South Korean viewers turning away from major broadcasters to cable networks
Viewership for major broadcasters’ shows are dropping amid strikes and boycotts
By Park Jin-hai
KBS, MBC and SBS, the three major broadcasters in South Korea, are losing viewers.
Their media credibility has hit rock bottom, as seen in the ongoing general strike of the unions of KBS and MBC, calling for autonomy in news coverage and the resignation of its top management, who allegedly meddled in news reporting to pander to the previous two governments.
As the public broadcasters start losing viewers’ trust, viewership is dropping. In June, MBC’s prime time average viewership was topped by cable broadcaster JTBC for the first time. The dramas of the big broadcasters have been dwindling with record low viewership as well.
With idol celebrities and star writers rushed in to salvage the situation, dramas of major broadcasting companies have struggled to reach ratings of 10 per cent. The viewership of KBS drama “Manhole,” starring big name hallyu star Kim Jae-joong from K-pop band JYJ, and actress Uee, hit 1.4 per cent, on Aug. 31. After it edged up slightly over two per cent, the romantic comedy slipped again to below two per cent Thursday.
KBS long-running show “School 2017” finished with 4.6 per cent viewership. This is lower than “School 2015,” which garnered 9.7 per cent, and far less than “School 2013,” with 16 per cent. MBC’s ongoing drama “The King in Love” and SBS “Reunited Words” have also been staggering with single digit viewership.
To make matters worse, the strike and production boycott halted popular shows on KBS and MBC and reruns have filled airtime. As a result, the public broadcasters are losing money from the sales of TV commercials. MBC’s sales price for popular shows this week is said to have dropped to 80 per cent of the previous level. On the day of the general strike it even failed to air commercials for hours as the staff members joined the production boycott.
Cable channels, which have opened the floodgate for the Choi Soon-sil scandal, involving former president Park Gyun-hye, have been expanding their media power. In a poll carried out last month with 300 local journalists, JTBC overtook three major TV stations and was voted as the most trusted and powerful local media.
Also, armed with fresh stories and various formats, JTBC, tvN and OCN dramas, once regarded as underdogs when anything over one per cent viewership was considered average, have been achieving over 10 per cent viewership.
Cable network tvN garnered over 20 per cent viewership with mega hit drama “Guardian: The Lonely and Great God” early this year. JTBC has produced two successive hit dramas “Strong Woman Do Bong-soon” and “Woman of Dignity,” which posted a record 12.1 per cent viewership for the cable network. Baek Mi-kyung, writer of both JTBC hit dramas, said “the content that major broadcasters would find hard to approve” is one of reasons for her dramas’ success.
Cable’s various genre dramas, targeting particular viewer bases, such as tvN’s “Stranger” and OCN’s “Tunnel” have garnered stable viewership of 6.6 and 6.5 per cent, respectively. Both shows deal with a variety of subjects as well. Recently ended tvN’s “Circle” was about a sci-fi mystery, while OCN’s “Duel” featured a human clone. OCN’s ongoing thriller “Save Me” is about a pseudo-religious cult.
Experts say the premium that major television networks enjoyed in terms of viewership guaranteed in the past has nearly disappeared, and is coupled with diversified drama channels and falling competitiveness of major broadcasters. A-list stars, who had rejected offers to show up on cable shows, are now rushing to tvN and JTBC.
“Major public channels go for strong viewership on weekend or morning dramas. But they stick to the old practice of production, while cable channels build up competitiveness by experimenting with fresh stories and formats. The demise of major broadcasters has been somewhat predicted,” said culture critic Kong Hee-jung.