Territory Reports: South Korea

Passion for product trumps fee fears

SEOUL — With American TV series enjoying a high-profile boom in South Korea, the L.A. Screenings are expected to draw keen interest on the part of Korean buyers. But with terrestrial pubcasters devoting only a few slots to foreign product (in part due to local regulations), the real action is in the cable TV sector, where private broadcasters On Media and CJ Media have taken leading roles.

“U.S. drama serials have become more and more popular in Korea, so we’ve been focusing more attention on these programs,” notes Kelly Kim, director of acquisition at On Media. “However, the competition is also growing more intense.”

Kim will be leading a 14-strong delegation to buy for five channels, including OCN, the popular OnStyle channel targeted at single women and the newly launched StoryOn for older audiences.

Unfortunately for buyers, increased demand has led to sharply rising prices.

“These days, we’re having to put up more front money for better programs, and license fees are four to five times what they were five years ago,” says Hye Won Kim, program acquisition manager at satellite channel KBS N (formerly KBS SKY).

In the wake of last year’s sensational reception of “CSI” and the more recent popularity of “Prison Break,” crime dramas and thrillers remain at the top of many buyers’ shopping lists. However, as bigger players such as On Media and CJ Media turn to volume deals with the major studios in order to be assured of getting top-quality content, smaller buyers are finding themselves with fewer options.

In the meantime, U.S. serials are winning over more fans in a market that previously was dominated by local product. A recent SBS radio poll indicated more than 40% of adults nationwide watch U.S. drama series either occasionally (33.3%) or often (6.8%), with numbers rising to 54.0% for viewers in their 20s.

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