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JAMCO Online International Symposium

25th JAMCO Online International Symposium

December 2016 - June 2017

The Current State and Challenges of International Broadcasting in Key Countries

The International Expansion of South Korean Television

Kim Yungduk
Media Researcher

Through the 1990’s, it was always assumed that TV programs in South Korea were produced for the domestic audience. Since the year 2000, conversely, when South Korean program makers began to experience the booming popularity of South Korean dramas across Asia, we have entered an age in which programs are now generally made with awareness of the global market.

Program sales and international satellite broadcasting have played key roles in the international spread of South Korean television, the so-called Korean Wave. On the one hand, programs sold commercially are being broadcast by foreign broadcasters. On the other, such channels as KBS World and Arirang TV now bring programs to overseas viewers via satellite. Recently, it has also become easy to access foreign video content through such services as Netflix simply by connecting to the Internet.

This paper explains the state of the international spread of South Korean broadcasting content through both program sales and satellite broadcasting.

1. The Current State of Broadcast Content and Related Exports

The great surge in program exports which drove the Korean Wave has recently lost some momentum. According to the Korea Communications Commission, the governmental organ which supervises broadcasting and telecommunications, in its “Findings of the 2016 Survey of the State of the Broadcasting Industry” released on December 26th, 2016, total content exportsi were worth 301,990,000 US dollars in the 2015 financial year, a decline of 3.8% from the previous year. The total export value rose annually from 2011 but peaked in 2014 and fell slightly in 2015.

Trends in the Value of South Korean Broadcast Content Exports

Units: 10,000 US dollars

Source: Korea Communications Commission

The decline from the previous year was largely due to sluggish sales in the three major markets of Japan, China and Hong Kong. In the case of the largest market, Japan, worsening relations between Japan and South Korea from 2012 and the rise of anti-Korean sentiment are thought to have caused the demand for South Korean broadcast content to shrink. As for China and Hong Kong, it is thought that Chinese purchasing power has fallen since the great success of ”My Love from the Star” at the end of 2014 because of China’s introduction of prior screening for broadcast programs from South Korea, including with regard to net contents.

Looking specifically at program sales as the basic indicator for broadcast content exports, drama is by far the largest export category. This accounted for 79.6% (172,010,000 US dollars) of the total value of program exportsii in 2015. Variety ranked second (14.4%) followed by animation (8.8%), education (4.0%) and documentary (4.0%).

Examining the genres of exported programs produced for terrestrial broadcastiii, drama led the way followed at a considerable distance by variety. Drama accounted for 85.9% of the value of all terrestrial broadcast exports, and variety, 13.4%. In the case of operators using the broadcasting channels of program providersiv, too, drama was the main component, consisting of some 60% (30,880,000 US dollars) followed in order by variety (17.7%), sport (10.1%) and education (7.3%)

Exports by Genre

Units: 10,000 US dollars

Source: Korea Communications Commission

Comparing the state of exports by business type, the poor performance in the field of terrestrial broadcasting stands out. The total value of program exports for terrestrial broadcast was 245,730,000 US dollars, a drop of 8.3% (22,120,000 US dollars) from 2014. The declines for drama and education are regarded as the main reasons for this.

Conversely, the value of exports to operators of channels which feature such popular genres as animation or sport rose by 22.4% from the previous year to reach 56,270,000 US dollars. The total value of program export sales to terrestrial TV operators remained more four times higher than to businesses which used the channels of TV providers but, with the continuing stagnation in the terrestrial broadcasting sector, that gap is now shrinking.

Turning to the value of exports by region, Japan was the largest importer of South Korean TV programs in 2015 at 32.9% (70,980,000 US dollars). Japan was followed, in order, by China (24.3%), Taiwan (10.1%), the United States (6.8%) and Hong Kong (5.1%). The East Asian markets of Japan, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong etc. together accounted for 72.4% of the total, indicating the great importance of cultural similarities in the structure of this export market.

Export Value by Country/Region

2015 2014
Country/Region Export Value Country/Region Export Value
1 Japan 7098 Japan 7902
2 China 5258 China 5693
3 Taiwan 2182 Hong Kong 5270
4 United States 1461 Taiwan 1564
5 Hong Kong 1109 Thailand 1469
6 Thailand 964 United States 1055
7 Vietnam 912 Vietnam 905
8 Myanmar 521 Singapore 388
9 Philippines 438 Philippines 346
10 Singapore 236 Cambodia 191

Units: 10,000 US dollars

Source: Korea Communications Commission

Looking at both terrestrial broadcasters and users of providers’ channels, the overwhelming majority of program exports went to the Asian region. Japan (57,930,000 US dollars / 35.3%) and China (42,660,000 US dollars / 26.0%) together accounted for more than 60% of program exports for terrestrial broadcast and, including Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong and others as well, the Asian region commanded a 95.5% share. The figure for non-Asian markets was only 4.5%.

