The Yeouido Observer #005: Show Me the Money

THE YEOUIDO OBSERVER #005: SHOW ME THE MONEY

Who does the Korean TV drama industry belong to?

I do understand the paradox of talking about an “industry” while constantly criticizing its rampant industrialization, as if the two terms were somehow mutually exclusive. But for every little touch of humanism Yeouido so seldom graces us with, we are a lot more often reminded of the colossal depths which its inhabitants are ready to plunge into, as if it was the most alluring abyss in all creation. This once strangely functioning machine, which managed for two good decades to satisfy both the appetite of advertisers and that of its viewers without turning its inner chambers into pandemonium, suddenly found itself removed from its parochial status, almost unbeknownst to it. From there upon, a succession of convenient myths created a bubble someone decided to call Hallyu, the Korean Wave. This bubble, more than anything that came before it, contributed to Yeouido’s industrialization, but also filled itself with alluring yet deadly black roses whose thorns will sooner or later pierce through all those vapid illusions.

“Modern industrial civilization has developed within a certain system of convenient myths. The driving force of modern industrial civilization has been individual material gain. Now it’s long been understood – very well – that a society that is based on this principle will destroy itself in time. It can only persist – with whatever suffering and injustice it entails – as long as it’s possible to pretend that the destructive forces that humans create are limited, that the world is an infinite resource, and that the world is an infinite garbage can. At this stage of history either the general population will take control of its own destiny and will concern itself with community issues guided by values of solidarity, and sympathy, and concern for others, or – alternatively – there will be no destiny for anyone to control.”

That’s a quote by Noam Chomsky from twenty years ago, taken from his interview in the documentary Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media. He was obviously referring to industrialization at large and its impact on the world we live in, but his words can just as easily be applied to our situation, particularly when considering its increasing gravity.

A more industrially mature Yeouido means that I can head to Youtube and watch 1994’s glorious 서울의 달 (The Moon of Seoul) in almost pristine video quality, as opposed to the fuzzy, blurry and overused Betamax tapes that populate my childhood memories. It means I can walk into a video rental shop in Akihabara and for the cost of a pizza get myself insanely good looking DVDs of one of Lee Byung-Heon’s early 1990’s daily dramas (back when all the grease wasn’t enough to cover his distinct lack of talent) for a couple of nights. It means, if you live in North America or are an evil purveyor of those arcane VPN things, that you can stream recently broadcast dramas on your PC and TV, legally and with subtitles – not to mention the ethical reassurance that the money you paid will contribute to fund at least a couple of eyeliners for certain vampire prosecutors, for instance. Or maybe buy chocopies and ginseng tea for half the extras in a sageuk. They’re the saviors of our beloved industry, mon Dieu!

It means that someone who’s only good at shaking his poopoo in unison with a couple of backdancers and whose songs talk about “becoming your cat for a day” can become an overnight millionaire and (at least in the press releases that herald his every daily activity as if he was a freaking head of state) a world-renowned multitainer – as if, you know, having enough respect for one craft to at least do one thing well before you move on to different things was a frivolous waste of time. It means, if you’re lucky enough, that Japanese housewives will spend three trillion of your country’s currency just because of a scarf, a pair of oversized specs and some vapid gazes into the horizon, while terrifyingly maudlin ballads envelop you.

’tis all good.

It would be even better if it was something everyone in the industry could benefit from, and not just a selected few.

One of the greatest lines in sageuk history comes from a character played by Park In-Hwan in Lee Byung-Hoon’s magnum opus 상도 (Sangdo). Veteran merchant Hong Deuk-Joo dispenses his business creed to his pupils, particularly the promising Im Sang-Ok (Lee Jae-Ryong). And then he adds this icing on the cake:

“장사는 이문을 남기는 것이 아니라 사람을 남기는 것이다”

(Business is not about gaining profits, it’s about gaining people).

 Ironic that a few months after that show ended PD Lee went through a bit of self-inflicted slump (because, see, an average of 20+% and a peak of 33% for the best drama he’s ever made apparently weren’t enough) that completely changed his vision about dramas. I guess now business is a little more about the profits than the people for him, but I digress.

