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HOME > 17th JAMCO Online International Symposium > Discussant 2: The Current State & Issues in International Broadcasting in the Republic of Korea: Case Study on Arirang TV

JAMCO Online International Symposium

17th JAMCO Online International Symposium

February 1 to February 29, 2008

Trans-border TV Broadcastings of Non-English-speaking Countries

Discussant 2: The Current State & Issues in International Broadcasting in the Republic of Korea: Case Study on Arirang TV

Junghoon Kim
Associate Professor, Research Institute for Digital Media and Content, Keio University


This paper looks into Arirang TV, the international broadcasting station in the Republic of Korea, focused chiefly in the objective and background of its establishment, its legal status, fund procurement and programming. Its path of growth since its establishment in 1996 was not necessarily smooth and uninterrupted. There are a variety of impediments, both internal and external, that were involved. To this day, effective solution has not been implemented to correct the situation. The media was found to have three issues that require urgent action — its ambiguous legal status, unstable financial structure and declining competitiveness in programming.

Regarding its legal status, the station was not able to define its legal status clearly because of the Asian financial crisis that hit the country in 1997, immediately after it began international broadcasting service. Since then, its position under law has yet to be established. In addition, there are a number of government organizations that have administrative authority over Arirang TV, and the boundary of jurisdiction among them is not clear. As a result, the media has experienced multiple regulatory interventions that have been seemingly random and ad hoc by a number of government entities. In this respect, it can be said that Arirang TV had been in identity crisis since its establishment.

The ambiguity of its status has affected funding in no small measure and is also the cause of its current unstable financial structure. A large part of the financial resources for Arirang TV has come from government subsidy from its establishment. However, organized as a foundation, the media does not have legal grounds for government funding and remains in a limbo of insecurity and uncertainty over whether it is able to receive such assistance without interruption and into the future.

Its lack of programming competitiveness stems from its program production and planning structure. The TV station’s internal production rate is low, depending heavily on program purchasing and outsourced production. However, its program purchasing faces difficulties — unable to purchase programs from terrestrial-wave broadcasting stations that wields overwhelming competitiveness in programming in South Korea. For instance, KBS and SBS that ranked among the top three terrestrial-wave broadcasting stations in the country do not supply any of their programs to Arirang TV. Even MBC, the only terrestrial-wave broadcasting station that supplies programs to Arirang TV, has not made available anything newer than those that were or originally broadcast seven years ago. Under these circumstances, the broadcasting station faced problems in maintaining the quality of its programming and therefore lacks competitiveness in this area.

These problems require urgent action. The solution requires immediate action on development of a stable funding arrangement by means of establishing its legal status clearly, as well as implementation of efforts to produce, procure and organize quality programming. It is through such action that it is possible to achieve its policy objective in international broadcasting of upgrading South Korea’s national brand image.

1. Action on international broadcasting picks up speed

In recent years, countries around the world are speeding up action, pouring great energy into international broadcasting. Underlying this effort is “globalization.” This is followed by “digitization of information” and “development of IP-based networks.” There is no need to explain further how globalization, or the free movement of goods, people and money across political boundaries, has accelerated action on international broadcasting. For this reason, the study will look closer into the relationship between “digitization of information” and “development of IP-based networks” with international broadcasting.

“Digitization of information” means that all information is converted into combinations of the numerals 0 and 1. In the days of analog-based information, there was very little inter-compatibility among information and content, caused by their attributes. With digitization, all information — be it motion picture, TV programs or music — is converted into 0 or 1 as digital data, regardless of attribute, and thus secures inter-compatibility. Digital content can be integrated. In addition to this, “development of IP-based networks” has enhanced compatibility among networks, resulting in the seamless integration of networks. Before the introduction of Internet protocols (IPs), networks were not able to transmit data to others due to the differences in transmission protocols. With the dissemination of the Internet IP infrastructure, digitized data can now be reorganized into packets for free transmission on the IP-based network. Particularly in recent years, advances in broadband communication brought on by ADSL and optical fiber networks that enable mass data transmission have made video content such as TV broadcasts, that required large amount of time in transmission over a narrow band network, to be easily transmitted over networks. In addition, advances in mobile technology spearheaded by cellular telephones have enabled access to broadcast content easily, regardless of time or location. The importance of digital and IP technologies in international broadcasting lies on the fact that they are not confined by political boundaries. Traditionally, mass media such as radio and television had presumed domestic coverage as a general rule, because a very narrow range of frequency had been allocated to specific players in the industry by the national government through the state-operated licensing scheme. With the debut of satellite broadcasting that can be transnational in nature, followed by the emergence of YouTube in recent years, broadcasting has begun to globalize at an accelerated rate.

