3 Major Public Broadcasters Considering A “60-Minute Rule” For Dramas

The three major public broadcasters in Korea (KBS, MBC, SBS) are considering a new 60-minute rule for dramas to reduce some of the cutthroat ratings competition and revitalize a stagnating market.

The heads of the KBS, MBC, and SBS drama heads (Jung Sung Hyo, Jang Geun Soo, and Kim Yeong Seob respectively) had a meeting last week to talk about reducing drama runtimes. The big idea on the table was reducing weekday and weekend miniseries to 60 minutes and soap operas to 30 minutes. The new runtimes would be including commercial breaks.

Currently the three broadcasters are working in a fierce ratings competition by releasing dramas in the same time slot. If a drama runs a little longer than its competitor, it has a better chance of getting higher ratings. To stop this sort of tactic, the three broadcasters had agreed on a “72-minute rule” in 2009. In 2013 they shortened it again to a “67-minute rule.”

If a 20-episode mini-series is reduced by an average of 5 minutes per episode, about 100 minutes (almost two episodes’ worth) would be saved overall. Currently production companies spend about 500 million won (about $440,000) per episode, so they could save about 1 billion won (about $880,000) with the new rule.

The reason that this new rule has been brought up recently is the worsening state of the drama environment. China has reduced the amount of Korean cultural content it imports, and in Japan the Hallyu wave is slower than it once was. However, Hallyu stars still command high guarantees, and with the rise in labor costs, the production cost has also increased. Meanwhile, the alternative for raising revenue by reducing production costs, in-product placement, and commercial breaks is becoming a popular one as well.

SBS drama head Kim Yeong Seob said, “It’s not about the competition so much as activating the drama market. If we reduce the runtime, we reduce production costs, but the quality of content will improve as the production staff’s burden decreases.”

In order for the 60-minute rule to be applied in the actual drama industry, a more specific agreement needs to be reached between the three broadcasters. For example, the currently broadcasting KBS drama “Laurel Tree Tailors” is guaranteed at least 30 percent ratings, and reducing the runtime would necessarily result in reducing the number of commercials that could be broadcast with it. Since each broadcaster has differing interests, it is necessary to coordinate them.

MBC head Jang Geun Soo said, “It is true that the three public broadcasters have talked about the 60-minute rule but we still have to discuss our opinions before anything is concluded.”

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