2.The International Expansion of Satellite Broadcasts

In South Korea, interest in the use of satellite services to deliver TV content abroad rose from the 1990’s. The South Korean government established Arirang TV in 1996 with the aims of promoting correct understanding of South Korea in other countries and international friendship and goodwill. Others such as KBS World, tvN Asia, and YTN World have been added in the ensuing years with commercial operators also becoming involved.

①Arirang TV
Arirang TV has now been on air for 20 years using eight overseas satellites and can currently be viewed almost worldwide. The channel brings foreign viewers daily news and programs on themes related to traditional and contemporary culture and international friendship. Arirang TV can be viewed by 41,620,000 households in Europe, 32,850,000 in the United States, 14,430,000 in the Middle East and Africa, and 25,040,000 in Asia, making a combined total of 123,690,000 householdsv. In addition to English, the channel also broadcasts in Chinese, Spanish, Arabic, Russian, Vietnamese and Indonesian.

②KBS World
KBS World is an international channel established by KBS, South Korea’s hallmark public broadcaster, in 2003. KBS broadcasts programs in foreign languages with subtitles etc. In addition to English, it roadcasts subtitled services in Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Indonesian, and Vietnamese. KBS World initially broadcasts for people of Korean origin living in other countries but responded to the Korean Wave with programming which now includes a wide range of drama, music, variety, news etc. KBS now broadcasts for 54,000,000 households in 100 countries worldwide and can be viewed in 1,700 hotels in 46 countriesvi.

③tvN Asia
CJE&M’s tvN Asia stands out as a commercial international channel. tvN Asia is based in Hong Kong and provides its services from 40 platformsvii in 10 Asian countries and regions. Most of its programs are sourced from CJE&M’s domestic channels across a wide range which includes Korean food, beauty, drama, film and music.

Multiple subsidiaries have been established to provide terrestrial TV services to people of Korean origin living in North, Central and South America. MBC established MBC America in Los Angeles in the United States in 1991 and chiefly broadcasts its own programs. SBS also established a US subsidiary and started broadcasts in 1992. The 24 hour SBS channel was launched through DirecTV in 2004 and SBS Plus in 2006.

3. Conclusions

The decline in the total export value in 2015 can be expected to have some impact on the sustainability and spread of the Korean Wave. This may also have a negative impact on the growth of international satellite broadcasts. The year-on-year declines in the Korean Wave’s two principal markets of Japan and China are particularly damaging. Japan and China are the two countries which have underpinned the Korean Wave and continuing stagnation in both could shake the international spread of Korean content to the core. The seriousness of the situation is only increased to the extent that this poor performance can be attributed to external factors, such as the rising anti-Korean sentiment in Japan and higher regulatory barriers in China. This limits what can be done on the South Korean side and makes solutions harder to find. Amid these uncertainties, the future prospects of the Korean Wave now hang on finding new growth strategies and new ways forward.

4. Reference

i. Broadcast content exports consist of program, video and DVD sales and revenues arising from “Time Block” etc. Time Block means securing foreign broadcasters’ air time for Korean programs.

ii. The combined export value for broadcast content (program sales, video and DVD sales, Time Block etc.) was 301,990,000 US dollars, including 216,030,000 US dollars for broadcast program sales. The proportions for each genre are ratios of this second figure.

iii. KBS, MBC, SBS and other terrestrial broadcasters export broadcast content through subsidiary companies.

iv. Program providers providing channels such as foodTV (cookery) or mnet (entertainment information) to cable TV platform operators.

v. Website:
Arirang TV can be watched in Europe on the biggest French satellite service, Canal sat, Sky Italia, Digital+ in Spain, DirecTV in the United States, Star hub in Singapore, Indovision in Indonesia etc.

vi. Website:

vii. tvN Asia has about 7,800,000 viewing households in 10 countries of South East Asia.

*Links are for posted items. It is possible that some items are not currently available or are being edited.

Kim Yungduk

Media Researcher


2000 Finished doctorate course in newspaper studies at Sophia University Graduate School (doctorate not awarded)
2000-Apr. 2009 Researcher, Visual Industry Promotion Organization, South Korea
2010-Jul. 2014 Regional Director, Japan Office, Korea Creative Contents Agency
Jan. 2017 Team Leader, International Business Promotion Team, Korea Creative Contents Agency

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