Since my Korean wife and I got married in 2002, one thing she has missed with varying levels of intensity whilst living in the UK, is—perhaps unsurprisingly—television content from South Korea.
As the terrestrial TV networks in the UK (and even those on satellite) often appear blissfully unaware that the country even exists, the “regular” British TV networks clearly not much of a realistic solution to fall back upon. Even as the “Korean Wave” has reached the shores of Europe in the 2010s, you would not know it from the glaring lack of “hallyu” shows on even the less “mainstream” channels offered by the BBC and ITV. (Granted, I would be more surprised if they did screen, say, Dream High on BBC Four, but indulge me here…)
Thankfully, the arrival of Korean pop culture on these shores—music (hello, Psy!), film, TV drama, etc.)—has coincided with the rise of inexpensive network-enabled video-streaming hardware devices, such as Google’s Chromecast and the Roku range. These make it easier than ever to view Internet-based video content on an HDMI-equipped TV… and yes, this includes Korean telly. (Otherwise, I might just have waffled the last three paragraphs for nothing, and we can’t have that.)
Earlier this year, we bought a Roku Streaming Stick, mainly to add UK TV “catch-up” services, YouTube and Netflix to the flatscreen in our lounge. (I won’t be weighing up the relative virtues of the Roku and its rival video-streamer devices here—the Stick is what we’ve got, and we like it, so there you go.)
The Roku doesn’t require a smartphone or tablet to “cast” to it (although this is possible in some cases), but can be operated with its own remote, which we like for its user-friendliness. You add “channels”—basically, apps for accessing content—from the “channel store” to your Roku player, and simply select the one you want to view, from the Roku “home screen”.
However, these channels may not always be that easy to find (or identify) in the Roku channel store, or you may not be aware that they even exist… so for starters, here are five “channels” for finding and watching Korean TV content on your Roku in the UK (with caveats where appropriate).
Let’s get the obvious option out of the way first… as you’d imagine, YouTube has a huge amount of Korean content available. Technically, the Roku YT channel is excellent, not least because you can “cast” video to your Roku player from the YouTube app on your iOS or Android device.
As you might guess, the quality—and yes, legality—of the material varies enormously, and if you absolutely must catch the latest episode of the newest K-drama (even if it’s a ropey off-air capture), I suppose YouTube would have to be your first port of call.
However, if you don’t mind waiting a short time for your “fix”, there are a couple of legitimate routes to watch Korean TV dramas on your Roku…
This service—owned by the Softbank corporation—provides a legal means of viewing mostly Korean TV drama series and films (with some other east-Asian and Latin American content). It can be accessed via the DramaFever website, apps for iOS and Android, and (appropriately, here) its own Roku channel.
DramaFever is free to use (providing you don’t mind an ad being inserted every ten minutes—the same one, and it gets grating!), although paying up about £8/year for a Premium account removes the ads, and lets you watch in HD if your network speed, bandwidth allowance, etc. allows. The range of Korean TV shows on DramaFever is comprehensive, from new series still being transmitted in Korea, going back to the start of the 2000s.
However… remember me mentioning caveats earlier?
Whilst DramaFever is available in the UK—and they’ll happily welcome you as a paying subscriber—prospective British users need to be aware of one major issue: the overwhelming majority of shows on DramaFever (80-90%?), cannot be watched in the UK (at least without a VPN). I assume this is because the rights-holders have not allowed it, but whatever the reason: if you try playing an “unavailable” show via the iOS app, you’ll get an error dialogue box to this effect. (On the Roku, the programme simply won’t play, with no indication given as to why.)
It is annoying enough—though perhaps understandable from their standpoint—that DramaFever doesn’t make this dearth of available content clear to UK visitors at the outset. (In fairness, we were aware of the issue when we became a Premium subscriber with them. We just wanted no ads and HD, on the shows that we could watch.) However, even more strangely, there seems to be no rationale for which shows are available to UK viewers. The age of the series, the network which produced it… none seem to have a bearing on availability, though almost none of the brand-new Korean shows are watchable in the UK (and a clutch of series from around 2009-11, are—e.g. Dream High; Secret Garden; Sungkyungkwan Scandal).
Because of the “unavailability” issue, I sadly can’t really recommend DramaFever to UK-based viewers as of this time (summer 2015). This is a shame, as the service has a lot to offer… you just have to be in the US to get to it all.
Thankfully, UK-based Roku viewers have another option to get their “fix” of K-dramas: Viki. Another Web service owned by a big corporation (in this case, Rakuten), Viki offers a similarly-wide range of international TV shows to DramaFever, including a very healthy-sized selection of Korean programming (much of it current, or even still being aired in SK). However, compared to DF, Viki’s content has at least two major advantages:
- all of it is actually available to UK viewers (yaay!); and
- the subtitling is, I think, superior to DF’s (partly because Viki’s Unique Selling Point is that the subtitling is “crowdsourced” by teams of (presumably bilingual) fans of the shows).
DramaFever still offers a couple of benefits—HD for Premium members, and the service “remembers” how far you watched through an episode. (I nearly added, “a much better selection of 2000s-era K-drama”, but what’s the use of that, if they’re almost all unavailable to watch?)
However: overall, as things stand at this time, if you’re UK-based and want to watch relatively-recent K-drama shows in reasonable quality (SD) via your Roku, Viki wins hands-down.
Since 1996, Arirang TV has offered a wide range of English-language TV programming, devoted to Korean culture, current affairs, language, business and other topics. If you want to keep up with what’s going on in Korea, and learn more about the culture and society, Arirang TV is a handy channel to have access to,
Unlike the previous channels above, which take a “video on demand” (VoD) approach, the Arirang TV Roku channel offers a live feed of the service’s broadcasting. I rather like just “tuning in” and seeing what they’re showing at any given time!
Finally (this time around): another option for putting Korean TV on… well, TV, might be Video and TV Cast for Roku. (Yes, I know there are other similar solutions available, but this is the one I use.)
This is an app for iOS devices (I guess there is an Android equivalent?), with a matching Roku channel. Its purpose, in theory, is simple: you use its built-in browser to access a website with the video you wish to “cast” to your Roku, and (hopefully) the app makes this possible. In practice: whilst it doesn’t always work (and to be fair, with wildly-differing video-embedding on websites, DRM, etc. it’s a difficult trick to pull off), V&TVC is useful to have around for when you find a “friendly” site.
I mention this app/channel here, as all the major Korean TV networks offer video-on-demand services (usually involving payment for users outside the country), so in theory it might be possible to use V&TVC to “send” Korean VoD content to a Roku player. I have never tried this, so it might make an “interesting” experiment for another time!
This post is not meant to be an exhaustive list of sources of Korean TV content for UK Roku owners. However, I hope the above provides a starting point for those in the UK, seeking their “fix” of K-drama—there are some very enjoyable shows that have come out of Korea in the last few years, and it’s easier than ever to get them on a British TV set, if you know how! (Yes, I’m now hooked myself… try Dream High, My Love From The Star and Producer (or “The Producers”) to get you started, and see how you go :-) )