K-Drama Ratings: “Pride and Prejudice” vs “Healer”?

See also my reports on February’s top shows and March’s top shows.

Television ratings are like K-drama award shows: they don’t say everything about the quality of a show, but they do make a big difference to the industry. The whole existence of scripted television relies on producers’ belief that telling stories is a good way to get viewers to watch advertisements. If advertisers don’t get the audience they paid for, someone at the network’s going to go home in tears. By economic standards—rather than story-telling standards—was Pride and Prejudice a success or a failure?

For most of its episodes, MBC’s Pride and Prejudice did beat out Healer (on KBS2) and Punch (on SBS), making it the highest-rated drama in its time slot.

But the numbers reveal that none of the dramas in December and January had high ratings compared to the shows that weren’t dramas. Reality TV, sports, movies, etc., were generally more popular that scripted serials. I think an executive would conclude Pride and Prejudice was a success, because it beat the other dramas, but not a hit. And for better or worse, it was way more popular in Seoul than in the country as a whole. Perhaps people in Seoul are more open to a show that’s basically a dark political parable?

pride and prejudice ratings courtesy of drama wiki opt(The charts here show raw ratings—the percentage of the audience with the TV turned on who watched this particular show. In parentheses is where the show placed relative to other shows in its time slot. If there’s no place number, then the show wasn’t in the top 20. Courtesy of Drama-wiki.)

Even though Pride and Prejudice was the best-rated drama in its slot, it started and finished in seventh place in Seoul, meaning that six other shows beat it out. Those are solid, decent numbers, but dramas are complicated and expensive to make. When I see numbers like this I get worried. Is it worth it?

Or will television producers someday swap dramas for more affordable reality shows in order to save money?

Luckily, this nightmare scenario is unlikely. If a drama appeals to the right audience, it brings in viewers who might otherwise have turned the TV off. I know people who only watch reality TV, but I haven’t watched a reality show in years. So networks have to keep the dramas coming to tap into another audience segment.

Networks also spend a lot of time thinking about how to attract the most lucrative audience members, those aged 18–49. The general ratings numbers don’t tell us how many viewers are 18–49. Two shows can have the exact same general ratings, but if one has more 18–49 viewers, it can charge more for advertising.

One last factor of K-drama economics: the possibility of a breakaway hit. When networks sell advertising time, they’re selling a gamble: if this drama becomes the next My Love from Another Star, advertisers will get their products in front of almost a third of the South Korean population.

But predicting the next breakaway hit is impossible. I recently caught up on Healer, which broadcasts on KBS2 opposite MBC’s Pride and Prejudice. If anything has the ingredients for a major hit, I would have thought it’s Healer. It has a near perfect blend of humor, romance, mystery and action—and gut instinct says it would be more appealing than a neo-noir like Pride and Prejudice. But the show has struggled to get into the top 20. Perhaps P&P had an edge because its naturalistic style and Kafkaesque worldview were just plain unusual in a K-drama. Healer is less of a novelty, though it’s outstandingly well-made.

It’s frustrating that a show’s success depends in part on competing dramas. Except for Jan. 6 and 12, Healer trailed Pride and Prejudice. Maybe it’ll pick up steam with the end of P&P.  But in an embarrassment of riches, Monday-Tuesday nights are also the night of SBS’s Punch. I haven’t seen it yet, but the smart women at DramaBeans continue to say good things about it. Its ratings hover right behind Healer‘s.

SBS punch ratings so far courtesy of drama wiki optIt’s wonderful and maddening to have three good shows competing with each other for viewers. Especially when we consider how weak the competition sometimes is. Remember the sad season that was late September and early October? On Wednesdays and Thursdays, SBS was airing the mediocre snooze My Lovable Girl.  KBS2 was showing Blade Man, which was admirably off-the-wall but had ratings in the basement. And MBC aired My Spring Days, which became the highest rated drama in that time slot almost by default.

Some argue that ratings don’t matter at all, since it’s now possible to watch shows later via the internet or recorded TV. And the economics of K-dramas gets another boost from all those foreign licensing agreements. My Lovable Girl sold licensing rights to China for a record-breaking $200,000 (US) per episode, making the show’s dwindling audience numbers in Korea less of a disaster.

But even if ratings are deeply flawed and inaccurate, they’re an easy kind of statistics to collect and give to advertisers. They matter to the businessmen.

So will Healer get the ratings recognition it deserves now that P&P is out of the competition? I hope so. Please, Korean viewers, I can understand why you tuned out My Lovable Girl and Blademan, but Healer? It deserves some love.

For a discussion of February 2015 ratings and how Healer finished in the ratings, click here.


13 thoughts on “K-Drama Ratings: “Pride and Prejudice” vs “Healer”?

  1. I think the numbers in the parentheses represent the rankings of the show compared to all other shows throughout the day, as opposed to only those in the same time slot. This includes daily morning dramas which often garner the highest viewership of the day (20+%). I’m pretty sure about it because I kept track of the P&P ratings from the TNmS website (http://www.tnms.tv/rating/default.asp) while it was airing. The rankings are available for up to the past 3 months. I can’t read Korean but I used Google Translate to translate the list :p

    • Ah! Thanks so much for correcting me! I read someone’s misinterpretation of those numbers and it stayed in my head, even though it makes more sense for them to be daily rankings. I can’t read Korean either but if I turn my brain on, it’s logical that for each network to have several shows in the top 20, they can’t all be airing at the same time. Another possible issue with my numbers is that until I can read Korean better, it’s not clear to me whether the percentage numbers in Drama Wiki’s tables refer to Neilsen “points” or “share.” Points is the % of all TVs in the country tuned into a show, whereas share is the % of TVs in use at a given moment that are tuned in. Together, the two numbers give clues as to whether viewers are watching a show “just because it’s the best thing on right now,” or whether they’ve turned the TV on to watch a specific show. I’ve assumed that the numbers in the table here are probably “share,” because of how high they are. A last weird thing about the “top 20” is that it omits cable shows, so even if a show like “Misaeng” gets top-20 numbers, it doesn’t show up. Whenever I think about all this, I get worried that there’s no logical way for television to work as a business! Somehow it does keep going, but it’s a mystery to me how.