Gaining people means more or less what guided this industry from the early 1980s onwards, when the advent of color television, ENG cameras and film directors adapting famous novels for the small screen completely revolutionized it. There were still controversies, scandals, unfair practices and a sane dose of behind the scenes drama. But you could at least sense there was a spirit of fair competition and the awareness that what was good for the industry was good for everyone – even if their only aspiration was that of making the most money they could, together.

There. That’s the keyword. Together.

Making money together means you can fulfill your dreams of industrialization while at the same time respecting basic tenets of decency and the same business ethics which guided merchants like Sangdo’s Hong Deuk-Joo.  It means keeping in mind that this is a team effort for which some people put their livelihood at stake, and that without the contribution (and thus fair retribution and treatment) of the entire industry, you will not go very far.

2012 has been an incredible year for a variety of reasons we’ll discuss in our upcoming Year End Review: it was the year when diversity came back to town, when long-lost genres regained their vigor, when stars were born and masters continued to show that youthly vigor that has kept them on top for decades. It was the year of that and a lot more, but those best of times also brought us the opposite end of the spectrum. It gave us the longest and perhaps most serious MBC strike in history – its repercussions still being felt within the organization. It gave us the most explicit manifestation of a system that is no longer working, and is very close to a spectacular collapse, all the accidents and controversies behind the scenes being just the beginning of what might be an epochal schism. Not that I didn’t warn you, as early as four years ago.

The news has barely been reported in English, because people are too busy talking about flower boys’ magazine spreads and what some starlet is wearing at an awards gala to discuss actual matters that will impact the same shows they’re watching. But while there have been similar labor union strikes throughout the last five years, the rapacious fury with which both sides are trading blows and the arguments raised by them are the most explicit and pungent to date – suggesting that we’re very close to breaking point.

First, the facts.

The Korean Broadcast Actor’s Union (한국방송연기자노동조합) has begun a strike and its members are refusing to participate in the shooting of several KBS dramas because of overdue payments involving five shows. The culprits are as follows:

  • 공주가 돌아왔다 (The Queen Returns), Dandi Media 2009 [Overdue 125 million won]
  • 국가가 부른다 (My Country Calls), JH Production 2010 [Overdue 125 million won]
  • 도망자 (Fugitive: Plan B), Fugitive S1 2010 [Overdue 450 million won]
  • 프레지던트 (President), Film EZ 2010 [Overdue 540 million won]
  • 정글피쉬2 (Jungle Fish 2), SkyLook 2010 [Overdue 34 million won]

For a grand total of 1,274,000,000 won.

Now the number per se might not look all that significant, particularly since it involves five different productions – some of which had a budget of 3-400 million won per episode. But consider that the overdue payments are dated two-to-three years, and that this is only one part of the labor union on strike – the much larger section of the union which involves 70 to 90% of all TV actors already went on strike a few years ago, for some of the same shows and much higher overdues.

These, mind you, are not big time actors or even names most of you could recognize (although there of course will be familiar faces among them). We’re talking about veterans, a good 70% of them making less than 10 million won a year. It’s easy to debate over cachets of top stars and talk of reductions and salary caps, but here we have senior citizens who often have to stay on set (or in a studio) for an entire day, all for 50 to 100,000 won. People who are running in debt to continue working in the industry they love. And yet even those remaining breadcrumbs aren’t being given to them. They have to beg, go on strike, halt productions even against their will. It’s not a political move to gain leverage. They’re defending their livelihood against a system that no longer gives them the means to live.

But what is the major difference between this and any old strike?

Back then, you’d have an union protest against the same overdue payments, and simply threatening the channel with boycotts. There would be a negotiation and promises by the broadcasters, and the thing would generally die down in a couple of weeks. This time, the KBAU is going much further, questioning the business model itself, and not only KBS. Their claims are very specific, and far reaching, something that just giving them their money back wouldn’t solve.

