27 July 2021
TRAIL-BLAZING ASIA’S FORMAT PHENOMENON
The man behind The Masked Singer | Part 1
By Lulu M
The ATF Formats Pitch this year (2021) will have the privilege of submissions being judged by the original creator of the worldwide smash hit format, The Masked Singer. Wonwoo Park is also the CEO and Chief Creator at DITURN, a company specialized in format development. He briefly spoke to iNSiGHTS magazine about his journey before, and the years following, The Masked Singer phenomenon.
Read on for some unique (and candid) insights during the production process, through the eyes of one of the leaders in the Korean TV format industry.
iNSIGHTS magazine: How did The Masked Singer idea come to you, and what was the story behind its success?
WONWOO PARK: Over the years, whenever I hold auditions for shows, I get majorly concerned about the disparity between the goal of the show, and what the viewers want. I always thought how it was a shame that talented contestants were eliminated because of their “less-than-attractive” appearance – perhaps many producers would agree, with their own encounters running auditions.
So, this got me thinking. I deduced that people would not have any prejudice if the singers wore masks on the stage. I wanted to give the singers the unbiassed opportunity to be evaluated based on techniques and skills, instead of popularity. That was the beginning of The Masked Singer.
The idea was rejected for three straight years by many producers, who remarked, “Who on earth would sing with a mask on?”
The Masked Singer was introduced abroad by chance. At that time, the Korean media industry did not pay attention to the global market. Only a couple of big productions wanted to sell their content – mainly dramas and documentaries – abroad, and MBC only focused on Chinese business. I remember that MBC did not make any effort to sell this format at all. Again, it was pure luck this came to be.
Regarding The Masked Singer’s international success, I have to say that I merely came up with the idea, and did not contribute much to the business side of things. Of course, without the idea itself, there wouldn’t have been much else. When the US producer, Craig Plestis of Smart Dog Media, visited Korea, he wanted to meet the original production crew. I met him and advised him to guard the singers well, so that absolutely no one would know who they were, even if it meant following them to toilet.
CEO & Chief Creator
iNSIGHTS magazine: Did you expect it to be so popular or to travel so well?
WONWOO PARK: To be candid, I have to say that in the Korean media industry, it isn’t always easy, especially when it comes to expecting a fair IP share between broadcasters and producers/creators.
Big broadcasters look monopolise all rights because it’s the nature of the business. However, it is also unfair. So, when I came up with the idea of The Masked Singer, I initially thought it could be sold to China and other Asian countries. It was what I wrote on the pitching deck at that time. I insisted that Chinese broadcasters would buy the format, while I hadn’t even considered it could be loved in Europe and the States. Maybe MBC never imagined it either.
There is a simple reason for this. Prior, there hadn’t been any Korean shows that were successful overseas, and people in this industry didn’t recognise the importance of the format genre itself and the format market. Despite this unfamiliarity, The Masked Singer succeeded. Its success is significant, as it demonstrates how important an original idea is.
Today, Korean producers/creators are increasingly looking for opportunities to pitch their ideas to overseas markets. In this respect, big broadcasters should acknowledge and give due credit to creators, otherwise risking losing them to an adversary. I am running a company with other creators because I want to be guaranteed of my idea/IP rights.
In The Masked Singer’s pitching deck, I included a lot of pictures of different masks from around the world. There was a reason for this. Masks are present in every culture, and I reasoned then that such would be easily recognised by everyone, but I had no idea that the show would attract so many overseas viewers.
iNSIGHTS magazine: What is it like seeing your “baby” achieve success in so many countries/ cultures?
WONWOO PARK: It has been such a privilege to talk with so many people in the media industry and across format markets all over the world. Isn’t it all because of my “babies”? The Masked Singer, 300: War of United Voices, Lotto Singer, My Ranking, Singing Battle, Crazy Judge, The Hit, etc – they are all my children.
Many overseas companies have contacted me, and I am glad that my team members work incredibly well with international companies. The moments when we come up with new and varied ideas have always been fun, and I feel great when these ideas are recognised beyond Korea. I believe that another mega-hit show, like The Masked Singer, will be born.
Look out for Part 2 with iNSiGHTS’ conversation with Wonwoo Park, as he discusses the element of success, and what the future might hold in the world of Formats.
Disclaimer: This interview was conducted in Korean. The English reflection of Wonwoo’s responses has been edited for clarity and length.