After Japan's national broadcaster NHK launched its documentary series "The Silk Road" in 1980, it became one of the most renowned documentary powerhouses in the world.
Likewise, Korean broadcasting companies are trying to emulate NHK's documentary turf with its own productions which have recently gained international recognition.
Also, a recent survey by the KBS Broadcasting Culture Research Center supports the trend that documentaries are emerging as the next hallyu (Korean wave) content given the rising sales of Korean broadcasting content products overseas.
Award-winning documentaries" Superfish"
"Television dramas and K-pop have played a pivotal role in exporting hallyu contents in the early period. Now Korean documentaries are now taking center stage," Lee Jae-sook, researcher of the center, said.
According to the report released by the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) in 2011, the ratio of documentary exports among other broadcasting content has increased from 0.5 percent in 2008 to 11.5 percent in 2011. Its values can be estimated at $600,000 in 2008 to $23 million in 2011.
"As NHK's ‘The Silk Road' series elevated the profile of the Japanese documentary productions, KBS's productions such as ‘Superfish' and ‘Icarus's Dream' have been gaining international recognition in recent years," Lee said.
Icarus's Dream,"right, are produced by KBS
"Documentaries have the benefit of being easily exported to the global market because its cultural barrier is very low. The genre seems to boost the quality of Korean broadcasting content to a world class," she said.
KBS has been a leading documentary maker, setting a trend in the direction of television documentary productions.
In April, KBS documentaries such as "Icarus's Dream," "Exploring the Human Mind; Memory," "Kim Jong-il," "Superfish" and "Dharma, In Search of Truth," have won awards at the WorldFest Houston International Film and Video Festival. Launched in 1961, the festival is the third-oldest international film festival in North America.
"Tears in the Arctic" by MBC
"Superfish" explores the history of fishing over the past 100,000 years through fishing techniques and the role of fish in Asian food and culture. The five episodes consist of "Fish Planet," "The Great Taste of Fish," "Mystery of Rotten Fish," "Fish on Friday" and "Super Fish," which shows the intriguing relationship between fish and humans throughout history.
"Icarus's Dream" portrays the human ambition of flying like in the Greek myth of Icarus. The program documents the first attempt to fly over the Himalaya Mountains through paragliding. The production team experienced it along with paragliders flying over the mountains from the west of Pakistan to the east of India to capture the breathtaking moments.
Also, "Kim Jong-il" won the silver world medal in the Current Affairs category under Television – Documentary/Information Programs and "Icarus's Dream" was given the bronze medal in Sports and Recreation category at the 2013 New York Festival ― World's Best TV & Films in Las Vegas on April 10.
This month, KBS "Tears of Lost Souls: North Korean Refugees" won in the Investigative and Current Affairs Programs category at the Banff World Media Festival 2013 in Canada.
The Banff festival, better known as the Rockies, is one of the world's most influential international TV and digital media festivals, along with the Emmys of the United States and Monte-Carlo TV Festival of Monaco.
The documentary depicts North Korean defectors through the life of one who decided to live in a third country, not South Korea, where more than 25,000 defectors currently reside. The program was aired in April last year.
"The Land of Gods, Angkor" produced by EBS was sold to the Smithsonian at the highest price among the Korean documentaries at the Seoul International 3D Fair last year. "Speckle, the Tarbosaurus" generated by computer graphics was also sold to 56 countries.
International broadcasters also showed interest in EBS documentaries which feature 3D technology at MIPTV, the world's biggest content market, in Cannes, France last year.
The renaissance of documentaries, however, actually began with "Tears in the Arctic" produced by MBC. The show raised awareness about the dire circumstances in the Arctic where the lives of inhabitants, wildlife and the environment are being threatened. It also shows the plight of the Inuit tribe and its way of life there under catastrophic consequences. Following its enormous popularity, its producers decided to turn it into a movie.
As the second series of "Tears in the Arctic," "Tears of the Amazon," portraying the vivid life of the region, which was produced by MBC, recorded the highest viewer rate for the genre with 25.3 percent.