An itsy bitsy news story has been appearing on Korean Drama and K Pop sites in the last week – “Networks agree to cut air time of dramas and variety shows” is the common headline. So why does this matter? Because it provides another opportunity to use Siwon KOD GIFs to learn about the business side of Korean Drama. Yep, that little news story seems much sweeter after you look at:
Told you. Cheers!
So they are cutting the air time of dramas and varieties – so what?!
Well, obviously you are going to have less time with your favorite shows. The time cut is not significant at first glance, but when you do the math….
For a one hour drama you are losing around 1 ½ episodes per a 20 episode show, which in my opinion can be pretty noticeable (given the sometimes complex nature of plots in drama land and the hilarious nature of variety programming). And for a variety, you are losing roughly 3 episodes a year. That is 3 less episodes with Yoo Jae Suk! I suddenly feel:
Okay, so I am losing an episode. Why?
SBS, MBC, and KBS agreed to cut air time- because of advertising and the humaneness of the production environment. The last cooperative network agreement (between KBS, SBS, and MBC) occurred in 2008. That agreement set the current (soon to be changed) air time of dramas and variety programming- all due to the issue of excessive competition.
The problem of excessive competition stemmed from risky broadcasting decisions- in order to compete (or let’s beat everyone at the get-go) broadcasters were headhunting for the highest ratings with little regard for quality. In other words – an f***ed up mess was haphazardly played out on the telly (with a goal of the most reward for the least risk). So the broadcasters decided to agree on a standard length, which would hopefully make for better quality television. Unlike the agreement of a week ago, advertising was not a major factor. Why? Well In regards to advertising revenue the broadcasters already had a friendly helper in KOBACO.
What is KOBACO?
No, it is not a tasty sauce. But it is fun to say! KOBACO is short for the Korea Broadcasting Advertising Corporation – and the KOBACO monopoly (nope- the business monopoly not the board game) ended in 2012. For a quick and dirty rundown – KOBACO was a long arm of the Korean government, holding absolute power over advertising for the big 3. You want to air your commercial during a drama? You have to go through KOBACO, at least until 2012. KOBACO hired (ahem approved) the advertisers, and without a contract with KOBACO your awesome commercial was a no-go.
Huh… So advertising is essentially run by the government?
Not anymore, but it was. If that is hard to believe then you may find it interesting how the big 3 broadcasters came to be. In 1980, General Chun Doo-Hwan gained control of Korea after a bloodless coupe. The new dictator was none too keen on the broadcasting stations that reported his actions in a bad light, therefore he did what any good dictator would do – he shut them down.
Before the mass shutdown there were 29 radio and broadcasting companies, after the shutdown there were 3. No less than 5, count them 5, television stations were merged with KBS. Oh, and to make things more controllable the remaining broadcasters were very much controlled by the government (to this day 100% of KBS is owned by the government and 70% of MBC). Talk about stopping the presses. Nowadays the number of broadcasting stations is not restricted, in other words there are no forced mergers going on and new channels are allowed to setup shop.
The regime of Chun Doo Hwan bore the entity of KOBACO, centralizing all advertising. However not everyone views KOBACO’s existence as a bad thing; after all having a central place for advertising ensured that even smaller (or new, when they were allowed) broadcasters had a piece of the ad revenue pie. This all ended in 2012, when KOBACO lost its monopoly over broadcasting advertisements.
So 2012 killed KOBACO’s monopoly – why and how come my dramas are being shortened?!
In 2012 KOBACO quit being the only advertising sales agency in town (cause they were found unconstitutional, imagine that) which means that broadcasting corporations need to look for their own ad revenue. Unfortunately (and kind of unbelievably) the broadcasters are not doing so well securing their own commercials.
So it comes down to commercials?!
Yes and no. Largely yes, because if dramas are unable to find advertisers they are not making money. If they are not making money they have little incentive to air dramas for a longer period of time. And what is the “no” in this answer? Well, there are other reasons dramas have been shortened; production costs and the grueling and horrid work hours of the entire cast and crew.
KBS’s Drama Production Director, Lee Kang Hyun, said:
“Lately, drama production has become labor intensive, and the commercial market has not be faring well. Currently, as dramas have an airtime of 80 minutes including commercial time, the number of dramas unable to sell all of its commercials slots is increasing. The goal of agreeing to 67 minutes of broadcast time is for the production environment to transform into a more humane setting and to also help with the reduction of drama production fees.”
An official from KBS’s variety show department said:
“Previously, variety shows usually aired for 80 minutes, and sometimes we would extend the broadcast time. However, taking into consideration the constant competitive components of the broadcasting field, the burden of the editing staff, filming concluding past midnight, as well as the burden of viewership were reasons enough to take these steps towards change.”
- Korean broadcasters, once faced with independence in the advertising realm, found it difficult to secure advertising on their own.
- Lost advertising revenue is making it harder for dramas and variety programming to break even, reducing air time facilitates a reduction in production costs while retaining advertising space (think same revenue for less expense).
- Anyone that has read about the live shoot system would agree – this type of schedule is not cool. For the directors, the writers, the actors, the sound guy, or the hired hand, working nonstop for days is not the way to treat employees. Reducing air time will reduce the amount of time these hard working individuals go without sleep (theoretically at least).
So how to deal with this piece of news? Less drama time, less variety time, but a happier cast and crew? I think this can be answered rather simply. Queue Siwon:
“Ask a Korean!” : Media Strike in Korea. 12 June 2012. Web. 13 Oct. 2013.
“Broadcasting Ad Market Faces Upheaval.” HanCinema. 2 Dec. 2011. Web. 13 Oct. 2013.
“Doing Business in South Korea.” Practical Law. Web. 13 Oct. 2013.
“Broadcast Companies KBS, MBC, and SBS Reduce Variety Show and Drama Airtime.” Soompi. Web. 13 Oct. 2013.
“Kobaco Preparing for End of Its TV Monopoly.” HanCinema. 20 Jan. 2011. Web. 13 Oct. 2013.
Kwak, Ki-Sung. Media and Democratic Transition in South Korea. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.
Porter, Michael E., and Hirotaka Takeuchi. Korean Showbiz Cluster: Microeconomics of Competitiveness. Harvard Business School. 10 May 2013. Web. 1 Oct. 2013.