China’s ban shifting hallyu to Southeast Asia

hallyu-logoKim Jae-heun – The Korea Times

China’s recent restrictions on K-pop and K-dramas are shifting the Korean wave, or hallyu, to Southeast Asia, officials said Thursday.

China has cancelled a series of concerts and the airing of Korean TV dramas and shows after the Korean government decided to deploy a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery here.

Many entertainment industry officials said THAAD provided China with “a perfect excuse” to rein in hallyu.

Beijing has long sought to check the growing popularity of Korean cultural content even before the THAAD issue, they said.

“China is blocking hallyu not only because of THAAD. I think it’s just an excuse,” said Yoon, an official who runs an entertainment company here. He declined to disclose his full-name.

He said China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) has sought to curb further rises in the popularity of hallyu as too many Korean dramas were being aired in prime time there.

Yoon, who has been working in the entertainment industry for over 20 years, said that hallyu was booming from late 2012 to early 2013 and peaked when the TV series “My Love from the Star” hit the small screen.

China started hiring top-notch Korean producers and imported knowhow on how to make popular TV content from 2014 to 2015.

At the time, President Park Geun-hye was seen sitting in the front row with her counterpart Xi Jinping at a Chinese military parade in 2015.

“China’s state agency could not do much about it then; but the THAAD dispute broke out and this became the perfect excuse,” Yoon said.

China has now become a market forbidden to the Korean entertainment industry.

Entertainment content from the U.S. and Europe, as well as imported manpower from the two major continents, are rapidly replacing those from Korea.

“China scouted star producer Kim Young-hee of “I Am a Singer” to make a TV show by investing some 30 billion won ($25.97 million), or 1.5 billion won per episode. That has still not been aired,” Yoon said. “I heard China’s CCTV has already fixed its drama series schedule for the next 10 years, so Koreans are trying to go for online channels such as Soho or Baidu, but they are also controlled by the government there”.

Popular Korean soprano Jo Sumi’s concert in China was recently cancelled for no reason.

“This was scheduled two years ago, and so speaks volumes about what China is doing,” he added.

Indonesia, Vietnam emerging markets

With China losing its attractiveness for Korean producers and other entertainment industry officials, Southeast Asia is emerging as a future destination especially for K-drama and K-pop.

Japan and China were long-time lucrative markets for hallyu, but historic disputes and diplomatic conflicts have long hindered the further success of cultural content exports, making it insecure for the entertainment business.

Although the hallyu market in ASEAN countries is small, the increasing popularity of Korean entertainment content and the growing younger population is attracting entrepreneurs to start businesses there.

“More than half of the Vietnamese population is in their 20s and 30s. The younger generation is sensitive to trends and we see a huge potential for Korean content development over the next 20 to 30 years there. Vietnamese people love romantic Korean TV dramas,” Yoon said.

Indonesia has the world’ fourth largest population and its younger generation is larger. According to a report by Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA), Indonesia is the fastest growing market for hallyu content with a projected annual growth rate of 11.8 percent up to 2019. It is also the biggest market in Southeast Asia.

Vietnam is the second fastest growing hallyu market with a 6.3 percent growth rate, but its market size is the smallest among six ASEAN countries, including Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore.

However, market size and the growing popularity of K-pop and K-drama are not the only factors to consider when actually starting a business, an entertainment expert said.

Geong Seong-han, CEO of Korean entertainment company ShowBT, said technical skills there are still underdeveloped and the work process is rather slow while a film needs to be shot within a month on average to meet the break-even point.

“The Vietnamese would agree to start any hallyu business, but you have to consider some of them do not work out as well as planned,” said Geong. “There are is a lot of fraud too as the country has not yet adopted a transparent institution to get rid of corruption.”

Geong sees the Japanese market as a double-edged sword as it has a high national income and people are very loyal to celebrities, but at the same time, anti-Korean sentiment could rise at anytime.

“Recent musicals starring old K-pop stars like TVXQ have all made handsome money there. I also remember some 1,000 Japanese fans gathered at the third anniversary of the late actor Park Yong-ha’s death in Korea, four years ago. Once you have Japanese fandom, they never leave,” said Geong.

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