[Viewpoint] Rethinking TV adsOn Wednesday, a public hearing was held to talk about “measures to expand major TV broadcasters’ mid-program commercials.” The hearing was held at a center for broadcasting in Mokdong, Seoul. The hearing was organized by the Korean Broadcasting Commission and the title of the event was slightly nasty. The debate was supposed to be about “expanding commercial breaks,” instead of “allowing commercial breaks.” So it had been already decided that major broadcasters would have mid-program commercials, and the public hearing was held as a garnish. A member of the panel said, “To hold such a public hearing is like recommending a good honeymoon spot to people who oppose the institution of marriage.”
Mid-program commercials pop up when a show is just about to get interesting. Korea’s major networks are in a hurry to introduce commercial breaks, saying that their business is doing badly and they need a reliable source of income so they can convert to digital broadcasting. Those TV stations are operating at a loss, and the costs for digital broadcasting are so huge that incomes from mid-program commercials won’t be much help. Still, they are desperate to run them. The major networks that broadcast across the country want to go back to the good old days when they dominated the broadcasting market. KBS even wants to increase TV license fees. It wants to get everything for its own interest, which makes people unhappy with KBS.
The state-owned broadcaster has not worked hard to improve its management. KBS is well known for lax management. MBC is also regarded as a state-owned company by many people, but its sole source of income is commercial, the same as SBS. But the number of employees at MBC is higher than at SBS. There are no indications that MBC cares more about the public’s interest than SBS. When the new administration enters office next year, many expect that KBS will probably replace its head with someone that the administration favors in an effort to win favor.
Some view the issue of mid-program commercials as a battle among major TV networks, cable TV stations and newspapers. That could be the case, if we looked into it from a narrow point of view. However, others say that advertisements will have a bad influence even on the broadcasters in the long run because they infringe on viewers’ rights. At present, many viewers prefer KBS’s 9 O’clock News over the news program on MBC simply because the former has no commercials before or after the program.
Let’s have a look at a study in Japan, a country that recently began allowing commercial breaks at commercial TV stations. Hirobumi Sakaki, a professor of social psychology at Keio University, conducted a survey of 727 people about commercial breaks that pop up when the shows are just about to get interesting. Among the respondents, 86 percent answered “unpleasant” and 74 percent “irritating.” As for the programs that have commercial breaks, 84 percent said “they do not like the programs, either.”
As for the products that mid-program commercials promote, around half of the respondents said that they had hardly any impression of them. Particularly, 42 percent said that the products were not appealing, and 34 percent answered that they did not want to buy them. In short, such commercials have only negative effects. Mid-program commercials only add to unpleasant feelings among viewers, instead of creating huge profits.
In Korea, mid-program commercials were banned in an emergency cabinet meeting in 1973, shortly after emergency martial law was declared in October 1972. But mid-program commercials will be allowed for the major broadcasters in the future. It is only a matter of time. In Korea, TV license fees are also very low, compared to those in advanced countries, so the fees must be increased when the time is right. But now is not the time for either of these changes because preconditions are not yet met.
Major broadcasters must restructure and rein in spending in order to earn people’s trust and build popular support for commercials. Mid-program commercials or indirect commercials must be debated within a larger framework of changes in the media environment.
We need to study and evaluate the Korean Broadcasting Commission, which the fifth republic established, along with KBS 2 TV and MBC, which are state-owned companies only on paper. If these stations become state broadcasters in the truest sense, then they must increase license fees, and private major broadcasters must be allowed to have commercial breaks.
But the Korean Broadcasting Commission nonetheless decided on Nov. 2 to allow major broadcasters to air mid-program commercials. It has pushed for and passed the measure. During the public hearing the other day, the commission’s vice director said that it was regrettable that they did not listen to opinions outside the body over the past year. We wonder why the commission hurried to allow the measure. The issue of commercial breaks for major broadcasters must be left to the next administration. That is the right thing to do.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Noh Jae-hyun