A Look Back at 2014, Part 1: The Ratings War

*shamelessly promoting Punch*

It feels like we were welcoming 2014 just yesterday… and somehow we’ve only got 3 days left in the year. What happened to the other 362 days?!

Real life was not so kind to us this year when it came to gardening with all of you here at the Patch – and for that we profusely apologize. We also want to thank all of you for sticking with us these past 2+ years. We wouldn’t be where we are today without all of you.

Okay, enough of the warm fuzzies, as my Kleenex Monster Poppy would say. We’re kicking off our Year-End Festivities with a look at the Ratings War of 2014!


You can deny it all you want, but the bottom line is that ratings matter. You can have ‘sleeper hits’ and mania-fans, but from a broadcaster’s perspective, Ratings = King. The ratings determine how many articles are written about the show the next morning – or throughout the next week – and the ratings determine how much a commercial segment can earn, not to mention how many companies will fight for that 30-second spot.

Over the past several years, we’ve slowly seen the fall of star power – both on actors’ and writer’s + PDs’ ends – and 2014 may have been the year when we really saw that fall manifest. It was the year of reunions, and yet not a single former Hallyu superstar couple made a big breakthrough. Star writers and PDs came back in force, but the ratings didn’t quite reflect that. Of course, there were exceptions. But the rise of cable shows and the regression of the Big 3 demonstrated a shift in the public’s desires – we don’t want no big names if the storyline sucks. But if you hit the sweet spot – even with an overused, all-too-familiar story arc – we’re ready to gobble it up.


Nielsen Korea recently released the Top 20 TV programs that brought in the highest ratings of 2014, and KBS took 15 of the 20 spots (with 2 channels: KBS1 and KBS2). Most of those shows were weekend and daily shows, which have always been strong suits of KBS. The Sat-Sun 7:55pm spot has been KBS’s biggest winner over the years, as well as the daily evening 8:25pm slot. The top 2 shows of the year, The Wang Family and What’s with this Family, were both in that weekend evening spot. Melody of Love, You Are the Only One, and My Dear Cat (ranked 3, 7, and 9, respectively) aired during the daily evening spot. Jeong Do-jeon, a KBS1 weekend show (a spot reserved for sageuks) was the other big hit from KBS, bringing the Korean men back in front of the TV. Unfortunately, KBS’s weekday primetime lineup was a pretty big bust. The Mon-Tues lineup brought in some pretty terrible ratings: The Prime Minister and I, The Full Sun, Big Man, Trot Lovers, Discovery of Love, and Cantabile Tomorrow were all in the single digits for the majority of their runs. Healer is currently in the Mon-Tues spot, and its highest point thus far was last week’s 8.8% for Episode 5. The Wed-Thurs crew didn’t fare much better. Pretty Man ended with an embarrassing 3.8%, but the shows following were at least in the low-mid teens: Inspiring Generation, Golden Cross, and Joseon Gunman. Unfortunately, Blade Man did a big flop, bowing out with a 3.4%. The King’s Face, which is currently airing, is in the 7-8% range – double what Blade Man was pulling in, but still not what a broadcaster wants to see.


As mentioned above, the weekend evening airtime has been the crown jewel of KBS’s drama lineup, consistently pumping out shows breaking the 40% mark, like our own beloved My Daughter Seo-young. But in the middle of the year, with Wonderful Days dropping the ratings ball, MBC’s Jang Bori is Here took the peninsula by storm. The whole country lived and breathed Jang Bori and Yeon Min-jung’s never-ending battles, and we saw the birth of a Yeon Min-jung love affair that is still going strong. (More on that in another post!) Hotel King was the much anticipated reunion between Lee Da-hae and Lee Dong-wook, which didn’t do quite as well as people had hoped. Mama, though not a big ratings hit, struck a cord with many viewers and helped ease Song Yoon-ah’s way back into the industry. Currently, Legendary Witches is hitting new highs each week, with yesterday’s Episode 20 hitting 26.1%, and Rosy Lovers is doing decently in the teens.

MBC’s primetime weekday fare was a mixed bag. It started the year strong on Mon-Tues with Empress Ki, and Triangle and The Night Watchman’s Journal held onto their #1 spots, but the latter two’s positions were more a result of SBS and KBS putting out even worse ratings. Triangle, helmed by writer Choi Wan-kyu and PD Yoo Chul-yong, was particularly disappointing because the two had previously scored big with All In (and decently with Swallow the Sun). Pride and Prejudice is currently leading the pack, but again the ratings are only in the low teens. The Wed-Thurs dramas started with Miss Korea and was followed by Cunning Single Lady, A New Leaf, Fated to Love You, My Spring Days, and the recently ended Mr. Back. None were deemed failures, and looking back, they all had pretty decent press coverage and reception. Unfortunately, none could claim title to rockstar fame.