“Internationalization of broadcasting” as described here signifies that broadcasters that had been competing in a domestic market now face “the age of all-out competition” reaching across national boundaries. The strategy objectives that underlie broadcasting across boundaries are, for example, improvement of the national brand image, promotion of cultural exchange, cultivation of overseas markets and development of programming content power.

For instance, South Korea experienced the “Korea Wave” boom blossom in full scale from the late 1990s and was able to boost broadcast content export expand rapidly to East Asian markets including Japan, Taiwan and China. The key here is that broadcast content export has huge ripple effects. It will not only increase earnings directly from programming content sale but also improve the country’s image rapidly in nations where the programs are exported. In view of the improvement in industrial competitive of the country made in areas not directly connected to programming, such as household appliance sales, the ripple effects of quality programming content are prominent. Another important key is that not all broadcasting operations are able to benefit from the beneficial ripple effects of content export. Theoretically, it is difficult to create ripple effects to their full if the entire operation is relegated to the broadcaster. In order to supplement the incompleteness of the market, the South Korean government has implemented a promotion program providing full support in the export of South Korean broadcasting content. It becomes clear that policy decision to support international broadcasting is backed by the conviction that it produces economic, cultural and political value transcending the scope of the broadcasting industry.

2. International broadcasting in evolution

Traditionally, international broadcasting had been defined from the geographical perspective. In other words, transmission of broadcasting content beyond the domestic market is perceived as international broadcasting. However, with content transmission to other countries via satellites and Internet becoming commonplace, it is no longer accepted to classify programs that have been aired domestically and dubbed or captioned in foreign languages for broadcast in overseas markets as international broadcasting today. The essential requirements of international broadcasting are defined today to be production and broadcast of programs that had been customized in terms of language and content for foreign residents in the country or for foreign viewerships. In the early part of the 20th century, international broadcasting had been a tool used chiefly for political propaganda. After the end of the Cold War, it has played a part in disseminating cultural, political and economic value of the country.

In other words, the term international broadcasting can be used by meeting the requirements of overseas program transmission across the boundary from the geographical perspective, programming designed to target foreign residents in the domestic market or viewerships in other countries, rather than the citizens of the country alone, and to produce and schedule programming in language and program content that are clearly distinctive and discriminates against domestic broadcasting. Examples of international broadcasting that satisfy these requirements are CNN and Voice of America (VOA) of the United States, BBC of the UK, RFI, TV5 and France 24 of France and Al Jazeera of Qatar. Arirang TV of South Korea that is the principle subject of this analytic report falls into this category.

3. The background and objective of Arirang TV establishment

Let us look into the background and the current state of Arirang TV [Broadcasting Committee 2007]. The establishment of this broad casting station dates back to July 1995 in the statement found in the Advanced Broadcasting Five-Year Plan published by South Korea’s Ministry of Information and Communication to “promote international broadcasting actively to foreign nationals in the country and to Korean citizens from the standpoint of improving the image of the country through overseas expansion of broadcasting” [Song Jonggil, 2007]. Later, the Korea International Broadcasting Foundation was established as a nonprofit foundation under the provisions of Article 32 of the Korean Civil Code in April 10, 1996.

At the inception of the foundation, international broadcasting was restricted to radio broadcasts. In response to satellite broadcasting technology becoming commercially available, the South Korean government made the decision to start up Arirang TV in hope that it will contribute to reinforcement of the country’s general competitiveness through improvement of its international image, build and utilize the nation’s public relations and promotion support system through international broadcasting, foster understanding of the nation among foreign residents in the country and to facilitate their assimilation into living in South Korea [AC Nielsen Korea, 2006].

Under the information and communication ministry’s Advanced Broadcasting Five-Year Plan, the chief operations and promotion strategy for Arirang TV are classified into three levels. The first level is to commence foreign-language broadcasting through the main cable TV channels in the country. Next, international satellite broadcasting networks for three areas of North America, Europe and Asia are to be developed on the second level, for management of Korea Channel designed specifically for overseas broadcasting. On the third level, the plan stipulates international exchange and collaboration in broadcasting and programming and various support activities aimed at enhancing international competitiveness in the area of broadcasting content [Song Jonggil, 2007].

