Lessons to be learned from South Korean TV

Governments should nurture talent but not meddle in production, says cultural consul

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 April, 2016, 10:55pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 April, 2016, 10:55pm

Stepping inside the Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) in Seoul, you would be surprised how the Korean broadcaster has managed to turn its headquarters into a tourist spot.

On the ground floor, booths are set up to allow visitors virtually learn singing and take pictures with the K­pop stars, or even pretend to be their girlfriends or boyfriends.

Upstairs, visitors could take a further step to have a taste of being anchors in news castings or even acting as the empress in the signature dramas.

Korean dramas have stirred up crazes in Asian countries over the past decade and created huge business opportunities. With the recent success of the military-­setting drama Descendants of the Sun, produced by another broadcaster KBS, many would wonder how Hong Kong, which sees a new free station ViuTV goes on air earlier this month, could learn from the Korean experience.

It was important for the government to take a careful position, said the country’s envoy in Hong Kong, by pouring resources in nurturing talents in one hand but refraining from meddling in the production.

“Even though the Korean government support the entertainment industry, they would not intervene directly,” said Yu Byungchae, the country’s consul in Hong Kong on culture. “The content of the dramas and movies depended on the creator’s ideas.”

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The more competitive environment in South Korea, with the rise of new cable broadcasters, has helped boosting the production’s quality, said Yu, and now the industry is eyeing not just locally but the huge overseas market.

The Descendant of the Sun ­-- the first TV series jointly produced by Korean and Chinese firms and aired in both nations simultaneously ­ -- has already been sold to 32 countries, including United States, Germany and Russia.

The drama’s success also helped giving a strong boost to the tourism and retail sectors, said Yu. One of the examples was the surging sale of red ginseng extract ­which the leading actor Song Joong­ki was seen drinking in Descendant of the Sun.

“In the past, [promoting] culture, drama or K­pop are the responsibility of the Ministry of Cultural, Sports and Tourism,” he said. “But now financial ministers and other sectors are all interested in coordinating [to see] how the government can help those industries to develop more.”

Yu also said Hong Kong’s advanced financial system actually was a great advantage the city enjoyed to develop its cultural industry, adding he believed the emergence of ViuTV would bring Hongkongers more diversified content.

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“Things we have not imagined before might [happen] now,” he said, referring to the new broadcasters’ all-female mixed martial arts reality show G-1 Fight Club which featured eight Hong Kong starlets beating on each other.

“It’s natural that competition [boosts] creativity. To survive, [broadcasters] have to create things they have not done before.”

But Korea watcher Steve Chung Lok­wai was not so optimistic at the city’s capacity in producing dramas of Korea’s quality in short run.

ViuTV was placing its focus on entertainment or reality shows instead of dramas, he said, as the production of the latter required enormous and sustaining capital and it would be very tough for the newcomer to compete with the broadcaster giant TVB.

The decades-­long monopoly of TVB has also made Hong Kong lag way behind South Korea, Chung, an assistant lecturer of Global Studies programme in Chinese University, lamented.

“TVB used to sell its dramas to the overseas Chinese markets, but now even the expat Chinese communities have given up TVB to watch Korean or Japanese dramas instead,” he said.

Chung said Hong Kong government did not have a macro cultural and entertainment policy and argued only by granting more free-to-air TV licenses, which facilitates true competition, would help improving the stagnant development.