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JAMCO Online International Symposium

19th JAMCO Online International Symposium

February 1 to February 28, 2010

International Exchange in TV Drama Productions

Comment: International Distribution of TV Dramas - Transition from Cultural Communication to Economic Activity

Shim, Sungeun
International Business Development & Operations, Tohokushinsha Film Corp.

As mentioned in the Keynote Address by Professor Oto, as well as in all the papers presented, the symposium theme “Drama” has two aspects, cultural and economical. Regarding this, these papers have stated that overseas promotion of Japanese dramas had been aimed primarily to promote cultural exchange with public-sector support and also as business-based endeavor to build an export industry. Furthermore, they agree as common awareness that interest is growing in the latter, with recent changes in the media environment.
When discussing international distribution of video content, it is no exaggeration to say that the problem of culture and economic interest emerges without fail — these two aspects being linked inseparably like two wheels of a cart. The relatively new development of Japan and other major nations moving to boost drama export and the long history of many nations outside Japan regulating transboundary drama import and broadcasting are events that took place under the leadership of the governments that had officiated this practice.
This paper examines chiefly into South Korea, which has been taken up for study a number of times, looking into how international distribution of terrestrial TV drama1 had been affected by these historic traits and studies briefly into problems and issues that have emerged tangible in the current stage of extensive discussions into business-based distribution of such dramas.

Government-led movements related to drama export and import

As Chairman Shigemura had mentioned in his paper, Korean dramas are enjoying a growing number of exposure opportunities in Japan since 2000, while South Korea has yet to lift control over Japanese drama broadcasting by its terrestrial TV stations, despite the fact that the nation is growing into a TV program exporter.
Falling into the classification of “Japanese popular culture”, the country’s motion pictures, TV broadcasts and package media were regulated in South Korea. However, with the Kim Dae Jung administration taking office in 1998, deregulation was introduced gradually for film showings and broadcasts. Japanese drama that was believed to have the most significant repercussions to Korean society when deregulated became available for broadcast on cable and satellite TV in 2004, excluding terrestrial TV which became the last broadcasting sector to be kept closed to Japanese imports. Regulation over Japan’s popular culture — or, more precisely, its video content — had been implemented in line with South Korea’s cultural policy and industrial protection and development policy. For example, Japanese films that have been deregulated in the first phase of the movement toward deregulation where those that had won awards at international film festivals or those without age restrictions. This is deeply related to the Korean government historically implementing measures under its cultural policy to protect its people (particularly youths) from “sexuality and violence in the foreign media.” At the same time, such measures had functioned as policy to protect and develop its own domestic industry vis-à-vis the more highly competitive Japanese films and television broadcasts. This view is substantiated by the fact that deregulation came late for Japanese video content, especially TV programs (drama and variety shows) and full-length animation films.
Regulation of this type that can deprive the Korean people of the freedom of choice remains in place to this day, largely due to the unique relationship between South Korea and Japan. However, the fact that foreign media control founded on cultural and industrial claims had been practiced by many nations outside Japan shows that the mass media possesses exceptional value not only in the industrial perspective but also in terms of culture. This can be proven by the actions by Japan, which had not regulated the influx of foreign media, to promote free distribution of its television productions in hope of improving its image and of functioning as a vehicle in cultural diplomacy. As Professor Hwang had pointed out, Japan and other industrialized nations are inclined to exaggerate the importance of this aspect, believing that the content industry represented by TV programs and motion pictures have ripple effects on manufacturing and tourism industries by highlighting the charm of Japanese culture. The facts described above appear to suggest that the distinctive qualities of video content had been used to justify