25 January 2020
Zhejiang Satellite TV is now co-producing a local version of Running Man with South Korea's SBS. Photo: Internet
Zhejiang Satellite TV is now co-producing a local version of Running Man with South Korea's SBS. Photo: Internet

How Korea’s Running Man changed TV production in China

Running Man, a South Korean variety show, has made a splash across Asia. Classified as an “urban action variety”, the show gains much of its success from its unique format and hilarious situations.

In each episode, the MCs and guests compete against each other in weird but zany games of all sorts. The setting is usually a landmark in a major city. The object of the game could be about sailing a pool on a big paper box or singing karaoke on a roller coaster.

This never-seen-before genre has become so popular in China that Zhejiang Satellite TV signed a deal with the Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS), the original producer of the show, to jointly produce a Chinese version of the series, which is now being aired.

Running Man has shown how the Korean Wave (a term that refers to the growing influence of Korean pop culture) is now shaping China’s TV production.

Even TVB, Hong Kong’s top broadcaster, is learning from the South Koreans. It has made its own versions of Grandpas over Flowers (Three Amigos Bon Voyage, a program about three senior actors travelling together) and Where Are We Going, Dad? (a program in which actors and their kids team up to complete certain missions). But as TVB did not pay for the production rights, the quality and reputation of the copycat versions suffered; netizens even accused the Hong Kong producers of copyright infringement.

When the Korean Wave started sweeping across China a few years ago, mainland networks simply bought the broadcasting rights and aired the shows on their channels.

The practice had been widely used until the launch of I am a Singer, a singing competition using the reality show format. Hunan Television acquired the production rights from South Korea’s Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation in 2012 and made a local version of the show.

Although the Chinese produced the program, the Korean producers sent experts to guide their Chinese counterparts on the nitty-gritty of the show, including production flow and other details that were often overlooked.

In 2013 alone, five Korean variety shows including Where Are We Going, Dad? were adapted for the Chinese audience. They all turned out to be successful despite the frenzied competition in the industry.

Running Man, however, was introduced to China through another business model. Zhejiang Satellite TV is jointly producing the Chinese version with its Korean partner. Instead of just sending advisers, SBS has sent its own production team including video specialists to China.

In last week’s episode, seven MCs from the original Korean production participated in the Chinese version of the game show, competing with the Chinese team. That provided a great boost to the show’s ratings.

Because of the growing appetite for Korean pop culture in China, production rights for Chinese versions of Korean shows now cost a lot more. Fees now range from US$10,000 to US$20,000 per episode, compared with just US$10,000 for the whole program about a year ago, the SBS director in China told

In the joint-venture model, producers in Korea and China have to work together in a much closer way, meaning that the former can ask for more than just the patent fees.

Bao Xiao-qun, administrative vice president of Dragon Television, said Korean producers sometimes ask for commissions on top of the basic TV-rights fee. For example, they can have a share of the revenue from commercials based on the ratings, or other incomes such as those from overseas distribution.

For the Korean television studios, this kind of cooperation provides a larger incentive than just selling their production rights, as China is an enormous market with great potential.

China’s cultural business is expected to grow 12 percent annually between 2012 and 2017, and the market is likely to reach US$21.2 billion by 2017, according to the Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency.

Meanwhile, Chinese broadcasters and production companies are quite willing to pay the price as popular shows guarantee huge income flows from sponsors.

Where Are We Going, Dad? saw an advertising revenue of just 28 million yuan (US$4.57 million) in its first season. But after the program became a big hit, sponsor fees surged tenfold to 310 million yuan for the second season, breaking the 250 million yuan record set by The Voice of China.

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EJ Insight writer