  • They claim that KBS is responsible for choosing improperly-run production companies — in this case the dreaded SPC (Special Purpose Companies) we introduced here – and turning a blind eye to their fraudulent practices, perhaps because many of those same companies partly originate from within the station’s own structure.
  • They’re accusing KBS of engaging in dumping practices with their funding as it relates to the indies, and their use of internal subcontractors.
  • They accuse KBS of paying those subcontractors twice, by in essence taking money from their right pocket to put it in the left one.
  • Finally, they demand KBS rectify the collective agreement, and refund the 1.2 billion in toto.

KBS responded with what on the surface sounded like a perfectly coherent reminder of the industry’s basic funding structure:

  • In the case of a drama produced by independent companies (as opposed to homegrown productions like the weekend sageuk or the KBS1 evening dailies), it’s not KBS that directly pays the actors, but the indies themselves. All KBS does is contributing to the production with a fixed amount of money per episode, something which KBS clearly took care of. Any legal bones should be picked with the indies themselves, not KBS.
  • Here’s an anachronistically strong term: the actors couldn’t engage in double dipping against KBS when the public’s 혈세 (literally “blood taxes,” the levies paid for by the people’s blood and tears) are on the line, just because they don’t understand the industry’s funding structure. That is, “there ain’t no joking around with the money from the license fee, Bubba.”
  • At the time of their decision (to select the aforementioned SPCs), the companies looked solvent and solid enough to be granted the green light, not to mention the competitive edge and quality of their projects. The government mandates that over 33% of all production should be entrusted to independent entities, in turn ensuring there won’t be a virtual monopoly over the production of TV dramas.
  • The union had already filed a complaint with KBS about said companies a few years ago. The two parties agreed not to make any of these litigations public (as the station had reassured the union that everything would go well), in everyone’s interest. By going public, not only did the union go back on their commitments, but it is now trying to paint KBS as the only entity responsible for this whole fiasco.

Let’s address, as always, KBS’ claims point by point. And then look at where the union might have a point.

FUNDING. KBS’ claims are of course accurate, if a little contextually misleading. As I’ve explained on several occasions, the funding of a drama is essentially built out of the following elements:

  1. The aforementioned fixed amount, which really isn’t as “fixed” as KBS or any of the big three would like you to believe, but generally goes from 120 to 180 (up to 200 for SBS’ top projects) million won per episode. In the case of a homegrown production those 180 million and a little PPL on the side can be enough to cover costs, because those generally are shows that needn’t go through any competition to secure a timeslot – and hence have less pressure when it comes to casting a popular star just to attract investment.
  2. PPL, which generally covers 20 to 40% of the budget. In a period setting you might only get actual “indirect” product placement by simply using open sets provided by local entities – sets that were only built with the purpose of turning them into tourist attractions – and other ancillary apparel like hanbok and ornaments (hairpins, jewelry, et al). Ironically – as mentioned by 드라마의 제왕 (The Lord of Dramas) – the current timeshift craze has a lot more to do with the fact that going between past and present ensures that you’ll have a few buffer episodes (set in modern day) where you can go crazy with PPL. And in the case of dramas by and for PPL advertisers like 시크릿 가든 (Secret Garden) or 최고의 사랑 (The Greatest Love), only the sky is the limit.
  3. OST sales now cover a healthy 10 to 20% of the budget. Back in the day you’d just pay royalties for a couple of foreign hits and instruct the music director to write a few of his own (hence the constant repetition of the same two-three songs), and that’d be the end of it. Today the structure has completely changed, to the point that there is generally no actual budget for the music. You simply select a music director who in turn will be contracted by a (generally major) label, which will fund the entire soundtrack’s production. What will JYP or YG get, for instance, should they choose to actually fund your show with a prospective 10% of the budget (for a 16 episode miniseries, think around 500 million won)? They actually get to choose the very structure of the songs that are used and/or composed, with their future interests in mind. That is, since today’s business structure practically forces you to bank on digital singles, they’ll introduce a new song every few episodes and sell those singles in a piecemeal manner – to then double dip you with the whole OST at the end. That is why you get Song Joong-Gi singing in 세상 어디에도 없는 착한남자 (The Innocent Man), and why you find idol tripe on nearly every Korean drama, even gritty sageuk that shouldn’t touch that kind of “music” with a ten foot pole.
  4. Government grants, a new decoy by the powers that be to act as if they care for the same cultural industry they’ve contributed to destroy from within. These are usually risible amounts, only a few tens of million per episode (as the entire fund, which also covers short dramas, is only a few billion won) which are given to a selected few, but you do get that sanctimonious “This drama was produced in cooperation with grants by the Ministry of Culture” reminder at the beginning. Taxpayer’s money at your service, yo!
  5. Foreign exports. You can have pre-sales if it’s something with strong appeal in Japan – or produced by major players like iHQ, which naturally have a better marketing know-how – or just hope the show will sell well afterwards. It’s a crap shoot, but generally you’ll get a good 15~20% from overseas sales, or even something as crazy as 100~120% in 사랑비 (Love Rain)’s case. The expansion craze companies are pursuing is exactly because of this: they want a little more money from everyone, even North America, so that the aforementioned 20% can slowly become a steadier 30-40%.