In line with his government policy, Arirang TV commenced broadcasting in English on cable TV channel 50 in February 3, 1997, targeting foreign residents and tourists in the country. Although the initial plan at the inception of the foundation was to choose private businesses for each area as the operational entities based on public-private sector collaboration, the sudden aggravation of economic conditions in the country, brought on by the financial crisis of 1997 that seriously impaired the country’s economy, had led to many business enterprises that have been planning to participate in the venture withdrawing their bids. For this reason, the Korea International Broadcasting Foundation was to implement overseas satellite broadcasting directly through Arirang TV, and this has not changed to this day. [Choi SungBae, 2002].

In January 1999, a satellite broadcasting business team was formed, paving the way for the country’s first-ever international broadcasting in the Asia-Pacific region via overseas satellite broadcasting. Service coverage was expanded to Europe, Africa and North America on September 26, 2000, offering broadcasting in the entire world [Newspaper & Broadcasting Research Institute, Korea University, 2003]. Korea International Broadcasting Foundation, which holds responsibility for Arirang TV management and administration, states the following as the objective of its establishment: “To contribute to promotion of international goodwill and correct understanding of the Republic of Korea by the international community through international exchange and cooperation in broadcasting and, at the same time, to advancement of broadcasting video content, promotion of advertising industry and advancement of Korean culture and arts through implementation of business operations aimed at qualitative improvement of broadcasting content [Article 2, Articles of Association, Korea International Broadcasting Foundation].” In order to achieve this goal, the Foundation is engaged in the following principal operations:

* Overseas satellite broadcasting for the improvement of national image and better understanding by the international community
* Broadcasting to promote greater understanding of the country by foreign residents, as well as improvement of global awareness among local citizens
* Business support for improvement of international competitiveness in broadcasting contents * Bride casting support for Korean broadcasting content through overseas media

4. The state of management of Arirang TV

The following organizes the findings on the state of management of Arirang TV, based chiefly on the report on international broadcasting published by the Broadcasting Committee in 2007 [Broadcasting Committee, 2007]. Arirang TV is managing broadcasting channels separately for domestic broadcast and overseas broadcast. Broadcasting for overseas viewers is provided by two channels, Arirang World and Arirang Arab, as of December 2007. The former started in August 1999, offering 24-hour broadcasting in English, Chinese, Spanish and Korean languages. On the other hand, Arirang Arab was introduced in August 2004, broadcast in Arabic, English, etc., on 24-hour basis in all of the Middle East.

In the breakdown of broadcast time, first-runs account for 30%, and the rest are repeat broadcasts, showing a high ratio of repeat runs. In program production, 38% of the programs are produced internally, 24% outsourced and 37% purchased from the domestic market, showing a very low level of production self-reliance.

In financial resources, funding is divided largely between subsidies from Broadcasting Development Fund and owned capital. Of its total budget of 41.6 billion won for 2006, subsidies accounted for 24.5 billion won (59%), and its own financial resources accounted for 11.4 billion won. With the structure that is heavily dependent on governmental support, it is practically impossible for Arirang TV to operate.

In production costs, total production cost in 2007 was 14.8 billion won. And, the overwhelming portion of the production cost relies on the Broadcasting Development Fund. What this means is that Arirang TV budget is restricted by fluctuations in this fund, and the station is forced into adjusting production cost with such changes.

5. Current problems

Despite service for more than 10 years, Arirang TV has not gained international recognition to this day [Broadcasting Committee, 2007]. Although this is due to internal factors in the area of organizational efficiency, etc., there are external factors such as the ambiguity of its legal status and financial instability. As a result, its competitiveness in programming has not gained strength as a result. The three factors that obstruct the development of Arirang TV have been examined below.

5-1 Ambiguity of legal status

The ambiguity and uncertainty of Arirang TV’s legal status in implementing its function as publicity broadcasting for the state has been said since its establishment. Generally speaking, the legal foundation for business and fiscal assistance of Arirang TV in international broadcasting is said to be the provisions regarding “assistance in international exchange and expansion into overseas markets” and Article 7 of the Cultural and Industrial Promotion Basic Law [Broadcasting Committee, 2007]. Here, Arirang TV is designated by the government as the foundation for promoting international exchange and overseas market expansion support in the area of culture and industry under the civil code. However, it does not explicitly give the principles, standards and practical goals in Arirang TV management in broadcasting for the purpose of state publicity. Neither does it provide legal justification regarding budget assistance.