  2. My 2 cents on P&P vs Healer vs Punch.
    Being an international viewer I can enjoy all three. But out of them, Healer feels like it rolled off the assembly line, as if checking all the boxes market research shows appeals to female audience. It feels very similar to City Hunter, complete with vigilante-ish hero, birth secrets, tragic childhoods, an OTP “fated-to-be” and even a morally ambiguous antagonist. Pride and Prejudice, if you ignore last 4 episodes was an excellent series. Punch comes with big name cast and a well regarded writer. It is a tighter story will also appeal to the same demographic which was drawn to the one-man-vs-corrupt-world of P&P. I think it is Healer’s misfortune that it had to go against these two shows. But I completely understand Punch’s rising ratings.

    • It’s good to hear your thoughts on Punch, which fit in with what I was thinking: it sounds like a strong and coherent story with a lot of the darker, anti-corruption stuff that I liked about P&P. It’s interesting to me that the more serious shows are beating out Healer, since occasionally a well-done formula show can get massive audiences (even when it’s not as well-executed as Healer). So, yeah, timing. Since I’d prefer any of the three to the superheroes versus zombies dreck on most American channels right now, it makes me sad that they can’t all be number one! 🙂

  3. For people talking about how Healer is somehow more derivative that, say, a REVENGE drama – that totally misses the point of any drama. ALL of them are derivative by default – no new stories out there, honey, just new takes on them. Healer is a tried & true formula brought BRILLIANTLY to life – the writing is sparkling, real and edgy, enough so that no one really knows the nuances of what’s going to happen or how it will work out. The characters are fresh, funny & appealing – the bad guys are not all cookie cutter stereotypes – not even the goons! AND OMG our lead boy is just soooooo delectable it is unreal 😀 As for our girl, I’ve seen all her dramas and she comes across as so much more sincere & real here than in anything else I’ve seen.
    So Healer is an OUTSTANDING drama – BETTER than City Hunter, better than My Love From the Stars, better than just about anything I’ve seen in KDramas (except those like Misaeng, or Sign, which are not trying to appeal w/popular memes). Oh, & I’ve seen a LOT of dramas, Korean & otherwise.
    There apparently is an internet Healer Mania going on – totally deserving LOL

    • I agree with you about “Healer”–it’s pulling off everything a great story can offer and making it look easy. I’m enjoying every minute (and every minute of rewatching, too)! I don’t mind admitting that it has some familiar elements, because like you say, no one’s inventing new storylines. I’m fascinated with K-dramas because they aren’t afraid to retell good stories. I can see pranx’s point, too, that maybe the reason Healer hasn’t taken off in the Korean ratings is that it has the bad luck to be up against “Punch,” which is also well-done, but perhaps has a less familiar style. I haven’t had time to see “Punch”, though. It’s possible it’s also “Healer’s” bad luck that “Punch” just premiered before “Healer,” and picked up an audience first.

      It’s an ongoing mystery to me why “Healer” hasn’t taken off in the ratings, and it does make me sad, because it’s definitely better than My Love From the Stars (I’m so glad you said it first, though, because I get into tussles with the Kim Soo Hyun fangirls when I say it!). Healer has given Park Min Young her best part ever, and I love both of the male leads. (Even when I distrust Moon-Ho, I cannot take my eyes off Yoo Ji-Tae, and JCW–well, just sign me up.) Hee hee, yes, even the goons have nuance. I would have a heart attack if I had to pick between “City Hunter” and “Healer.” I don’t want to hurt either of their feelings so I’ll say they complete their missions equally well. It kills me that CH had great ratings (hitting first place a fair number of times) and that Healer is down there around 19th and 20th place.

      Thanks for giving me an excuse to rave a little about Healer, TFN! I don’t write about it much here, because there’s already a ton of Healer love on the net. But Healer deserves it. It’s a show that makes me smile just thinking about it. 🙂 How many days till episode 17?!?

    • Seems i want ro have a “Healer’s” revenge on the ratings lol… I dont know what kind of viewers south korea has, definitely better than My Love from another star– over rated drama!!!

      • Y’all mean PUNCH? I’ve heard it’s very good, but of course a totally different kind of show – much more serious & realistic. The shows Healer compares to are things like City Hunter, Pinocchio, My Love From Another Star, etc – & it’s better than all those (even tho I liked all of them). Healer is pretty much best of it’s genre – a perfect example of an action/romance thriller.

        • They are definitely different genres. It’s really hard to even compare them because they have different goals. Punch wants to make you think and Healer aims to be fun and entertaining. They both do a great job with their goals.

          It’s funny that Korea was in the mood for serious this winter, when last winter’s they were in the mood for My Love from Another Star! Perhaps the shift in mood is due to the Sewol ferry disaster in April 2014. Ratings tell us more about the audience than about the shows in question.

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