KBS President and 2MB’s favorite yes-man Kim In-Gyu entertaining

some of his acquaintances, namely Jung Mong-Yoon of Hyundai Marine

So, yes, KBS is right. They’ve already paid their fixed amount to those five companies, and have no other legal obligation on the matter. But then you start to scratch the surface, and see how flimsy KBS’ argument is both from an ethical and logical standpoint (as I’m sure you know law and logic don’t always go hand in hand).

Without Japan’s pre-sales, the only tangible funding an ordinary indie production starts with is the actual “fixed amount” from the broadcaster. Even money from the OST is generally given later (unless there’s some vertical integration involved, or you’re dealing with a major project), and PPL of course is a bit of a diesel on those merits – the more popular your show is, the more chances advertisers will knock at your door with PPL proposals. Of course for things like Secret Garden most of the PPL is planned well in advance, but that’s not exactly the norm.

So let’s imagine that you start with 120 million won per episode, plus another 30 of initial PPL and OST revenue. Of those 150 million, you spend a good 30 (at least) on your writer, 50 on the major Hallyu star you needed to cast in order to get a timeslot on network TV, and a total of 30 million for the remaining three pieces of your leading quartet. That’s 110 million just to cast four people and get someone to write your show. You haven’t filmed a single second of footage, and yet only 40 million are left. Of course some PPL will help raise that figure to at least 60 million, and after the first few episodes (if you’re lucky enough), Japan might knock at your door and bring that up to at least 120.

But we’re still talking about shooting 130 minutes of footage a week, for less than $200,000 combined. That means you’ll have to make good use of the little time you’re given – which is not all that much, given the fact that you’ll get at most six to eight weeks of headway between the start of your shoot and the first broadcast. And that, really, explains the killer schedules (with two-three production teams running at the same time, and actors moving from one location to the other) and the dreaded and so often superficially questioned live shoot. If those companies could benefit from a funding structure that didn’t force them to shoot 20 hours a day to cut costs, or force writers to make last minute changes because of PPL (in turn forcing the cast and crew to shoot everything on the cheap and quick just a few days before broadcast), none of this would happen.

Mind you, ever since going from content producer to content distributor, the big three have become money-making monoliths of gargantuan proportions – using that mandatory 33% quota of independent productions only as an expedient, since they go over the 80% every single year. They’ll spend 120, 180 million won on a project, and that’s the end of their problems. Ad revenue on first run and any successive reruns, which in case of a full plate can get them as much as 500 million per episode, is all theirs. Rebroadcast rights with cable stations? All theirs. For an expenditure of 2 billion won (your average 16 episode miniseries), they can make as much as 8 billion won without even having sold a single overseas distribution contract. The indies are left with peanuts, which is the reason why so many of those little startups go belly up after just one production — leaving a lot of no-name actors and staff without their pay in the process. This industry as we know it today is operated under some kind of a cultural kleptocracy, when you think about it.

