “The Veil“, JTBC’s “Inspector Koo“, tvN’s “Bad and Crazy” were broadcast, while SBS’s “Through the Darkness“, JTBC’s “Thirty-Nine“, SBS’s “Business Proposal“ were presented to viewers this year. Most of them were praised for their above-average ratings and cinematic quality.
How do industry insiders view the growing number of 12-episode dramas? “Business Proposal” CP Lee Ok-kyu explained, “Viewers are apparently familiar with OTT dramas, so short-run contents are a part of the trend these days. Moving to a format that consumers are familiar with is a natural procedure. In the past, writers used to write in the fixed format of 16 episodes, but now the environment has changed and the subject matter has become much more diverse, so the volume seems to be determined based on ‘how to tell and finish the story to make it fun’. There will be more dramas with shorter episodes in the future.”
In addition, as domestic dramas spread abroad through OTT, it has become more important to focus on the quality of contents rather than increasing the meaningless amount. “Thirty-Nine” EP Kim Se-ah said, “If you do a 12-episode drama, the issue of filling up the screen time will disappear, so you can focus on the main characters’ narratives. It seems that there will be dramas with various episodes in the future. Family dramas that fit our emotions will maintain their original length, but dramas that focus on genres or the main characters’ narratives will appear with fewer episodes.”
Critic Jung Deok-hyun shared, “Quantity is no longer the determining factor. The regulation that a miniseries should be around 16 to 20 episodes is meaningless. Terrestrial broadcasters still have the 16-episode framework, but they have become more flexible. Under the influence of OTT contents, viewers will also get used to short drama patterns, and they will want more dense works. In the future, contents with short episodes are expected to pour out.”