This is sort of a follow-up to the previous post about the shows offered by the newly announced comprehensive programming channels. News about comprehensive programming has been around for some time and but its seemingly complex background had eluded me. My searches happened in Google and Naver. Details, such as information about the technical infrastructures in broadcasting and the individual components of the legal act, that were beyond my faculty to comprehend were not incorporated.

Logos for new comprehensive programming channels

Comprehensive programming is programming all genres including news, documentaries, dramas and show varieties. 

The Korean National Assembly passed a very controversial media reform bill in July 2009 that would permit dailies and news agencies to operate television businesses and would allow private companies to own up to 20% of terrestrial television businesses and 30% of comprehensive programming businesses. Global competitiveness and job creation were cited as reasons for the reform while adverse effects that the concentration of right-wing media and corporates would bring about were used to argue against the reform. With the passage of the bill, Korea Communication Commission opened the bid for new comprehensive programming channels and granted licenses to The Chosun Ilbo, JoongAng Ilbo, Dong-A Ilbo and Maeil Business Newspaper to operate TV Chosun, jTBC, Channel A and MBN, respectively, based on their financial means to support responsible broadcasting. Yonhap News Agency was also licensed to operate an all-news channel called News Y. Creation of new channels that have recruited many established content producers should be a welcoming news to the public who will be able to enjoy a greater variety of programs, however, disapproval of the new channels has been rather strong. To understand why the entry of jTBC, TV Chosun, Channel A and MBN has received scathing public remarks, understanding how television systems work in Korea is helpful.

Protest against comprehensive programming channels

Different television systems use different methods to receive radio signals. Terrestrial TV uses television antennas to receive radio waves from terrestrial or on-site transmitting stations. Cable TV uses radio frequency signals transmitted to televisions through optical fibers. Satellite TV uses satellite to receive digital signals. Korea has about 23 million TV subscribers including cable, IPTV(Internet TV) and satellite TV. This is equivalent to nine out of every 10 households.

To watch programs offered by the new comprehensive programming channels, subscription to cable or satellite TV is required. Cable and satellite TV channels have a certain genre that they keep to when programming. For instance, Mnet is a music channel, and Tooniverse is for cartoons. But the new comprehensive programming channels can broadcast all genres including original news, documentaries, dramas and show varieties. In a way, these channels are much like the terrestrial channels that also provide comprehensive programming. Then, are there any differences?

Terrestrial channels like KBS, MBC, SBS and EBS do not require subscription, but households pay an inexpensive fee to watch them. In contrast, the comprehensive programming channels are only available to cable or satellite TV subscribers. Terrestrial channels are under restrictions in regard to commercials they can schedule while the new channels are free to employ both direct and indirect advertising and insert commercial breaks. Terrestrial channels are bound to create 70% of their content within the country and outsource more than 40% (KBS) and 35% (MBC and SBS) of total broadcasting time per quarter. The new channels can produce 50% of their content outside the country and do not have restriction on outsourcing. While terrestrial channels broadcast 19 hours a day, the new channels can show all day long. The most controversial measure surrounding the new channels is “must carry,” which involves broadcasting programs with the intent to benefit the greater public. Prior to the media reform, only KBS1 and EBS, providers of education and public focused programs, were covered by the must-carry law so that cable, satellite and IPTV channels were obligated to broadcast programs from KBS1 and EBS. But now, the programs of the new channels have also become must-carry. The question whether these programs carried by the new channels have the value to be must-carry is at the core. 

Although many channels exist in cable TV, they often do not offer substantial content. Cable channels with connections to terrestrial channels such as KBSn, MBC DramaNet, SBS Drama Plus have been trumping the other channels in viewership. The new comprehensive programming channels can offer competition to terrestrial and terrestrial-related channels and ultimately induce higher quality. Then, what are the problems? To win viewership, the new channels would need to cater to the demand and desire of the viewer. This means that production of dramas and show varieties that are entertaining and popular among the general public might increase while news or documentaries sags. The mission to diversify the media landscape by introducing more channels with sufficient resources to provide quality content may backfire because the new channels are driven by conservative newspapers. Their personality and friendly relationship with the current administration is another source of public anger. These right-wing media are likely to impose their viewpoints on their TV programs. More liberal or progressive media are not likely to have the wherewithal to enter television and offer their sides of the story. Competition for advertising and better outsourced content will rocket. 

The rationale for boycotting the new channels is clear, but overseas watchers of Korean television or foreigners may be somewhat indifferent to the issue because of the way they access the Korean content or come to watch a certain program. Viewers whose main point of access is not through the official or authorized distributors or viewers who choose to watch a program based on its content may not be as aware about the complexities surrounding the channels and are more likely to perceive new programs as independent entities. I guess the new channels would find these viewer types favorable. It would be interesting to gauge what viewers of Korean television overseas think about the new media landscape. My Googling on the topic of Korea’s comprehensive programming channels returned many posts dedicated to recapping the channels’ newest shows that feature high-profile actors and artists. Even though it was not an exhaustive search, I am inclined to think that the new channels’ rigorous recruiting effort has at least succeeded in creating more blog posts on Korean dramas and show varieties. 

These article and editorial contain helpful information that can aid your understanding about the impact of the new channels on the media landscape.