IRIS’s Popularity Still Falls Short of Expectations
At first, I was a little taken aback at the way the following article frames IRIS’s
popularity in terms of disappointment, because it burst onto the scene
with a big splash and has maintained a comfortable lead over its
competition. But I suppose this all points to where expectations play
into a drama’s perceived success (among other factors that are
discussed below). This is why a “small drama” like You’re Beautiful is being called a modest success despite its 9%-10% ratings (on account of its mania fanbase, lower budget, and less-famous cast), while IRIS has been performing more than twice as well and still gets mixed reception as not fulfilling its hype.
IRIS has hot popularity — why the lukewarm ratings?
It’s talked about widely. But the ratings are lower than expected. KBS’s Wednesday-Thursday drama IRIS finds itself in between hot popularity and lukewarm viewership ratings.
IRIS’s average rating last week was 27.2% (AGB Nielsen
Media). A 2.4% increase from the previous week, it took up the No. 2
slot in the overall broadcast ratings, after MBC’s Monday-Tuesday drama
Queen Seon-seok (38.8%). On the outside, it’s a number that should be satisfactory.
However, considering its ambitious cast with Lee Byung-heon, Kim Tae-hee, Jung Jun-ho, Kim Seung-woo, Kim So-yeon, and TOP,
and the 20 billion won poured into it, the large-scale production has
not met expectations. Moreover, with the first episode logging more
than 20%, it raised expectations to the utmost. It’s the opinion of the
television industry that at this point, having aired six of twenty
episodes, the drama should already have surpassed 30%. Compared with
the solid No. 1 Queen Seon-deok, it’s more than 10% lower, a fact that has the faces of those involved cast in shadow.
Some broadcast sources assert that the ratings are an optical illusion. Compared to other television dramas, IRIS is available through various channels, which disperses the ratings. On the cable movie channel OCN, the week’s episodes of IRIS
are shown on Saturday and Sunday. It’s a faster re-broadcast than in
usual examples. The re-broadcast showed the racy kiss scene and bed
scenes that weren’t aired on broadcast television. An OCN
representative said, “We brought in the top ratings of 2%. It was the
No. 1-rated program of the other cable television stations in the same
The effect of the legal online downloads can also be seen. IRIS
has hit the jackpot, and as of November 1, it had recorded 800,000
downloads. Each episode costs 700 won (60 cents), meaning it has
already earned 560 million won ($473,000). A broadcast source asserted,
“IRIS doesn’t have the characteristics of a mania drama, so
there are relatively few passionate viewers who must watch the episodes
when they initially air.”
The analysis that IRIS is inherently limited from surpassing the 30% ratings mark has come from with KBS as well. Although IRIS
is a large-scale spy-action series that is extremely rare for Korean
dramas, with the drama actually focusing on the melodramatic storyline,
it has met with its ratings limit. One KBS source pointed out, “It
appears that Korean dramas are still limited in the spy-action area. If
a spy-action drama were drawn more persuasively, it could see 30 to 40
The online/rerun argument isn’t really persuasive for me, because
other dramas also have episodes available for rewatching on weekends
and online in both streaming and downloadable forms (and both legally
and illegally). IRIS does have the additional outlet of the
cable channel, which other dramas typically do not, but that seems to
me a small blip — not enough to explain the overall ratings scorecard.
At the end of the day, IRIS ain’t hurting, and I’m sure
they’re not crying all the way to the bank. I find it interesting that
the combined starpower and money and special effects couldn’t create
more of a smash success or a pop-cultural sensation (Boys Before Flowers
didn’t have much higher ratings, for example, but it stirred a
positively overwhelming phenomenon in pop culture at large). But I
guess money don’t buy you everything!
I don’t mean to say that IRIS doesn’t deserve its success,
and I think it’s a very well-produced, well-acted, well-executed show.
I do think, however, that it’s much more flash and glitz than heart —
and when the story doesn’t quite ring true for me, it does hit a glass
ceiling in my own mind, no matter how well-done the rest of its
Via Hankook Ilbo