Television dramaThe Korea Communications Commission (KCC) on Wednesday announced a revision to the Broadcasting Act allowing commercial breaks for terrestrial TV stations. Nationwide broadcasters KBS, MBC, and SBS will be able to break advertisements as early as April after a public review on the rule. A recent poll showed six out of 10 viewers disapprove of the commercial breaks. The KCC decision has generated considerable criticism, with people complaining about the disregard for the public, which pays for the programing, and the government’s willingness to yield to the broadcasters, who are scrambling to raise income as they compete with online and cable media platforms.
KCC chairman Lee Hyo-sung pointed to the worsening financial state of terrestrial broadcasters, due to reduced ad revenue. Their counterparts enjoy stronger ad revenue and healthy viewerships. He said the regulation on commercial breaks should be lifted for terrestrial players to allow for a more level field and enhance content.
Lee however is misled on several points. Terrestrial TV stations have lost ads largely because fewer view them amid a surge of greater and better choices in terms of content and platforms. Instead of responding to the fast changing environment, traditional TV networks customized news for the ruling power and generate dramas and entertainment programs poorer in quality than paid channels. Subscription television channels long stole viewers and now exercise more influence over society.
Complacent and bloated management also dented their balance sheets. KBS in the first half recorded a deficit of 44.1 billion won ($39 million). Yet employees paying more than 100 million won a year made up 60 percent of the 2017 payroll.
Experts also point out unfairness in allowing the same service and rules for paid and terrestrial players when the former targets specific audiences whereas the latter appeals to a broader audience. They warn of disruption in balance and an eroding of the role of terrestrial TV networks if commercial breaks are allowed on free channels.
The authority is also deliberating an increase in KBS TV fees. Citizens have been petitioning against the existing system that bundles KBS TV fees into monthly electricity bills. They have been outraged to learn that they have been paying for KBS channels they rarely watch. Even a ruling party lawmaker motioned a bill to separate TV fees.
Most households view the channels of the three major TV stations through pay services like cable TV. They more or less are paying double. They now have to tolerate commercial breaks on terrestrial channels.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 14, Page 34