By Cho Jin-seo
Squashed by mounting losses, TU Media is sending rescue calls to the government and to major shareholder SK Telecom, only to receive a cold or indifferent response.
The lone operator of satellite-based Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (S-DMB) has waited for the Korean Broadcasting Commission's approval on showing terrestrial broadcasting channels on mobile TV phones. But the broadcasting policymakers have indefinitely postponed the review process, which was planned for Tuesday without any explanation.
With the slogan ``TV in your palm,'' DMB has been lauded by the government and foreign media as evidence of South Korea's prowess in the telecommunication technology sector. But the DMB business has never been profitable as companies failed to garner significant income from advertisements. The accumulated debt at TU Media is expected to reach 270 billion won by the end of this year, and the number of subscribers stopped at around 1.2 million in the summer.
TU Media mainly blames the government for the dismal scenario.
``I'm not saying that we are 100 percent innocent in this situation. But clearly this is a typical example of failed government policy,'' said a TU Media spokesman on the phone. ``The ministers have been blowing the horn all the time about DMB technology, but they have shown no real interest in nurturing the industry.''
The re-transmitting of four popular terrestrial broadcasting channels ― KBS, MBC, SBS and EBS ― for DMB TV phones has been the hot issue for the survival of TU Media. The firm managed to sign a contract with MBC to use its contents in July, but the broadcasting committee has been reluctant to approve the deal because of protests from terrestrial broadcasters in provincial regions. ``The government has made no efforts to mediate between us and them,'' the spokesman said.
Feeling pressure from a worsening cash crunch, TU Media has been demanding more investment from its shareholders, notably SK Telecom. SKT is the largest shareholder at 32.7 percent. It is also the only buyer of TU Media's pay-based S-DMB service, while two other telecom firms KTF and LG Telecom opted for an alternative platform called terrestrial DMB, which is free.
SKT, however, is unmoved by the urgent call. Reports this week indicated speculation that the telecom giant will withdraw from the S-DMB business soon, though the firm has made no official announcement to that effect.
``The management is weighing various options,'' said spokeswoman Cindy Kang, Wednesday.
Suh Young-kil, CEO of TU, asked the government to view the DMB sector as a national asset.
``We are the only nation in the world that has the S-DMB service. To save national pride, the government should give more support to us such as allowing the re-transmitting of terrestrial channels and reducing radio frequency fees,'' he told the Hankook Ilbo.