[Viewpoint] The die is cast for a new TV futureThe Korea Communications Commission approved four general programming television channels and one news channel at the end of last year. In the course of selecting the operators, there had been intense debate over the decision among the interested parties, including the broadcasters, academia, civil groups and politicians. Even after the approval, the controversy continues over the government’s assistance for the new channels.
Considering the extensive influence of broadcasting, the debate is only natural. Adding new general programming channels may be the biggest event in the broadcasting industry since SBS was launched in 1991. A more important point is that a portion of the nation’s limited resources will be invested in the industry, on top of the social costs and investments made so far.
Therefore, we need to make extra efforts to produce more gains from the new channels, and it may be time to go back to the beginning and review the meaning of general programming channels.
Lately, production and distribution are being separated in the media industry, and the initiative is moving from the networks to the content producers. Wealth is naturally moving to the content sector, with the networks being used simply as a dumb pipe that delivers content. The trend is clearly reflected in the boom of smartphones.
So far, media-related policies in Korea put emphasis on building physical networks such as satellite broadcasting, terrestrial television and satellite DMB and WiBro, or wireless broadband. These are the fruits of technological advancements. The paid cable channels shared popular channels and focused on redelivering content from over-the-air broadcasters rather than developing specialized content for their media.
Therefore, platforms were added but the same content was delivered repeatedly. This created the problem of wasting the networks. The paid cable television channels have been in business for over 15 years, but the content dominance of the three broadcast television channels have also been overwhelming.
However, general programming providers are not the distributors but the providers of the content. To the viewers, they are content providers. And to independent producers, they are great clients. The appearance of the general programming channels signifies that the general flow of media policy has shifted from the networks to content production.
Resources are the key. When the global economic crisis hit the country in 1997, Korean conglomerates sold off movie and entertainment channels and withdrew from the programming providing industry. As of August 2009, 175 programming providers were in operation, mostly small scale. Therefore, paid cable channels could not provide quality, competitive content. Some channels were operated with a fund less than the amount needed to produce one drama series at a broadcasting channel.
The Korea Broadcasting Commission has estimated the annual operational cost for each new general programming channel to be 300 billion won ($268 million) and proposed that applicants must have the capital. As a result, the media industry is injected with at least 1 trillion won from the launch of the new channels, and considering the nature of the general programming channels, they will begin producing their own content.
As of 2009, annual broadcasting content production costs total 1 trillion won. When you pour a glass of water on a dry conventional water pump, it will spurt out water. General programming channels need to be utilized as catalysts to boost the entire media industry.
The four new general programming channels are estimated to create 1,500 to 2,000 new jobs. The broadcasting stations are often more preferred than conglomerates among college students seeking jobs. An analysis on industry correlations showed that one new job in the broadcasting industry leads to two more employments in other industries. Therefore, 4,500 to 6,000 new jobs are expected to be created. Every year, 760 billion won of added value will be additionally produced, making a solid contribution to the gross domestic product.
After the decision of approving the four new channels, some said that the winners were cursed. However, the Hong Kong film industry did not cater to the Hong Kong audience alone in the past. Today, Korean stars are increasingly popular abroad. The general programming channels are not just targeting the domestic market. Considering the high cultural standards of Korea, content and operators that are successful in the domestic market will be able to produce great results in the overseas market.
The die has been cast, and capital resources will be injected as scheduled. We need to bring our wisdom together to help the media industry take a leap. At the moment, no one can guarantee the successful launch of the new channels. But I can say for sure that if they fail, such a great opportunity to become a content power will not come again easily.
*The writer is a professor of new media at Hoseo University.
By Byun Sang-kyu