Independent producers bubbling up

New law designed to promote diversity in p'gramming

SEOUL — Soap-style dramas have long been a cornerstone of Korean television, and now independent producers may get a bigger cut of the action.

The 2000 Broadcast Act passed in December requires that 15% of primetime and up to 27% of total skeds must come from independent suppliers.

The law is designed to bring diversity to programming, says a rep with the Korean Broadcasting Commission, which oversees the nation’s airwaves.

For years, the three main terrestrial networks — KBS, MBC and SBS — have produced almost all their schedules inhouse while controlling north of 80% of the home-viewing audience.

Cable TV, which launched in 1995, is still struggling to reach critical mass, and sat broadcasting is set to launch at the end of the year.

“In Korea, competition among networks is decided by ratings of dramas and is very sensitive, very important,” says Shin Hyun-taik, chief director of leading indie production company Sam Hwa Production Co.

Hitting targets

This means cash goes to the top independent producers — provided they reach prenegotiated ratings targets. When ratings go up, the producers get more money; less, when the ratings go down.

“Every episode has a different fee,” says Kim Hyoung-wook, a production supervisor at SBS. “There is lots of stress because of ratings. But the reason we are doing this is to have competitiveness.”

Paradoxically, ad sales for all three terrestrial webs are still controlled by a government org that many deride as outdated and ad rates are determined by the time period rather than a show’s popularity.

Losing out

This means that even when an independently produced drama achieves high ratings, a network can lose money because of the high fee to the producer.

SBS in particular has been fighting to change the advertising system. Civic groups contend, however, the airways belong to the public and don’t want them beholden to advertisers.

At SBS, the only fully privately owned among the three webs, dramas contributed nearly 40% of its $365 million in ad revenues last year.

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