Controversy over public viewing rights

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Controversy over public viewing rights

The author is a deputy sports director at the JoongAng Ilbo.

English professional football team Tottenham Hotspur recently came to Korea for two friendly games, connecting with Korean fans. During the week stay, the team which striker Son Heung-min plays for has become solidified as the national favorite.

Tottenham’s successful visit is meaningful as it cleared the nightmare of Juventus’s visit to Korea in 2019. Three years ago, star player Cristiano Ronaldo created controversy by sitting on the bench throughout the game despite his promise to play for at least 45 minutes. After fans, who paid a hefty price for the tickets to see Ronaldo play, got furious, a long legal dispute followed.

The only controversy from Tottenham’s trip this time was the method of broadcasting. Rather than broadcasting on television, the game was exclusively broadcast on Coupang Play, an over-the-top media service by Coupang, which invited the team. Some social groups with low IT access, including middle-aged and older viewers, found it hard to watch the game. Related to the issue, some people criticized that when an entire nation is paying attention to Son’s game, it is regrettable that universal viewership was not guaranteed from the start.

The concept of “Public Viewing Rights” in the Broadcasting Act of 2007 defines that sporting events of national attention — such as the Olympics and the World Cup — should secure broadcasting methods that the entire nation can view. Was the public viewing right applied to the Tottenham game? Coupang, an e-commerce company, invested nearly 10 billion won ($7.6 million) to arrange for benefits to its clients — Coupang Play subscribers — and make profits. Simply put, it was strictly a commercial event. What if Coupang hosted a BTS concert instead of a Tottenham game and broadcast it live on its OTT service?

The concept of public viewing rights needs to be clarified now. As contents and channels are rapidly changing, the vague expressions such as “national attention” should not interfere with the growth of related industries. On the same token, the outdated perspective that “online contents should be free” also needs to change. It is common sense that viewers must pay to enjoy quality contents created with exceptional efforts, whether it is a video, an article or a sporting event.
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