The union went a lot further: essentially they’re accusing KBS of selecting companies out of the blue, only looking at how much ad revenue a project can get them – and not how those companies will effectively manage to get the money to actually produce that show. They use the proliferation of SPCs to prove their point: a glorified paper company is established to (as I’ve often explained) bypass PPL regulation on network TV and obtain credit regardless of any indie’s previous credit rating. The show is broadcast, the broadcasters make their money, and then the SPC miraculously goes belly up – bankruptcy being only a legal expedient to excuse the fact that the CEO ran with all the money he could embezzle, which is usually whatever part of the personnel budget writers or big stars couldn’t already take.

So the broadcasters have their money, the SPC’s head honchos have theirs. Big stars (and anyone under a management agency with enough clout to request money upfront or at least in time) and writers get a good portion if not everything they were due. What happens to the minnows, all those actors without a management (because they don’t need, and wouldn’t even afford, one) and the staff that wasn’t provided by the station? They get royally screwed, this kind of strike being the only possibility for them to voice their concerns.

KBAU also adds a bit more fuel to the fire: those SPCs were founded by people previously associated with KBS, so there certainly was some complicity involved. Shall we take a look at a few examples?

  • Fugitive S1 (도망자에스원문화산업주식회사): the union complains that this SPC’s CEO (Noh Young-Rak) was a retired KBS FD (floor director, think of it as a sort of studio coordinator), and that most of the top brass of this ad-hoc “indie” was made of veteran KBS high-ranking producers, like CP Jung Hae-Ryong and executive producer Park Gi-Ho. I will add that it’s only natural, because this venture was launched on June 2010 by Ahn Hyeong-Soo of Blue Mountain Communication and a certain KBS Media (rings a bell? They handle overseas distribution rights and ancillary home entertainment marketing for the station), each investing 50 million won into the venture (that is, the initial capital they started this glorified paper company with). KBS trying to act as if they had nothing to do with this “independent” company, and that any future mishap was beyond their control, ignores that basic fact: a subsidiary of KBS controlled half that company’s stakes (therefore ultimately answering to KBS), and both CEO and most of the top brass was made of retired KBS veterans. How can you pretend its selection was the result of a thorough and impartial examination, when your buddies and former colleagues are leading it, and half the shares are held by a KBS subsidiary?
  • Film EZ: in their recent rebuttal, KBS talks of a certain “CEO Kim of Film EZ (the SPC behind President) coming from an external subcontractor that was completely unrelated to KBS.” The problem is that some people’s memories extend beyond 2010, so their lies can be easily exposed. Before the 2010 political drama President found its way to the small screen, it had been a treatment running around industry circles for months without anyone ever picking it up – simply because this genre has always been a hard sell, particularly when it’s an indie that’s entrusted with the task. Nobody would even bother. But then a certain Ryu Si-Hyeong of startup Film EZ pops up, and the show magically gets the green light. Yes, the current “CEO Kim” (Kim Jong-Jin) KBS is talking about was, I suppose, only tangentially related to KBS. But it was Ryu who started this Film EZ in 2010. Who’s Ryu Si-Hyeong, you’ll ask? A veteran KBS PD, responsible for plenty of decent shows in the 80s and early 90s, like the “land” series in 1990 and 1991 – 물의 나라 (The Land of Water) and 불의 나라 (The Land of Fire). Out of the blue, a retired KBS producer knocks at the door of that big building in Yeouido, and he magically manages to get the nod for that show nobody seemed interested in. Does it smell, or is it just me?

