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How Chinese Money Is Changing Korean Media

2016/02/21 | Permalink | Source

An influx of Chinese money is having a huge influence on the Korean media industry. One recent symptom was the case of Taiwanese-born teenage starlet Tzuyu, whose waving of her country's flag in an old clip sparked a Twitterstorm that sent her agency JYP into a blind panic.

Terrified of jeopardizing the Chinese market, JYP forced the girl to apologize on bended knee and declare her allegiance to the Motherland -- only to find that barely anyone in China had noticed.

Still, China's media contents market is growing 11 percent annually and is expected to surpass Japan's this year, which puts JYP's anxieties into perspective (US$1=W1,211).

According to the Small and Medium Business Administration, more than W1 trillion worth (~US$1 billion) of Chinese money had been invested in Korean computer games and entertainment programs as of September last year. Last week, China's top online retailer Alibaba announced it is investing W35.5 billion in another Korean talent mill, SM Entertainment, and with money comes clout.

◆ Gearing Business Toward China

The clearest indication is the emergence of new priorities. The variety staple "Running Man" on SBS, for example, is flagging here up disappointing Nielsen ratings of six to eight percent over the last six months. But top stars like football player Park Ji-sung and actor Song Joong-ki keep coming, because the show also airs on several Chinese channels and is a hit there.

Comedian Yoo Jae-suk and other hosts of the show are frequently flown to China by private jet to meet ardent fans there, and regulars like Lee Gwang-soo and Kim Jong-kook command tens of millions of won for appearances on Chinese TV.

"Regardless of domestic ratings, 'Running Man' is making more money from the sale of the copyright for a Chinese version", and SBS staffer said. SBS has made some W30 billion from the sale.

Some current stars like Kim Soo-hyun and Lee Min-ho as well as fading performers now gear most of their activities to Chinese audiences.

◆ Better Production Values

Another noticeable change is that there is now more time and money for the production of Korean soaps, ending the frantic last-minute rush to finish each episode that has long bedeviled them.

"Descendants of the Sun", starring Song Hye-kyo and Song Joong-ki, completed filming even before the first episode aired. And scripts no longer arrive with minutes to spare.

Lee Young-ae's new costume drama "Saimdang: Light's Diary" about Shin Saimdang (1504-1551), a renowned artist and writer, will not be aired some months yet but pre-production is already underway. The same goes for four other TV dramas that start later this year.

One reason is that TV programs must be screened by Chinese authorities 60 days before broadcast.

◆ Watching for Pitfalls

Production companies are getting more mindful of offending their Chinese viewers. "Moorim School", a soap that aired last month on KBS, upset Chinese viewers when the cast burned Chinese banknotes, a grave insult to the portrait of Mao Zedong they carry. KBS not only scrambled to apologize but deleted the scene from the VOD version.

Others simply take their production straight to China, led by star producer Na Young-seok who is filming the whole of his next reality show there.

Pundits say Korean production companies have no choice but to follow the money and adapt to the new circumstances they encounter.

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