Wide releases stir debate in Korea

Some call for cap on number of screens

SEOUL — The ever-expanding number of screens being occupied by hit films is stirring controversy in South Korea, where some have begun to call for legislation to limit the scale of wide releases.

The issue first gained wide coverage in the media last summer, when local hit “The Host” opened on 620 screens and expanded to an estimated 700 in the following weeks. Korea has an estimated 1,850 total screens.

This year, with Korean cinema yet to produce a major hit, the issue has re-surfaced with the release of “Spider-Man 3” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.” Media reports put the number of screens for the webslinger starting at 640 and expanding to 812 after its release.

Meanwhile the 168-minute “Pirates” opened on 670 on May 23 and expanded to a massive 912 by the weekend, accounting for 49% of the nation’s screens.

Amid a storm of news articles, Korea’s Fair Trade Commission has announced it will launch an investigation into the situation, though few expect any wrongdoing to be uncovered.

“In this situation where distributors and exhibitors are both in support of widening releases, there’s no reason to expect any violation of antitrust laws,” said an official at the Korean Film Council.

With an increasing number of screens being equipped for digital distribution and screening, the economics of the wide release are also changing. Currently 107 screens in Korea are equipped for digital projection, among which 36 are linked via a fiber optic cable distribution system launched by local exhibitor Megabox on May 1. With digital distribution projected to expand quickly in the future, the incremental cost of expanding to more screens will drop to almost zero.

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