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Reality TV’s big potential for export

Expert calls for bigger investment for development of programming formats


KBS reality show “1 Night, 2 Days,” which has aired every Sunday evening since 2007, not only introduces Korea’s most beautiful hidden tourism spots, but makes its contestants play for the right to sleep indoors, have breakfast, or skip on jumping into ice water.

Even people who don’t speak Korean watch the program on YouTube and provide feedback to the broadcaster, which bodes well for the program’s global competitiveness in selling its format to foreign TV stations, says the show’s producer Na Yung-suk.

“I realized that international audiences and Korean audiences have similar sense of humor when they see our program. When foreigners watch our show, they laugh where Koreans laugh because they all think it’s funny to see losers of a game sleeping outdoors or jumping into cold water,” Na told The Korea Herald.

“In the current era, there is no boundary of borders. With YouTube and KBS World channel, TV shows like ours can have more powerful impact on global viewers. I actually received many comments from overseas fans whose understanding of the show was deeper than general Koreans,” he said.

The global TV format industry is one of the “Blue Ocean” markets that Korean TV networks have not paid much attention to until recently, while many TV formats such as the U.K.’s “Pop Idol” have been reproduced around the world, including “American Idol” in the U.S.
A scene from KBS reality show “1 Night, 2 Days” (KBS)
A scene from KBS reality show “1 Night, 2 Days” (KBS)

The Korean TV format market is in its toddler stage, with format imports dwarfing format exports. Korea’s format exports reached $2.6 million last year, accounting for only 1.7 percent of the total exports, while the global TV format market is worth $13 billion, according to data from the Korea Creative Content Agency.

However, several home-grown reality TV shows in Korea offer strong potential for the economy, which has heavily relied on manufacturing and the IT sector.

TV program format refers to the concept and brand of a TV program and format sellers, often broadcasters or production companies, can continually earn profits in royalties, as opposed to the one-time sale of dramas or films.

Popular entertainment shows “I Am a Singer” on MBC, road variety show “1 Night, 2 Days” on KBS and “Infinite Challenge” on MBC are in talks with foreign buyers, on the back of their unique content.

With a message that “a singer should be able to sing,” MBC’s “I Am a Singer” has boosted interest in veteran singers and pumped up digital sales of online music by contestants.

An MBC official said that the broadcaster is in talks to sell formats of several entertainment shows including “I Am a Singer” to the U.S., Europe and China.

“Details cannot be revealed due to the sensitivity of deals but what I can say is that we’re focusing on selling ‘I Am a Singer’ and continuously promoting ‘We Got Married’ and ‘Infinite Challenge.’ The U.S. part was quite interested in ‘Infinite Challenge,’” Chin Hae-won, at the senior office of international business and relations division at MBC, told The Korea Herald.

“We will be able to sell ‘I Am a Singer’ on an ‘ideal’ condition to an ‘ideal’ partner because its format has been quite standardized,” she said.

It has been only six months since the broadcaster started airing “I Am a Singer” and the producer of the program paid much attention to format standardization from the beginning of the program, which has made it easier for MBC to make a format manual, she added.

Shin Jeong-su, producer of MBC’s “I Am a Singer,” said Korean production staff in general are talented at editing which makes the show funnier to watch.

“I’ve watched a lot of overseas entertainment shows but I realized that Korean staff use more creative editing skills,” Shin said.

He was referring to typically Korean entertainment programs that use anime effects over a person’s head to describe emotion.

“While those in Japan and China film the program and air it one or two months later, Korean shows are aired one or two weeks after shooting. This makes programs more intense and dynamic,” he said.

An expert warned, however, that exports of home-grown TV shows should be done in multiple phases region by region.

“I think content of Korean entertainment shows will be sellable to several Asian countries including Japan and Taiwan. But we would be stretching too far if we try to sell it to Europe and the U.S.,” said Lee Man-je, senior researcher of policy research team at the KOCCA.

He also pointed out that either broadcasters or production companies, or both, should increase investment in format development so that high quality TV shows can have high quality formats.

“Beyond the level of making the show funny, we should make manuals for formats. But it will not be easy unless either broadcasters or production companies invest more money in format development,” Lee said.

With major newspapers entering the broadcasting business in earnest, it will be more difficult to allocate a big chunk of money to one entertainment program, he said.

“Then, broadcasters and production companies may team up together to increase investment,” he said.

By Kim Yoon-mi (yoonmi@heraldcorp.com)
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