Korea’s character industry is rapidly growing on the strength of the nation’s advanced information technology and rise of hallyu.
The government is also promising support for the industry, mainly for the production of animated characters and their licensing.
Market analysts say the character industry can be a model of future business as a company can create tremendous amounts of added value just with a popular character.
There is a market consensus that the character industry will surpass 8 trillion won this year given the current growth trend.
According to Korea Creative Content Agency, the character industry has increased on average more than 7 percent annually since 2008.
In 2011, the industry reached 7 trillion won, about a 60 percent increase in just five years, prompting more and more companies to jump into the market. KOCCA forecasts 2012 sales will turn out to be about 7.9 trillion won.
KOCCA officials said the market has become larger as some Korean-made animated characters have started to draw popularity at home and abroad.
The nation earned $392 million in exports of Korean animated characters in 2011, an 107 percent increase from 2006. But the imports of foreign characters decreased by 4 percent during the same period.
The number of character companies also jumped to 1,711 in 2011 from 1,379 in 2006.
Among popular names like Dalki, Mashimaro and Pucca, the most influential creation of all is undoubtedly Pororo, the little penguin with aviator goggles that is aired in multiple languages across more than 110 countries.
In the character industry, Korea had been on the back burner for a long time due to the lack of infrastructure to compete with leaders in animation and character development, such as United States and Japan.
The United States, since Mickey Mouse was first introduced by Walt Disney in 1928, has successfully marketed over 1,000 different characters and maintains a market that’s valued at nearly 50 trillion won ($44.5 billion).
Japan, also a dominant figure in the character business, followed the promising road taken by the United States. Japanese animation, or “anime,” now controls about 70 percent of the animation market and the country produces about 13 trillion won worth of economic value from the industry every year.
The possibility of Korea establishing a presence in the character industry was hinted at in 1983 with the release of the animation “Baby Dinosaur Dooly” which gained popularity and spread to the production of toys, stationery, apparel and electronics, but the market in general did not materialize.
But as one of the forerunners of IT and game development, Korea eventually made progress in designing original characters within the nation’s gaming industry and, combined with the infrastructure for animation, laid the groundwork for a fully operative character industry.
Analysts from KOCCA said the expansion of the character market will have a positive effect on the nation’s overall industry as it fosters small traders and enterprisers, helping create jobs.
By Kim Joo-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org)