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SK Telecom adds to $25 mil film fund

Co. also increasing emphasis on distribution

SEOUL — Mobile phone giant SK Telecom has added its weight to a new $25 million movie production fund.

SKT and its recently acquired Hanarotelecom unit are each putting $5 million into the Benex Digital Culture Content Investment Assn., which is headed by fund manager Benex Investment. The fund which has a seven-year lifespan has also corralled coin from Asia Star ($2.5 million), Korea Fund of Funds ($7.5 million) and $5.1 million from Benex itself.

Benex, which joined the film investment sector in September 2006 just as many other money managers were pulling out, has previously committed $28.5 million to 15 content investments, 12 of which were movies. Company is this year expected to deploy $30 million with 60% going into movies and 40% into retail. Its credits include “Open City,” “Radio Dayz” and “Truck.”

With the Benex fund, SK Telecom is planning to produce and secure exclusive content for its IPTV service Hana TV. It is also investing in pictures outside the fund and has committed to investing and distributing upcoming films including K.C. Park’s “Our School ET” (produced through Courage Films) and “Blood Rain,” plus helmer Kim Dai-seung’s “Lovers” (produced by Magic Flute).

“Final contracts have not been finalized yet, but we already have teamed up with some production companies for script development and will announce two or three additions to our lineup in August,” an SK Telecom spokesman said.

Company is also increasing its emphasis on theatrical distribution. At the end of 2007 it launched its own movie distribution company and quickly put out “Once Upon a Time in Corea,” “L: Change the World” and “Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon.” Initially these were released under the CH Entertainment banner, but group is now releasing under its own name.

A lull prompted some observers to speculate that SK would withdraw from the industry, but it will next put out “Death Bell,” the only local summer horror pic to be released this year, on Aug. 7.

The conglom’s media ambitions have proved controversial. Some of the traditional players fear its firepower, while cable companies are resisting the rise of fledgling IPTV services, an area which SK looks set to dominate through its 39% stake in Hanaro Telecom, agreed last December.

Only last week, South Korea’s Fair Trade Commission again reminded SK that sharing its high-quality network with competing telcos such as KT and LG Telecom was a condition of approvals for the Hanaro deal.

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