Is Korean Wave a domestic money-maker?


While Korea was celebrating the overwhelming success of the Asia-wide hit TV series "Winter Sonata," Japan made a quick calculation and came up with several strategies to make money out of the drama.

As a result, it wasn’t Korea that made the most profit out of its own TV drama, but Japanese broadcaster NHK and other companies which jumped into the market for some additional gains. Their profit came from photo albums, music videos and anything beyond their Korean counterparts’ imagination.

Delighted with the overseas affection for "Winter Sonata" and its hero Yonsama Bae Yong-joon, Korea has been limiting the Korean Wave to the boom of its TV dramas in Japan and other foreign countries.

It is true that TV dramas have been the main contributor to the wave, but experts point out that by overlooking other cultural contents, Korea has been giving away a lot of its rightful proceeds to other nations.

Korean actress Choi Ji-woo gripping Japanese viewers` hearts with her roles in popular Korean TV dramas. Experts note Korea needs to diversify its cultural contents to make full use of the Korean Wave.

"Korea made the mistake of disregarding the importance of additional copyright gains which resulted in other countries like Japan taking away what’s ours. This, in fact, could be an issue of intellectual property rights," said culture critic Lee Sung-pyo. "In order to overcome the dim situation and keep the Korean Wave going with steady gains, Korea must diversify its cultural contents to stop other countries from taking away our share." Exports of domestic TV programs exceeded $100 million last year, showing that the popularity of Korean dramas was still going strong abroad.

Other "smaller" cultural contents such as records, music videos, photo albums and mobile services have also been bringing in more money, with their exports reaching $126 million last year, according to figures from the Bank of Korea. But the sum barely catches up with what Japan has been making out of Korean dramas through effective marketing.

As a way of making more profit out of the Korean Wave, Korea chose to raise the price of the TV dramas instead of diversifying the cultural contents to other areas.

The result, however, was disappointing.

Foreign broadcasters followed along with Korea’s demand of higher prices while the popularity of Korean TV series was still at the summit. But as the boom began to cool down, these countries began to wonder if these dramas were really worth several millions of dollars.

To top it, Korean drama-makers who were out of new ideas began to duplicate the plots of past successful dramas, eager only to sell as many of them as possible. Thus, foreign broadcasters began to complain about the unreasonably high prices.

The failure of Korea’s strategy is proved by a recent report from the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

According to the report, while Japan took up 7.3 percent and China 3.7 percent of the international cultural industry market in 2005, Korea managed to take barely over 1 percent, showing that the Korean Wave had failed to lead to an increase in Korea’s share of the global market.

Acknowledging the need of a new strategy, domestic entertainment companies and broadcasters have been coming up with various solutions to combat the dim situation.

The recent drama "Tree in Heaven" was one of the new attempts.

Aiming to lure more Japanese fans, the whole drama was filmed in Japan with actors and actresses speaking lines in Japanese.

Also, diverting attention to the Western market, Logos Film and SBS are preparing a new drama to celebrate the 120th anniversary of Korea-France diplomatic ties. Filmed in France, the drama will be aired around November.

After SBS drama "Love Story in Harvard" was aired throughout Asia, Harvard University was in the limelight with an increase of Asian students wanting to study abroad in the United States.

Acknowledging the effect, the French government proposed making a new drama, offering to back up the Korean dramamaker with 2.4 billion won, which is nearly half of the estimated production costs. Its only condition was that the drama is made in Universite Paris Sorbonne, with hopes of promoting the university throughout Asia.

"Although there is little possibility that the drama will be aired in France, France seems to have made a strategic choice, knowing that the drama will be aired all around Asia," said SBS drama department director Gong Young-hwa.

Experts point out that the fact that Korean dramas are being aired throughout Asia gives Korea a huge opportunity of doing businesses with companies in need of global marketing. In other words, Korea has a chance of making money much more effectively by the Korean Wave if it turns to a larger market, instead of focusing only on drawing more money from the neighboring countries.

"I think that the important thing is not raising the price of the cultural products, but expanding the market itself," said Gong. "I am hoping that the new drama will be a momentum for Korea in taking a new turn in the Korean Wave strategy."

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By Shin Hae-in