DUMPING AND SUBCONTRACTORS. The idea is that KBS engages in predatory pricing by essentially giving the indies no leeway to properly fund their shows (funding them on the cheap), and hence leaving the minnows with nothing to eat (since it all goes to writers, stars, and the bare minimum to run a proper production). The tie-in to that argument is that part of the money that goes to the independent production (or SPC) actually goes back to KBS, since all production design and art direction is handled by KBS Artvision, a subsidiary of the group which also operates as an independent entity – as they handled art direction for 인수대비 (Queen Insoo), for instance. This is normal on paper, as even SBS Artech outsources their work to projects not related to SBS – they’ve handled plenty of films and a few shows on cable, for instance – and MBC’s production shingle MBC C&I has occasionally been producing shows for tvN, like 기찰비록 (Joseon X-Files) and the daily 유리가면 (Glass Mask).

So what’s the problem? The fact that KBS is already funding KBS Artvision separately – not for every single production they undertake, but directly through their yearly budget. If Artvision already has a budget, why is part of those “fixed” 120 to 180 million won per episode devoted to production design and art direction, when it’s handled in most cases by Artvision? Yes, they’re “subcontractors,” but they also happen to be a subsidiary of KBS.

This situation could only happen because everyone is only looking at their own interest, broadcasters included – although of course the interest of the union seem a lot more pressing because there are people’s livelihood on the line, not just a few percentile points of EBITDA at the end of the year.

The CODA, which reunites all major independent companies (think Chorokbaem, Pan Entertainment and the like) actually brought up an interesting solution to the problem: changing the regulatory system from a simple ex post notification one to an ex ante registration. That is, today an SPC or indie can be started without going through any verification process, their only obligation being that of notifying their launch afterwards. What the CODA asks for is a sort of “initiation” process, a test through which every prospective startup would prove its financial stability, production know-how and long-term plans. This would help eliminate all those seedy SPCs that are borne out of a handshake, a few hundred million won and a non-descript office which disappears (with all the profits made) after a show’s conclusion.

It would be a good start, but it’s not likely to happen (especially under this kind of government), simply because it would exploit the system for what it really is – a tragicomically unbalanced cash cow that only benefits broadcasters, a few stars and their management and the usual two-three major advertisers. It’s a very fair proposal that could partly revolutionize the industry, but there could be many more. Those who believe that the problem is the live shoot or the inflated cachets fail to see the very foundation of this issue: funding. You solve that, and all the problems gradually disappear.

But how do you solve the funding problem. First you need all parties to make some sacrifices, and embrace that old school mentality of working together for the greater good. Then you need a government willing to bend its recklessly capitalistic ways and think long term. And then you can begin to make proposals. Like the ones I’m about to make.