government intervention in their international distribution in various forms. Notwithstanding, the recent changes in the media environment, represented by advances in multi-channel broadcasting, dissemination of the Internet and change in the business model practiced by terrestrial TV stations, have triggered change also in Japan to perceive overseas promotion of its television drama not under the light of government-led policy program but as serious business enterprise involving the content production segment of the industry. For these new developments to grow in accelerated speed in the future, a business model must be built in which drama export delivers profits without fail to the production source, including broadcast businesses.
In South Korea where TV drama export has begun to be regarded as business since 2000, it has often been mentioned that this had been realized by the price competitiveness of Korean-made drama productions and the presence of an economically affluent export destination, namely, Japan. It must be noted, however, that such benefits from these factors would not have been possible without the Korean government’s policy of promoting its broadcasting industry and diligent efforts by its broadcast enterprises to promote sales of their productions. Under the cultural and industrial policies of the Korean administrations since President Kim Dae Jung that fostered overseas distribution of Korean broadcasts, export support had been provided to broadcast enterprises in general, including terrestrial TV stations, in the areas of human resources development and improvement of the production environment, aimed at independent production companies. At the same time, the government imposed the requirement to produce programs domestically and to subcontract productions to independent production companies compulsory. This was targeted chiefly at terrestrial TV stations that have relatively stable industrial foundations, thus contributing to the improvement of the general industrial foundation. In the 2006 interviews conducted by this author of overseas programs sales officers representing three terrestrial TV stations that are the driving force of increase in program exports, questions regarding the connection between the aforementioned government policy and export growth revealed that the government requirement on TV stations to include programs produced by independent companies — the so-called “subcontractor quota” — may have possibly contributed in part to the growth in competitiveness of Korean dramas that account for 90% of exports.2 If the government policy that secured distribution channels for such dramas had contributed to growth in Korean drama export, this has been made possible only because of the diligent marketing efforts since the 1990s by program export officers representing production companies that have broken away from terrestrial TV stations, marketing chiefly in East Asia from the Chinese cultural sphere including mainland China and Taiwan to Japan. It was through such efforts that the programs were made available at exceptionally low prices. As Korean dramas won growing recognition, multi-channel broadcasting began to spread in Asia since 2000, leading to expansion into the Japanese market, which became the largest export destination.
It must not be forgotten, however, that a very important factor that fostered international distribution of Korean dramas is found in the relative ease in copyright handling, done as a bulk package, so far keeping expenses incurred in this area within a fixed range (1-3% of the production cost as of 2004).
Quite naturally, the copyright expenses are also rising rapidly in South Korea each year, backed by consciousness toward copyrights that has grown in the face of booming program exports during the past several years. In fact, there is data showing that royalties paid to the 6 leading copyright protection associations representing music and broadcast producers and performers, which have been 6.558 billion won in 2000 more than doubled to 14.098 billion won five years later.3 Notwithstanding this, the relative ease in copyright handling had contributed immensely to Korean drama export. This fact is an issue that cannot be resolved exclusively in Japan with the efforts of its government and broadcasters. Especially because of the weak competitiveness in pricing, Japan faces a major obstacle both in cost and time incurred in handling copyrights.
Alongside these developments, oversees distribution of Japanese drama is facing new problems and issues to be addressed, with the dissemination of the Internet in recent years. Issues surrounding the rise of the Internet that holds a vital key in future overseas expansion of television drama will be examined, focusing chiefly on South Korea where broadband internet penetration rate has reached 95% of its households.

