Full steam ahead for South Korea

Two more kidcasters are making plans to join the competitive and digitally progressive children's broadcast scene in South Korea.
July 23, 2010

Two more kidcasters are making plans to join the competitive and digitally progressive children’s broadcast scene in South Korea.

First up, Disney, which bowed an English version of Disney Channel there in 2002, has been working on launching Korean-language offerings for the last 12 months. And marking a first for the House of Mouse, the final piece fell into place recently with the formation of a new international joint-venture that was required to gain entry into the country.

‘A foreign entity can’t own more than 50% of a Korean broadcaster or channel, so in order to launch a Korean version of Disney Channel, we had to find a partner,’ says Ben Pyne, president of global distribution for Disney Media Networks. He adds that like Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon before it, Disney chose a Korean broadcaster, in this case SK Telecom, as its partner.

The JV will oversee Korean-language versions of Disney Channel and Playhouse Disney in HD multiplex and SD formats over cable, direct-to-home and IPTV platforms and related on-demand digital media services.

With a launch date planned for sometime in 2011, Pyne says a programming team is in the process of being assembled in Seoul that will have input from Disney offices in Hong Kong, Singapore and the US.

Adhering to South Korean content quotas, the ad-supported channels will offer a 60/40 mix of Disney series and local content. Pyne says the net will program established Disney series like Handy Manny, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Hannah Montana alongside Korean-produced fare that’s relevant and fits with the channel brand. Besides Nick and Cartoon Network, Pyne says local Korean kids channel Tooniverse adds to the highly competitive market.

Along with the potential for expanding Disney’s reach into a new territory, Pyne says South Korea is attractive as ‘the hotbed and center of so many digital initiatives.’ In particular his team is looking at the expanding mobile space to reinforce value and extend the brand with special packages to support the linear channel. It’s worth noting that SK Telecom controls a 51% share of the mobile market. Additionally, 100-megabit streaming broadband has between 85% and 95% penetration in the country, and it will be moving into 4G networks sooner than other territories. Additionally, South Korea’s already capable of handling more robust mobile smartphone service. ‘The government has encouraged pushing into digital and leapfrogging, in many ways, the rest of the world,’ says Pyne.

CBeebies takes its first step

Also getting into the market, CBeebies has launched as an English-language foreign transmission on KT (formerly Korean Telecom) IPTV service, Qook TV.

Two years ago, South Korea – which boasts one of the highest broadband penetration rates in the world – established a regulatory framework for IPTV that allowed service providers to go beyond VOD services and offer linear broadcasting. The move essentially put Korea’s already booming IPTV market in direct competition with its traditional broadcast sector. Even prior to the adoption of this legislation, the proliferation of IPTV in Korea had spurred an increase in Western-based kids entertainment in the market, where Korean and Japanese content still rules supreme.

Mark Whitehead, SVP and GM of BBC Worldwide Channels Asia, says the competition from emerging IPTV services, combined with the new channel of delivery, presented the opportunity to work with KT to launch CBeebies on Qook TV.

Whitehead explains the channel chose to delve into the territory at a time when South Korea’s economy is expected to grow between 4% and 5% per year in both 2010 and 2011. He adds the growth of the pay-TV market reflects this upward trend. Qook TV has expanded to service more 1.17 million IPTV users, including VOD subscribers, since its launch in 2007, and is aiming to have 1.9 million subscribers by year’s end. Qook TV carries 89 linear channels, 80,000 pieces of VOD content and advanced interactive services.

‘Korea is a key market for BBC’s Channels business,’ says Whitehead. ‘The channel’s programming is customized to appeal to and suit the developmental needs of distinct age groups, encouraging preschoolers to learn through play.’

The channel will be championing some of its top-rated UK programs in the new territory, including In the Night Garden, Charlie and Lola and Mister Maker.

The launch of CBeebies in Korea is an important one for the channel’s long-term growth strategy in Asia, says Whitehead. He says CBeebies is also looking to widen distribution and bolster its subscriber base in Japan, North Asia and South Asia.

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