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[Editorial] Supporting content industry

Korean video content industry at a crossroads despite global expansion

Nov. 16, 2023 - 05:30 By Korea Herald

South Korea’s video content market is thriving, at least in the video streaming service market, where streaming giants like Netflix continue to produce and distribute globally acclaimed Korean productions such as “Squid Game.”

But the boom has also led to unintended developments, including the monopolization of content rights by global streaming firms and deepening financial strains on local platforms, broadcasters and production houses.

To find a breakthrough, the government on Tuesday unveiled an ambitious plan to bolster and expand the country’s video content industry at a critical juncture. Under the plan led by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the government will steer more resources to expand the size value of the country’s video content industry to 40 trillion won ($30.7 billion) by 2027, while creating a fund worth 1 trillion won by 2028 to help the industry put out globally competitive content.

“Korea’s video content industry has a lot of potential, and with a little more support, it can better showcase its skills on the international stage,” Culture Minister Yu In-chon said at a press briefing in Seoul on Tuesday.

“We have prepared the policy rather quickly because we felt that the video content industry has too many urgent issues and the problems are serious,” Yu said.

As the Culture Ministry has set the target for the industry’s value at 40 trillion won and exports at $1.8 billion by 2027, the sector should pull off an annual increase of 6.1 percent and 11.9 percent, respectively, given that the industry size was 28 trillion won and exports stood at $920 million in 2021.

The ministry said it aims to create at least five global hits that are recognized by global industry awards, such as the Emmys and Oscars, within the next five years.

For this, the ministry will establish a new civilian-government fund worth a total of 1 trillion won between 2024 and 2028 to invest in the production of so-called “killer content” and intellectual property with high potential for global success. The fund will focus on big-budget projects unlike the government’s existing venture capital fund for small content creators.

Another stimulus measure involves tax benefits. From next year, the government is poised to offer up to 30 percent tax deduction for video content production. The ministry said it was considering a plan in which the cost of video content planning will also qualify for tax incentives.

As a growing number of Korean households subscribe to video streaming services and media companies jack up the prices of their streaming services in what some have dubbed “streamflation,” the ministry is considering offering income tax deductions for subscription fees for local services.

The ministry’s announcement comes at a time when the country’s TV dramas and films continue to gain popularity globally through streaming platforms led by Netflix. But critics point out the problems with the current practice in which global streaming companies tend to retain full content rights in return for providing production costs.

To address the intellectual property issue, the ministry said it will implement measures to encourage Korean content producers to secure their content rights and produce more income with their successful content.

The blueprint for expanding the video content industry is a step forward for content producers, many of whom are pushed to embrace conventional and formulaic themes that cater to streaming viewers’ preferences. It is also a positive development for local streaming platforms and other players in the video content industry.

But the government’s approach should not be a unilateral effort. Officials should keep talking with industry stakeholders ranging from creators and producers to streaming platforms to fine-tune growth-oriented policies and maintain transparency in allocating the funds. After all, setting an artificial top-down target, such as producing five global hits in five years, has limitations as it could result in hurried or misguided investment decisions and complicate the issues facing the country’s video content industry.