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'Ad-like' dramas dominate TV screens

2006/02/16 | Permalink | Source

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When was the last time you saw someone just like you - who has to work eight hours a day to make a decent living and save extra hard for a nice new pair of shoes - in a TV drama?

According to a survey by the Citizens' Coalition for Democratic Media on 50 Korean TV dramas aired by major broadcasters in 2005, 26 percent of the main characters were set as large-income professionals including doctors and lawyers, 23 percent were owners - or their sons and daughters - of large enterprises and 11 percent were celebrities and sports stars.

While such upper class men and women make up less than two percent of the whole population, viewers are treated to millionaires, celebrities, hotshot sports stars, lawyers and doctors who have been dominating TV screens with their posh houses and flashy cars, and their overiding concerns about romance.

Just 10 years ago, however, Korean TV dramas weren't so far from the reality.

Past TV dramas such as "Seoul Moon (1994)" and "Eunsil-i (1998)" might have portrayed the much less splendid aspects of life, but the humble characters in the dramas deeply moved viewers with their realistic concerns of family difficulties and financial problems.

In 1969, major U.S. broadcaster CBS abolished many of its popular TV series after a research showed that the lower working classes, the older generation and rural households were the main viewers of those programs.

Because these people were not the target audience for products indirectly advertised on TV, CBS discontinued airing the programs, concerned that companies would begin to pull out their ads.

In the same way, the current deluge of unrealistic TV dramas in Korea is closely related to economic principles of advertising.

In recent years, more domestic dramas are being produced under the guidance of major consumer goods companies instead of the three major broadcasters - KBS, MBC and SBS.

The new production system became popular as enterprises began to invest large amounts of money in these production companies by inserting indirect ads.

With advertisement costs, drama-makers could spare more budget and improve the show's quality. Currently, about 60 percent of Korean dramas are made this way.

On the negative side, however, companies entered a fierce competition to attract enterprises to put in more ads. In order to secure more investment, dramas had to be made sumptuous and flashy enough to tempt viewers into buying the products portrayed in the show.

"Obviously, no company would want to put a PPL (Product Placement) ad in a collapsing shack, right? With drama producers pouncing on companies for more investment, it is only a matter of course that TV dramas turn into fancy commercials", said EBS policy committee member Yang Moon-suk at the Broadcasting Producer Association forum last year.

As observed by Yang, consumer goods companies inevitably choose rich characters and portray their fancy lives, knowing that viewers will be tempted into buying products they see used by the sort of character they personally wish they were.

The three broadcasters are playing their role in this vicious circle by insisting on star actors and writers for higher viewer ratings.

With only a few popular actors, actresses and writers to go around, they naturally demand higher guarantees. To get these stars the production companies need more money and consequently more "ad-like dramas" have to be produced.

"The vicious circle cannot be broken unless all three sides cooperate to fix the situation", said Yang. "Broadcasters should realize that not only popular actors and writers attract viewers, and celebrities should realize that they can never escape becoming commercial models in their own dramas unless they stop demanding overly high guarantees".

By Shin Hae-in

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