SEOUL (Reuters) - Chinese producers are getting round curbs on foreign television content with homegrown versions of South Korean variety shows, cashing in on the popularity of "Korean Wave" cinema and celebrities captured in unscripted moments.
As they target China's $19-billion TV industry, South Korean producers such as SBS Media Holdings, are moving beyond selling rights to Korean television dramas.
They are licensing remakes of reality shows, which promise viewers the thrill of seeing stars conspire together, or take a tumble.
"Since foreign programs were barred from airing during China's prime time, local co-production has become the easiest way to broadcast in China," said Kim Yong-jae, a Korean co-producer of the game show "Hurry Up, Brother".
An estimated 4.2 percent of homes with TV sets tuned in to "Hurry Up, Brother" on Jan. 9, says CSM Media Research, an unprecedented figure in China, where most television is watched online.
The show, in which Chinese celebrities, such as Deng Chao and Angelababy, compete in obstacle races and vie to rip off each other's name tags, is based on the SBS hit "Running Man".
Cultural similarities explain the popularity of the shows, said Kim, adding, "We find a lot of the same things funny."
Korean products appeal to Chinese viewers as they play on Confucian values, such as respect for elders, producers say.
Hunan Television's remake of a Korean hit, "Where Are We Going, Dad?" features celebrity dads on camping trips with their children, while Jiangsu TV's "Star To My House" shows actresses living and working with farming families.
"Chinese celebrities aren't used to showing unexpected reactions in sudden situations," said Ahn Yin-bae, chief executive of Seoul-based entertainment company KOEN Group.
"It's important to incite the reactions you want and create characters," said Ahn, who also produced the Chinese remake of "Superman is Back," starring celebrity dads and their infants.
SBS and other Korean content providers declined to comment on profits from Chinese remakes. Chinese firms used to pay up to $200,000 per episode to import Korean dramas, but prices vary.
In September, Chinese media authorities said they would approve foreign content and set a ratio of 30 percent of foreign to domestic media on streaming sites.
Remakes of U.S. and European shows also draw viewers. The Chinese version of Emmy Award-winning reality series "The Amazing Race" scored solid ratings of around 1 percent per episode when it aired last year.
Now a Korean show is journeying in the opposite direction.
U.S. network NBC has greenlighted an American version of "Grandpas Over Flowers," featuring four septuagenarian celebrities backpacking abroad.
(Editing by Tony Munroe, Tony Tharakan and Clarence Fernandez)