That honor probably goes to SBS’s biggest hit of the year, You from Another Star (or My Love from Another Star). It was the show that spawned the birth of hundreds of chicken-and-beer restaurants in China, not to mention a shortage of Yves Saint-Laurent lipsticks worldwide – Rouge Pur Couture No. 52, to be exact. SBS tried to follow up with big names, but none quite hit the spot. One Warm Word kicked off the Mon-Tues parade, followed by God’s Gift: 14 Days (Lee Bo-young + Jo Seung-woo + Kim Tae-woo), Doctor Stranger (hot commodities Lee Jong-suk and Park Hae-jin), Temptation (the much anticipated reunion of Choi Ji-woo and Kwon Sang-woo), and Secret Door (Han Seok-kyu + Lee Je-hoon). Punch is currently airing, and though its viewers all rave about it – myself included! – it only managed to reach 7.7% last week. Of course, it started at 6.3% and has only aired 5 episodes, so perhaps we’ll see some progress in the weeks to come. *psst! Watch it!!


Following You from Another Star were Three Days, You’re All Surrounded, It’s Okay, That’s Love, and My Lovely Girl. I feel like a broken record: big names, mediocre ratings. Pinocchio is currently leading the Wed-Thurs pack, but it’s dipping between 9 and 10%. The SBS weekend shows didn’t fare much better in terms of generating hype and spawning fandoms: Thrice Married Woman, Angel Eyes (which I lurved), Endless Love, Glorious Day, Modern Farmer, and Birth of a Beauty. The saving grace is probably current morning daily queen Cheongdamdong Scandal, which is kicking butt with ratings in the 20% as the heroine gets her revenge on and the show readies to wrap up.


Cable TV, on the other hand, saw some big numbers and hype this year. tvN had a nice Fri-Sat lineup that struck gold at the end: Emergency Couple, Gap-dong, Marriage not Dating, Plus Nine Boys, and the huge hit Misaeng. Its Mon-Tues legacy continued with I Need Romance 3, Witch’s Romance, High School King of Savvy, My Secret Hotel, Liar Game (which got decent press), and currently airing Valid Love. Its once-a-week Sunday offering The Three Musketeers, unfortunately, didn’t quite garner the attention it had hoped for.

JTBC carried on in its usual fashion with Wild Chives and Soybean Soup (or Jang Gook who became Dallae), Can We Love?, Secret Love Affair, and Yoona’s Street – the last garnered more attention post-airing when its stars revealed they were dating. Secret Love Affair was probably the biggest hit for JTBC, and it looked like Maids could be the next big thing (it raked in a very nice 2.1% with the first episode), but the terrible fire that broke out on set a few weeks ago has derailed the show.

OCN aired Cheo-yong, God’s Quiz Season 4, Reset, and Bad Guys this year, and Doctor Frost is its current offering. Though the ratings weren’t quite as high as Misaeng’s, Bad Guys got quite a bit of press for the performances from Kim Sang-joong and Park Hae-jin in particular.


Overall, 2014 saw its share of good and bad shows, though the overall trend in ratings continued to drop as in years past. There are talks that people just don’t watch as many shows live anymore, because streaming services and re-broadcasts are available almost instantaneously. Others have claimed that the Big 3 recycle the same plots over and over again while the cable shows are more willing to explore different options and experiment – hence the slow exodus to cable. Yet we see dramas like Jang Bori is Here make huge waves, and no one can say You from Another Star is ground-breaking stuff. Makjang and good ol’ rom-com, in the end, received just as much love as Misaeng did. Personally, I don’t think there’s a perfect formula to conquering that beast called fan love and ratings. It’s a rare combination of storytelling, actors’ performances, chemistry, production, media coverage, and general populace hype that produce hits like the ones we saw in 2014. One thing is for certain: if an alien, a ditzy starlet, Yeon Min-jung (who defies description), and a young salaryman can make the world laugh and cry – if such ordinary people can bring such joy and sorrow into our lives through this medium called television, then I have hope that 2015 will bring more such goodness into my life.

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5 responses to “A Look Back at 2014, Part 1: The Ratings War

  1. Yay that you’re posting, chingu!! This was very interesting!

    I don’t generally pay a whole lot of attention to the ratings scene, since (as you’ve rightly pointed out) ratings aren’t a very accurate indicator of how good a show is, and how much people love it, especially internationally. It’s so true, though, that the ratings have been sliding down what appears to be a slippery slope over the years.

    I imagine that if I were living in Korea, that I wouldn’t be tuning in to watch my shows live either. Now that I’ve gotten so used to watching my dramas according to MY schedule instead of a broadcaster’s schedule, I don’t think I could ever go back to plonking myself in front of the TV at a specified time each week! 😛

    • thank youuu for always sharing your kind comments, chingu!!
      i feel like i have a love-hate relationship with ratings — i don’t love a lot of high-rated shows, but a lot of the time shows get bad ratings for a reason xD and then there are those shows that i love which don’t get the ratings i want for them… lolol! the international market is definitely a different beast altogether, though a lot of the time the korean and international ones do line up~
      i totally feel your point about watching on my(!) schedule. it was such a weird feeling having to wait until the evening to watch my shows when i was in korea — here, i wake up in the morning and they’re all ready to go! but i’d wake up in korea… and have to twiddle my thumbs all day lol 😉
      hope you had a wonderful new year’s day, chingu!! 😀

    • a super deep duper belated weeelcome to the Patch, dira!!! 😀 😀 thanks for joining us here in our little haven of a madhouse – hope you continue your dramaland journey with us! 😀

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