Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Popular TV and Piracy in Korea

The Yonhap has a story about the popularity of US dramas in Korea. It eventually comes up with the obvious, how they get them:

Popular shows include "Grey's Anatomy," "Desperate Housewives," "Heroes," "Smallville," "House," "Lost," "Sex and the City," "Rome," and dozens more.

Even though some of them have aired or are scheduled on South Korean public networks, most of them have won their popularity through unconventional means, using the underdog Internet and cable TV.

That Internet and cable route to popularity works in South Korea, because about a third of the county's 49 million people have access to high-speed Internet connections at home and over 80 percent subscribe to cable TV.

A recent poll of 114 college students by a local newspaper showed 72 percent of them enjoy watching U.S. dramas. Forty-four percent of the viewers said they take the episodes off peer-to-peer Web sites, while 48 percent said they watch the dramas on cable TV.

A couple things about that last paragraph. Its interesting how they just lump together p2p sites with hosting services (e.g. Webhard). I wonder why. The statistics are a bit worthless for extrapolation. A sample of "114 college students by a local newspaper" is not only insufficiently large it is likely rife with possible sample errors. That aside, the numbers do not add up. There is an unaccounted for 8%, this could be DVD sales (both legal and illegal). Just a passing thought on the remainder.

Meanwhile, the upcoming changes in the Korea Copyright Law may give a good tool to copyright holders. Rights holders can request ISP to block access to infringing materials. I say may because like many laws here, what matters is the enforcement and judicial interpretation of these provisions. How long does the ISP have to act? How long must they continue to block? What forms of effective relief can be applied for if the ISP fails to act, or act in a timely manner? Anyway you get the idea. If anybody knows the answer to some of these questions, please comment (copyrights are not my regular beat).

Incidentally, much like I covered on my recent drug posting, the KORUS FTA could alleviate some of these problems. There are the obvious IP provisions, however what makes me wonder is the access. The FTA will crack open the broadcast market a bit. I wonder if this will eventually get greater distribution of US content in Korea. Thus lessening the urge, or need in some cases, to download.

The article also has obligatory quotes about how Korea is "threatened" by the popularity of such shows. 

"We feel threatened," said Park Jin-suk, a producer at a local TV station. "But you have to admit American shows are backed by a whole different production system that is fueled by huge amounts of U.S. capital."

According to Park, a typical episode for a U.S. drama would cost about the same as a whole Korean series. Some analysts suggest one U.S. series requires an average of 25 times more investment than a Korean one.

Of course money is not everything Mr. Park in a creative enterprise.  Consider all the flops are shown every year on US TV, also consider "Friends", still one of the more popular shows here, is a very inexpensively produced sitcom (not including wages obviously). However the article goes on to show there is a market opportunity people like Mr. Park could exploit:

"Too much sex," said Lee Dong-woo, a college student who watches "Grey's Anatomy," a medical drama about a group of intern surgeons. "They all end up getting connected in one way or another in a tangle of sexual relationships. Unrealistic."

"There's also an excessive display of American patriotism," argued Jeong Ji-wook, a 34-year-old company worker who watches "24," a series about a man trying to save the U.S. President from Arab terrorists. "If you're American, you're good, and the rest are just a bunch of bad guys."

On the other hand though is this article in the Chosun Ilbo cites criticism that Korean drama's are all the same, in a similar vein are Chun Su Jin's TV reviews in the Joongang Ilbo (which are delightfully redundant because Korean TV to her is redundant). Maybe Korean TV needs to be more creative to be competitive, not better funded.


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