4 TV stations open with great fanfare but losing appeal to already-sophisticated viewers
K-pop group the Wonder Girls perform during the opening ceremony for the four new TV networks, TV Chosun, JTBC, Channel A and MBN at the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts in central Seoul on Dec. 1. / Yonhap
By Kim Tong-hyung
Despite a deafening prelaunch hype, the broadcasting networks run by the country’s big conservative newspapers have been an irrelevance to the Korean television experience.
Obviously, the first-time channels, just into their second week of existence, have more than enough time to overcome their disastrous start. However, all signs seem to point that things are about to get worse, and possibly dramatically worse, before they get better.
The ``big four’’ national dailies ― the Chosun Ilbo, JoongAng Ilbo, Dong-A Ilbo and Maeil Business Daily ― have been desperate to leverage their print dominance to television ever since the Lee Myung-bak government took steps to relax Korea’s traditional restrictions on newspaper-broadcasting cross-ownership, despite concerns over diversity and discourse.
But right out of the gate, the four new channels ― TV Chosun (Chosun), JTBC (JoongAng), Chanel A (Dong-A) and MBN (Maeil) ― don’t look remotely ready for primetime.
The networks are stuck with microscopic viewer ratings, with JTBC’s period drama, “Queen Insu,” being the only show managing to occasionally touch the 1 percent threshold, according to AGB Nielsen. The primetime shows of TV Chosun, Chanel A and MBN are struggling to manage even 0.5 percent, despite spending massively on A-list stars like Jung Woo-sung, Song Il-gook, Chae Si-ra and Han Ji-min.
The channels’ inability to lure viewers is already concerning advertisers, who are already beginning to talk about paying less for their spots.
According to insiders from advertisement agencies, the first-time channels have been demanding advertisers pay around 70 to 80 percent of what they spend on national open-air broadcasters like KBS, MBC and SBS for the same minutes of exposure. The price tags will have to be slashed significantly unless the rookie networks are able to escape the tyranny of the remote.
``While it’s too early to close the book on them, it would be safe to say that viewers’ response to the new channels have been worse than feared. With the backing of broadcasting regulators, the new channels had touted themselves as competitors to major terrestrial broadcasters, but they will have trouble even differentiating themselves with existing cable networks,’’ said a television industry person.
``They’re trying to beat the status quo by using the same game plans the major networks have mastered and that really won’t help them be any more relevant.’’
While the new networks are off to a disastrous start, it wasn’t for a lack of bureaucratic support, which is beginning to run against the limits of acceptability.
Choi See-joong, the opinionated head of the Korea Communications Commission (KCC), the nation’s converged regulator for broadcasting and telecommunications, has come under fire for pressuring leading local conglomerates to spend more on what many describe as his personal television babies.
Choi recently met the advertising executives of Hyundai Motor, LG Electronics, SK Telecom and KT at a Seoul restaurant and ``recommended’’ the companies expand their advertising budget to account for at least 1 percent of their annual overseas revenue, according to sources present at the meeting.
Choi’s supposed arm-twisting could prove a futile effort. The companies are reluctant to spend more on advertising, when the heady mix of negatives affecting the economy from inside and out are forcing them to reduce their profit expectations for next year.
Unwavering government support has been the biggest strength of the new channels, although they have so far nothing to show for it. And this strength could turn into a glaring weakness depending on the results of the upcoming parliamentary and presidential polls next year.
The big-four newspapers, distinguished by their conservative and corporate-friendly viewpoints, have been the biggest supporters of the Lee Myung-back administration, which have been blasted by the liberal media over the Korea-U.S. free trade talks and other sensitive issues.
And the KCC has been fully behind the four papers as they bumbled their way into broadcasting. Compared to their rivals, the comprehensive programming channels are permitted to use more minutes on commercials and enjoy a larger allowance of outsourced content. The new channels will also be allowed to insert ads in the middle of a program, which other terrestrial broadcasters haven’t been able to do since the 1970s.
The KCC even went out as far to pressure cable system operators to allocate lower numbers for the new comprehensive programming channels, preventing them from being lost in the land of triple-digits. It bears further watching if they will continue to be coddled as much by the next administration.
The KCC licensed a number of new pay-television channels last year in executing its ambitious plans to deregulate the media marketplace.
After competitive bidding, the four newspapers landed the rights to operate channels with ``comprehensive’’ programming, providing original news content atop of entertainment, sports and documentaries. Yonhap News Agency, the state-run wire agency, won the license to air a news-only channel to complement the existing YTN.
The four comprehensive programming channels will provide nationwide coverage in a country where more than 80 percent of households have cable or some kind of pay-television connection.
This theoretically provides them with a platform to compete with major networks like KBS, MBC and SBS over viewership and influence, although theoretically this has so far been a term used ironically.
The big-four newspapers combine to control more than 70 percent of the country’s newspaper market by circulation.
숱한 화제끝에 주요보수일간지가 만든 종합편성채널이 출범하였으나 아직까지는 존재감이 미미하다.
물론 TV조선 (조선일보), JTBC (중앙일보), 채널A (동아일보), MBN (매일경제)이 출범한지는 채 2주가 안되었고 늦은 스타트에서 회복할 시간은 많다.
그러나 아무리 생각해도 상황이 당분간 좋지는 않을 것같다.
종합편성채널의 프로그램중 그나마 1퍼센트 시청률에 근접한 것은 JTBC의 드라마 "인수대비" 뿐이다. 다른 종편채널의 주요 드라마 중에는 0.500 퍼센트의 시청률도 못올리고 있는 것들이 많다.