The New Distribution Channel: The Rise of the Internet and Television Dramas

As mentioned earlier, Japanese drama broadcast started in South Korea for cable and satellite broadcasting (excluding terrestrial TV stations) from January 1, 2004, as part of the government’s deregulation policy on Japanese popular culture. In the 3 1/2 years from January 2004 to the first half of 2007, more than 100 productions had been broadcast in paid subscription channels. Betraying initial expectations, Gokusen was the only Japanese drama series that rose above the 1% viewer rate that is regarded the threshold line for broadcasting success4, much to the relief of the people who had been alarmed by the introduction of Japanese dramas in the country.
Experts in the current state of broadcasting in South Korea identify the reason for this to the following.

  • (1) Deep-rooted anti-Japanese sentiment underlying drama viewership.

  • (2) Limitations of drama (material) that is targeted exclusively to young people, chiefly in the F1 and M1 groups.

  • (3) The 13-episode season scheme that is too short to sustain the boom (unsuited to paid subscription channels that are highly specialized in viewership targets).

  • (4) Inadequate promotional effort caused by deregulation measure suspended for terrestrial broadcasting.

  • (5) The Internet environment where the latest Japanese drama can be accessed and viewed easily from illegal websites.5

Of the five reasons mentioned, the greatest factor impeding “distribution of Japanese drama through TV broadcasting” that Japanese broadcasters hope for is TV program viewing on the web, including illegal websites, that has become commonplace in South Korea.
In fact, Japanese drama that had been aired on paid subscription channels in South Korea obviously give an obsolete impression, compared to the latest productions that can be accessed on a real-time basis via the Internet. Furthermore, the delay in deregulation of terrestrial broadcasting has made it impossible for Japanese productions to cultivate new segments of viewers. Alongside this condition, the latest drama productions are being circulated among Korean youths with extensive knowledge of Japanese TV programs, by means of illegal downloads and P2P exchange. For this reason, it is quite obvious that it is impossible to produce an accurate measurement of the popularity of Japanese drama, solely from the viewer rates delivered in existing paid subscription channels. It must be noted that, when the dismal performance of Japanese drama productions on Korean cable TV had been reported in the media in 2007, a huge boom rose over Japanese and American drama productions, with the Korean mass media frequently reporting on young people avidly watching foreign dramas.
Of the websites dedicated to foreign drama, there are many that are specialized in Japanese drama. Their memberships range from several hundreds to as many as several hundred thousands. Because these websites have become common sources of Japanese drama in Korea, it is extremely difficult that Japanese program export to the country will immediately produce profits. However, it is also true that illegal downloads and P2P exchange are rampant for Korean TV dramas as well. For this reason, Korean terrestrial TV stations have started on their respective websites the video-on-demand (VOD) service in 2000, providing viewers opportunities to watch missed programs and episodes. Although it had been aimed at stamping out the black market, this service has become widely accepted today and has become a powerful means for terrestrial broadcast dramas to reach young people who don’t have time to watch TV at home.
Terrestrial broadcast drama VOD service is also available through IP (Internet protocol) TV portal services that had been introduced commercially in late 2008. They have won 1.5 million subscribers in a single year. The VOD service of terrestrial drama via these portal sites has become a powerful attraction to winning subscribers. This style of “drama viewing on the web” is believed to be an essential factor in planning Japanese drama export to Asian countries, especially to South Korea which is most closely related culturally — although it must also be said that the same developments do not necessarily occur in all countries.
The widespread dissemination of the Internet is gradually removing national boundaries in program distribution. It is hoped that advances are made in building an environment where viewers are able to access Japanese dramas regardless of location, without being trapped by the conventional approach of restricting alternatives to “broadcast or telecommunication.”


  • 1.It must be noted here that the focus of study in this paper is distribution of productions that are copyrighted by terrestrial TV stations and those that have ties to such stations in terms of capital and production–the type of productions that make up the overwhelming majority, if not all, of the TV dramas that are being distributed beyond their domestic markets.

  • 2.See “Kankoku Eizo Bijinesu Kouryuu no Haikei – Bunka Sangyo Seisaku to Hoso no Kaigai Shinshutsu (Behind the Korean Broadcasting Boom: Cultural & Industrial Policy & Overseas Expansion of Broadcast Programs,” Hoso Kenkyu to Chosa (NHK Monthly Report on Broadcast Research), NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute (December 2006).

  • 3.For detailed data related to copyright handling, please refer to “Hoso puroguramu chosakken riyou jittai bunseki (Analysis of the Conditions Surrounding Broadcast Program Copyright Applications),” Hoso Kenkyu Aki-go (Broadcast Research – Autumn Issue), Don-gyu Kim

  • 4.The Nippon TV drama series Gokusen (starring Yukie Nakama and Jun Matsumoto) that had been aired on SBS Drama Plus, a channel affiliated to one of the three largest terrestrial TV stations SBS, delivered a viewer rate of 2.62% for the first episode, a figure regarded to be exceptionally high for cable television, startling TV ratings firms and other related organizations. This figure for a cable TV broadcast in South Korea is equivalent to 30-40% in terrestrial broadcasting.

  • 5.Young-duk Kim, ‘Nihon anime to dorama no kokunai ryunyu jittai (The Real Conditions of Domestic Influx by Japanese Anime and Dramas),’ “Hoso-doukou to Bunseki (Broadcasting Trends and Analysis), Korean Broadcasting Institute (2007).”

Shim, Sungeun

International Business Development & Operations, Tohokushinsha Film Corp.

Born in Seoul, South Korea. Completed doctoral program (journalism) at Sophia University's Graduate School of Humanities and earned doctorate in 2006. After serving as researcher at NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute, appointed to the current position in 2009. Specialized in international communication theory and content industry theory. Recent works include 'Kankoku Eizo Bijinesu Kouryuu no Haikei (Behind the Korean Broadcasting Boom),' "NHK Monthly Report on Broadcast Research," NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute (2006), 'Eizo Media no Kokusaika (Internationalization of Audiovisual Media),' "NHK Annual Report on Broadcast Research No. 51," NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute (2007) and "Global Communication Theory" (co-author), Sekaishisou-sha, 2007.

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