Under the ambiguity described above, regulations that apply to the broadcasting station have lacked consistency. In addition, there are a number of government organizations with the regulatory authority over Arirang TV. It is said that there have been instances of a multiple number of government organizations issuing conflicting instructions regarding a certain issue. At present, the broadcasting station is believed to be regulated by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Broadcasting Committee and the Ministry of Information and Communication, among others. Although Arirang TV is assumed to be under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, most of the funding (subsidies/fund) is procured by the Broadcasting Committee. With such redundant government regulation, with no clear borderline in jurisdiction among themselves, it is highly likely for regulation to overlap and for intervention to become arbitrary and random. As a result, confusion in identity appears to be taking place within the broadcasting station.

5-2 Unstable fund procurement structure

The ambiguity in legal status has caused the ambiguity in budget support by government organizations. In fact, it has been unable to secure adequate financial resources for production and other operations. It has been said that compensation to employees is relatively low compared to competing businesses. [Broadcasting Committee, 2007] in order to fulfill its function of state publicity, it has also been said that its management vision of pursuit of public service has made it unable to pursue commercial again in order to secure funding.

5-3 Decline in program competitiveness

Ambiguous legal status and unstable financial structure caused by this has led to the reduction of its production division. Because of production and program planning linked to the scale of government assistance, decline in subsidy value caused by political developments is directly linked to cuts in production costs, etc. Under these circumstances, it is extremely difficult to depend only on government money. It is necessary to secure funds sources other than government assistance. For this reason, effort will be directed to corporate sponsorship, etc. In such a case, situations will emerge, where considerations must be made toward the sponsor and program production and planning. This will make balanced with public service difficult.

One cause of decline in program competitiveness in the poor balance between supply and demand for broadcast programs. In the case of Arirang TV, internal production accounts for less than 40% of all programs, due to limitations in production costs. This means that it must depend on outsourced productions and purchases. In program purchasing, programs aired by terrestrial-wave broadcasting stations that are overwhelmingly popular in South Korea are the most attractive. However, in reality, it is not easy for Arirang TV to procure such programs. For instance, the top broadcasting stations KBS runs its own channel KBS World which, though commercial in nature, is in substitutive relationship with Arirang TV. In order to demonstrate its competitive relationship, KBS has terminated all program content supply to Arirang TV in 2001. Other terrestrial-way right casting stations either do not supply programs (SBS) or supply programs for which a certain period of time have already passed (programs that have been broadcast more than seven years ago, in case of MBC). Therefore, Arirang TV must to rely on repeat runs because of its low internal production rate and is now in a vicious cycle of decline in the competition for programming content.

This paper had examined into Arirang TV, the international broadcasting station in the Republic of Korea, focused chiefly in the objective and background of its establishment, its legal status, fund procurement and programming. Despite being in service for more than 10 years, there are many internal and external obstacles to its growth, and adequate solution has not been implemented to this day. In particular, three issues were found to require urgent action — its ambiguous legal status, unstable financial structure and declining competitiveness in programming. These problems require urgent action. The solution requires immediate action on development of a stable funding arrangement by means of establishing its legal status clearly, as well as implementation of efforts to produce, procure and organize quality programming. It is through such action that it is possible to achieve its policy objective in international broadcasting of upgrading South Korea’s national brand image.


Junghoon Kim

Associate Professor, Research Institute for Digital Media and Content, Keio University

Born in Korea. He was an associate instructor of Telecommunication department of Indiana University, United States between 1999 and 2002. Visiting scholar at the Institute of Intellectual Property, Standardization Research Center, University der Bundeswehr, Germany, Expert Partner of EU Standardization Education Project, Oxford Intellectual Property Research Centre, University of Oxford. His main research areas are Media Fusion, Creative Economy, Digital Contents Industry, Technology Standardization and Intellectual Property. A council member of Postal Services administration in international business of Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. Expert member of Copyright sectional committee of Cultural Council of The Agency for Cultural Affairs. He has been in the present post since 2004.

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