By Kim Tong-hyung
Microscopically low viewer ratings for the new cable television channels run by big newspapers have dampened the government’s hopes of creating a media big bang.
It was in December when the channels _ TV Chosun backed by Chosun Ilbo, JTBC of JoongAng, Chanel A of Dong-A and MBN of Maeil Economic Daily _ went live following months of prelaunch hype.
But they have since remained off the ratings radar, failing to exploit the gap left open by the diminished power of KBS and MBC, national networks currently crippled by striking reporters.
Ratings data from TNmS show that none of the new channels managed to rise above next to zero audience figures in May, with JTBC the closest to achieving a 1 percent share at 0.52 percent. TV Chosun was the least popular of the four with a rating of 0.32 percent.
It was a letdown that everyone saw coming, except perhaps for the overzealous newspapers, which have refused to smoke the objectivity pipe. The television sector was already cut-throat before the dead-tree media companies got involved and observers accurately predicted that the already squeezed-dry advertising market would deprive the new channels of a firm financial foundation.
Desperate to fill the money pot, policymakers at the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) lobbied lawmakers to remove restrictions that prevent hospitals and makers of prescription medicine such as sleeping pills, contraceptives and impotence drugs from advertising on television networks. The efforts failed as seen by the absence of Viagra ads on television.
According to the KCC and industry sources, each of the four new channels are managing around 3 billion won (about $2.5 million) in advertising income per month, which amounts to around 36 billion won a year. This is a far cry from the 150 to 200 billion won predicted in their business reports before the new channels went on air.
Viewers say there is simply not much to see on the rookie networks as their predictable lineup of sitcoms, comedy, food shows and reruns of decade-old foreign dramas aren’t remotely enough to survive the wrath of the remote. Apart from ``Queen Insu,’’ a JTBC period drama, none of the programs on the new channels have managed to register more than a blip in viewing figures.
There are concerns that desperation will open the floodgates for sex, profanity, violence and other predictable flash-and-trash content. Channel A recently attempted to spice things up before the censorship authorities stepped in.
It remains to be seen whether the first-time channels can manage to overcome their disastrous first six months while they continue to look so ill-prepared for primetime. Already, a slew of reporters and producers are leaving the new channels for other networks.
The core of Korea’s television problem is that the KCC’s drive for media deregulation was apparently motivated less by the intention to jolt growth in the television market than to control the behavior of competing media outlets.
The licensing process that was supposed to take two years dragged on all the way to “Year 4.” It was the KCC that had originally said that the saturated advertisement market would allow for only one or two more channels, but it ended up licensing four of them anyway.
It could be said that the authority escaped the Lee Myung-bak government once the dust settled over the television competition and the losers no longer felt the need to mince words in their headlines.
It’s hard to say which of the new channels are most likely to sizzle or fizzle. SBS, the country’s newest terrestrial channel that debuted in 1991, toiled with poor viewership for years and was taken seriously only after its 1995 miniseries, “Hourglass,” became a massive hit.
미디어 빅뱅 (big bang)이 아니라 버스트 (bust)다. 지난해 12월 출범한 종합편성채널들이 방송 6개월을 넘겼으나 여전히 0%대의 시청률로 존재감을 갖지 못하고 있는 상황이다.
조선일보, 중앙일보, 동아일보, 매일경제 등 4대 신문은 영향력을 방송으로 확대하기 위해 노력해왔다. 이들은 이명박 정부가 방송-신문 교차소유권 제한 완화 등 미디어 규제 완화에 나서자 적극적으로 방송진출 준비를 하여 2010년에 라이선스를 획득하였다.
아직까지는 기대에 못 미치는 모습이다. 시청률 조사업체 티엔엠에스(TNmS) 자료를 보면, 종합편성채널 4곳의 5월 평균 시청률은 중앙일보의 JTBC가 0.52%, 매일경제의 MBN이 0.47%, 동아일보의 Channel A가 0.46%, 조선일보의 TV Chosun이 0.32%다.