[Viewpoint] Games highlight another contest

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[Viewpoint] Games highlight another contest

The Olympic Games is an arena in which amateur athletes from around the world represent their homelands. It is rare to find another drama that so touches our hearts with such pure emotions.

The Winter Games in Vancouver have been no exception. They’ve been thrilling.

But for me, it was difficult to watch the Games this year because SBS alone aired the event.

Korean broadcasters in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., air only some of the programs carried by KBS, MBC and YTN.

As a correspondent living in the U.S. capital city, this means I didn’t have the luxury of watching the Korean players’ events broadcast in Korean.

I have no intention of criticizing SBS for airing the event exclusively. In fact, I was embarrassed to see MBC and KBS castigate SBS for doing so during their prime time news programs.

In the United States, it is rare to find multiple broadcasters airing the same event simultaneously.

NBC has the exclusive right to air the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver.

The same practice applies to other sporting events, such as the Super Bowl, World Series and PGA golf tour.

Broadcasters including ABC, CBS and FOX fiercely compete to win broadcasting rights.

And perhaps because broadcasters have focused their competition on the most profitable events - to which exclusive rights are expensive - the rights to air major sporting events have been distributed fairly evenly over time.

The United States believes that this upholds the principle that viewers have the right to choose what they want to see on TV.

American broadcasters air the same program simultaneously, a practice considered an infringement upon the viewers’ right to choose, only when there is a need to do so. The president’s State of the Union address is one example.

As I listened to the controversy over SBS’s exclusive airing of the Olympic Games, I felt that Koreans are still unfamiliar with the realities of competition.

SBS is a privately owned broadcaster. Both KBS and MBC, although their situations slightly differ, are not private businesses.

A privately owned broadcaster must pull up audience ratings in order to realize higher profits. It must earn money to recruit the talent and produce the programs that viewers love.

Unlike KBS or MBC, SBS, because of its corporate structure, has no back-up when programs fail; for it, low viewership simply means reduced revenues.

Many people mistakenly believe that a state-controlled broadcaster lacks money while a privately owned broadcaster is rich.

The reality, however, is different. A broadcaster’s profitability is directly linked to its innovation and management.

And in the Korean television industry, SBS is ranked third - a tough place to survive, unless a company can manage to shake up the business landscape.

SBS probably wanted to attract sports viewers, who have long pinned their eyes to KBS and MBC, by airing the Olympic Games exclusively this year.

It probably wanted to create a platform from which to compete with the broadcasting giants, although the situation may be a bit overwhelming.

Critics say that SBS paid an unreasonably high fee for the exclusive rights to the Games.

Some also complained that SBS’s broadcasting was not as smooth as KBS and MBC’s.

These are important issues, but SBS has to contend with them.

If viewers judge that SBS went too far in airing the Olympic Games exclusively, the broadcaster’s experiment will end up a failure.

Whether it was intended or not, that’s the effect of competition.

*The writer is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jung-wook
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