  • The ex ante registration model is perfect. 95% of the hundreds of indies that have notified their launch would be denied entrance into this “group of 20 (or 30, or 40),” but you’d also eliminate most of the rotten apples. Think of it as a sort of NBA Committee. If a small town with no money or proper infrastructure asked David Stern to join the NBA, he’d laugh in their face. Why isn’t the same happening in Yeouido?
  • I would increase government grants at least tenfold. The 2MB government has spent gazillions of won into projects the people never even wanted (shall I mention the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project and its 22 trillion won?), so 30 to 50 billion a year for something as important for Korea’s image as the TV drama industry would only be peanuts. After all, bandying about the dreaded “Hallyu” propaganda without actively supporting the industry which helped create it in the first place is hypocrisy, isn’t it? 50 billion won a year, handled by an independent commission that would weigh funding based on the production’s know-how and track record, on how solid their internal structure and planning is, and on the project’s prospects — all with the utmost transparency, their selection meetings shown on the Internet for everyone to see. This doesn’t mean that quality will necessarily increase (they’ll still favor safe projects over experimental ones), but at least it will all be done in a much healthier environment.
  • I would add a fixed profit tax to those 50 billion. What does that mean? That if iHQ makes, say, a 5 billion net profit out of their yearly drama productions, 500 million won go to that fund (10% is not that high, particularly considering the taxation in other parts of the world). You can still pursue profit, but the more money you make, the more you’ll support the industry at large. This brings us back to the mentality which governed the industry before 1991 (the most popular hits’ success contribute to the funding of riskier projects), but with a modern outlook.
  • I would establish a salary cap that works for real, and not the silly regulation the big three decided upon a few years ago – with all the perks that Hallyu stars got, practically rendering such regulations futile from day one. No more than 10 million won per leading star, and no more than a cumulative 100 million won per episode spent on the cast. This will not only cut out all the starlets who continue to infest the airwaves just to make a buck, but also reestablish the kind of respect for the industry way too many Hallyu stars have ignored over the years. Lee Min-Ho got 60 million per episode to grace us with his thespian constipation in 신의 (The Great Doctor), while Son Hyun-Joo’s incredible exploits in 추적자 (The Chaser) cost one tenth of that. Result? The former drama is the most miserable commercial flop of the year (and will be the protagonist of our next The Yeouido Observer), the latter went from 9 to 22% and even made decent money. Food for thought.
  • I would enforce a mandatory limit of 12 hours of shooting per day. Exceptions could be made in case of an emergency, but only once or twice per production, and the reasons would have to be well documented. Kim Jin-Min managed to shoot 12 hours a day for five days a week back in the 개와 늑대의 시간 (Time Between Dog and Wolf) days, and there’s no reason why everyone else shouldn’t do the same. Quality takes time, and rushing through things can only bring unnecessary danger to people.
  • I would force both broadcasters and indies to foot their bills within ten days of a set deadline. It shouldn’t be actors who run credit card debts to survive because an indie isn’t paying them. If the indie doesn’t have the skills to survive in this business, they’re the ones who should go belly up.
  • I would force broadcasters to share ad revenue with the indies on a 70:30 ratio. The same goes for overseas sales. You share the sacrifices and possible risks, and share the profits. That’s what I mean by working “together.”
  • I would enforce the quota of independent productions literally. That is, not “at least 33%” but “up to 33%.” Home-grown productions do a world of good to the station themselves (long-term), and to the shows’ own quality.
  • I’d enforce PPL regulation a lot more severely. It’s not called “indirect publicity (간접광고)” for nothing. Any hint that a particular scene was written only for the purpose of publicizing a brand, and the producers get fined the same exact amount the advertisers paid for that scene, plus a premium of 10% that will be paid for by the advertisers themselves.
  • I’d get rid of all the “lifetime senators” on top of KBS’ drama structure and their recalcitrant ways, and put some young blood on top, with an eye to the female perspective. I wouldn’t mind, for instance, to see Ham Young-Hoon — PD of 얼렁뚱땅 흥신소 (Evasive Inquiry Agency) — and the respected and underrated Kwon Gye-Hong, one of the few women with some power within the KBS structure.
  • I would force both MBC and SBS to restart their short drama circuit, and encourage CJ E&M (which essentially controls most of the drama-broadcasting channels on cable) to do the same. All of these shows would be funded in their entirety by the aforementioned government fund, and be used to groom young actors, writers and producers. No 20-year-veteran stinking up the place like what’s happening on 드라마 스페셜 (Drama Special). Short dramas are about diversity and experimenting new things, they needn’t be competitive or worry about ratings. Even a 0.1% is fine if you can foster the future Park Yeon-Seon or Kwak Jung-Hwan.
  • And, last but not least, I would completely reform the rating system, taking into account a lot more factors, like reruns, IPTV, streaming and legal downloads – all calculated with statistical formulae that can be trusted.

I would do that and more, and I know many people in the industry who share some of the same wishes – and would probably add much more brilliant proposals to the list. But the point is that the first step needs to be taken. We’re already seeing actor’s unions protest, shoots being stopped because of their boycotts and because of on-set accidents. We’re seeing the insane working environment these four years of reckless government de-regulation have created, and how they have turned a once relatively united industry into a group of sects at war with each other, each only interested in what they can gain for themselves.

Yes, 2012 has been great. But it’d be like marveling at how good the band is on the Titanic. The iceberg is not that far off, and the water is pretty damn cold in winter.

The TV drama industry belongs to them. It belongs to us. It’s time now to drop the bullshit and start making that clear…

~ Last Update: 2015/04/08