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Why Are Korean TV Channels Hard to Find Abroad?

2007/04/03 | 235 views | Permalink | Source

More and more Koreans travel abroad, and many of them wonder why there are no cable TV channels like the BBC or CNN they can watch there in their own language. Even in Asia, where Korean soap operas are hugely popular, Korean channels are rare. Experts say exporting popular programs like "Dae Jang Geum (Jewel in the Palace)" is one thing and establishing a Korean channel overseas quite another, since it is much harder generating demand for a TV channel than for an individual program.

◆ Japan The KBS drama "Winter Sonata" became mega hit in Japan, creating craze for its leading actor Bae Yong-joon, who is affectionately known as Yonsama there. This led to increasing interest in Korean TV programs. But Korea's English broadcaster Arirang TV has yet to enter the Japanese cable TV market, although it started overseas operation in 1998. However, KBS World started broadcasting there last September by organizing programs targeting the market and subtitling all programs in Japanese. Under an agreement with Japan's largest multiple system operator J:COM, it has secured 900,000 subscribers. An Arirang TV staffer said, "Although we have various Korean Wave contents including dramas, we are not popular in Japan because we are an English-language channel, and few Japanese have any interest in English-speaking broadcasts".

◆ China China was the third largest importer of Korean TV programs last year after Japan and Taiwan, buying 7,528 programs worth US$4.16 million. But Beijing does not allow foreign broadcasters in its market, except in some luxury hotels and residences for foreigners, where foreign channels are available through the satellite broadcaster Sinosat. In Shanghai, some 30 foreign channels such as CNN, NHK and the BBC are available in hotels and condos, but they include neither Arirang nor KBS World. According to a KBS World staffer, China has a policy of reciprocity for foreign channels who want to air their programs there. "China is asking us to work as an agent for its English channel CCTV9 in return for letting us into the country, so we are in negotiations".

◆ The Philippines, Hong Kong In the Philippines, the two Korean overseas channels are competing with each other as KBS World entered the country with programs with English subtitles after Arirang TV. KBS singed an agreement with the country's biggest cable broadcaster Sky Cable TV last September to provide the service as part of a basic package and secured 1.07 million subscribers. But this pushed out Arirang TV, which became a more expensive premium channel. The same thing happened in Hong Kong. Since premium channels charge subscribers some US$5-10 more, it is natural that they get fewer subscribers. An Arirang TV staffer said, "It's worrying if Korean overseas channels compete to sell their products to the same cable broadcasters overseas".

◆ NHK The Japanese Foreign Ministry in a survey of 114 countries in January last year found that the state-run broadcaster NHK was available only in 12 of them, compared to 113 nations for CNN, 111 for the BBC, 78 for CCTV9 and 63 for Arirang TV. Another survey of 220 hotels in 114 nations also showed that CNN was available in 207 hotels, BBC in 186, NHK 91, CCTV9 61, and Arirang TV in 45.

This disappointing finding prompted the Japanese broadcaster to get active. It plans to change the main language for its foreign programs from Japanese to English and produce separate programs designed for foreign viewers instead of adding English subtitles to existing programs.

NHK has been relatively passive in overseas broadcasting compared to CCTV9 and Arirang TV. If it now changes that, it could pose a threat to both Arirang TV and KBS World, given that Arirang lacks Korean Wave content despite being an English-speaking broadcaster and KBS World uses 60 percent of its own programs with English subtitles. Lee Eun-mi, a researcher at the Korean Broadcasting Commission, said there is concern that having two competing overseas broadcasters is a waste of national resources. "We urgently need to define the roles for the two", she added.

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