Jewel In The Palace, Jumong, Coffee Prince, Queen Seondeok, Dong Yi, and Empress Ki have one thing in common—they are all Monday-Tuesday Korean dramas of MBC, a major public broadcaster which is now planning to implement important changes that may result in the elimination of its Korean drama programming on the said prime time slot.
Chosun Ilbo reported on April 25 that MBC might shed its Monday-Tuesday Korean dramas despite airing such shows regularly for the past 30 years. The supposedly last series to be broadcast on the time slot is the legal drama Living Two Lives Anyway, which courted Rain for the lead role and is set to premiere in July, following the conclusion of Special Labor Inspector and Investigation Couple 2.
On the same day, however, Osen reported that the TV network was making changes both to its Monday-Tuesday and Wednesday-Thursday time slots, but instead of completely purging one schedule or another, it will only move the broadcast time an hour earlier from 10 p.m. to 9 p.m. KST.
In response to the two reports, MBC announced and confirmed that it is indeed making some changes to its Korean drama programming without saying which report is more accurate. It did not disclose the specifics of the reorganization, saying that nothing has been decided for certain yet and that its drama department should arrive at the final decision by early May. For now, it remains to be seen whether the Monday-Tuesday MBC dramas will just get a new schedule or be eliminated altogether.
The network also did not state the reason behind the move to make such changes but it is obvious that the heavy competition it has been facing recently due to the rise of cable dramas is one major source of concern. The viewership of its recently completed Monday-Tuesday drama, Item, is a case in point. The Ju Ji-hoon starrer barely surpassed 4% in TV ratings but its cable rivals The Light In Your Eyes (JTBC) and The Crowned Clown (tvN) easily pulled in figures higher than 5%. In March 4, 2019, for example, Item recorded a 2.6% rating while The Light In Your Eyes and The Crowned Clown obtained 5.1 and 10.9 percent, respectively.
In the last three years, MBC dramas have suffered from low viewership. Their overall average rating fell from 7.6% in 2016 to 4.3% in 2018, a massive 42% decrease. KBS2 and SBS have also seen a similar downward trend in overall average viewership, but they were able to broadcast most of the highest-rated dramas in recent years. Out of the 21 terrestrial Korean dramas that obtained double-digit average ratings since 2016, only 4 came from MBC.
- Descendants of the Sun (KBS2) — 28.6%
- Defendant (SBS) — 21.7%
- Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim (SBS) — 20.4%
- Doctors (SBS) — 18.4%
- Moonlight Drawn By Clouds (KBS2) — 18.3%
- Legend of the Blue Sea (SBS) — 17.6%
- Chief Kim (KBS2) — 15.9%
- Whisper (SBS) — 15.6%
- Remember: War of the Sons (SBS) — 15.0%
- Return (SBS) — 13.7%
- Neighborhood Lawyer Jo Deul-ho (KBS2) — 12.9%
- Ruler: Master of the Mask (MBC) — 12. 4%
- Rebel: Thief Who Stole the People (MBC) —11.7%
- W – Two Worlds (MBC) — 11.6%
- Falsify (SBS) — 11.1%
- (=16) Fight For My Way (KBS2) — 10.9%
- (=16) The Miracle We Met (KBS2) — 10.9%
- Witch’s Court (KBS2) — 10.6%
- Jealousy Incarnate (SBS) — 10.5%
- Man Who Dies To Live (MBC) — 10.3%
- Saimdang, Light’s Diary (SBS) — 10.2%
In general, the average rating of all terrestrial Korean dramas has been in decline since 2016 while its cable counterpart has achieved records during the same period. According to a report, “while the terrestrial series have been suffering from low viewership since 2016, the cable dramas have seen a significant increase in their audience shares.”
Meanwhile, MBC also noted that it started its reorganization efforts in November last year, making changes not only to Korean dramas, but also to its management and other programs. In particular, Newsdesk, the network’s flagship newscast, has gone through an unprecedented change in time slot.