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New horizons for old pros

Panel takes look at tech side of biz

A panel of three execs from new media powerhouses mulled the high-tech future of the biz at the Grand Hotel on Tuesday.

Moderator Paul Yi lead off with Jin Choi, a veep at talent shop iHQ recently transferred from SK-Telecom, where as head of the strategic content development team he led the charge into the contents biz, including its acquisition of iHQ, Seoul Records, YTN media and Chungeoram Pictures.

The old model of media companies staking out distinct business territories — be it content creation or distribution — Choi said, is now giving way to convergence “in which media companies from different areas are competing head-to-head in the same markets.”

To survive, content creators “also have to enhance their media delivery capabilities,” he added.

But once film companies master the delivery of content on mobile handsets, broadband and other formats, Choi emphasized, “they can create a virtuous media cycle” of ever-rising profits.

Sang Kim, strategic business development manager at Google in Korea, described a new service the search giant hopes will generate one such cycle: Google Video, a site where users can view or download videos for free or for a fee, depending on the content provider.

Studios and webs have quickly adapted the new tools to their promo needs, including Universal, whose popular video clip site for “The Break-up” allowed viewers to post stories of their own relationship woes. Studios get cheap, viral PR, while Google makes coin through ads.

Kim is now trying to sell the same concept to Korean film companies. “We’re talking with them about how to monetize their contents on the Web and how to break into the worldwide market with Korean contents,” Kim explained.

Sang-jun Oh, a game developer and entrepreneur who is now a business strategist for online game leader Gravity, described the huge success of the company’s online hit “Ragnarok,” which is now the No. 1 game in its category in Korea and much of the rest of Asia.

Presales for “Ragnarok 2” have hit $60 million in the U.S. alone — part of the rapid expansion of the entire online and mobile game market, which is growing 30% annually.

As for the future, Oh sees “an industry trend toward one-device and multi-use.” Discrete devices, such as game consoles, are giving way to single online info and entertainment centers.

Meanwhile, games are no longer only sources for pics, but the two are merging into a single interactive medium, as exemplified by helmer Peter Jackson’s production of the “Halo” videogame series for Microsoft’s Xbox.

Oh noted that the format — interactive games with the look of high-end CG pics — cuts development and marketing costs and generates synergy effects. In other words, a game and a pic for the price of one.

One such project that Gravity is developing is Machinima, an animated game system that allows users to select emotional reactions that drive the story. “It’s as if you’re seeing a feature film in terms of visual quality, but with the added benefit of interaction,” Oh said.

But the bright media future posed by the panelists, one questioner noted, is turning into a nightmare for content providers as delivery platforms change and merge — and profits erode.

“We’re at a crossroads,” Choi replied. “Windows for the release of films on various media are contracting and may even disappear — we need new delivery channels.”

Whether the most profitable channel will be a mobile device, broadband or some other medium, “no one really knows,” Choi admitted. “The Korean film industry may be producing more than 100 films a year, but will we have the channels to accommodate them? That’s the question we have to answer.”

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