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최종편집 : 2019.12.10 화 20:28
NewsInternational Desk
What About Our Own Programs?
Kim Kyu-hyun  |  moderato92@naver.com
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승인 2012.05.30  20:34:19
트위터 페이스북 미투데이 요즘 네이버 구글 msn

    Project Runway Korea, The Voice of Korea, Quiz 1 VS 100, Korea’s Got Talent, Dancing with the Stars, Love Switch... Most of you have probably seen or heard of at least one of these television programs. These programs attract a lot of attention from viewers, and in the case of The Voice of Korea, the show was estimated to have over 1 million viewers by the 2nd episode. However, of the programs mentioned so far, none were originally made in Korea.


   Many of the television shows we know of were started in other countries, but we are able to copy these shows by buying what is called the program ‘format’. A ‘television format' is defined as ‘the overall concept, premise and branding of a copyrighted television program’. Buying a television format means to buy the rights to the format. Normally, the formats that are imported are contracted for a length of 6 months to 1 year. The cost of importing a format is from 2 to 5 million won per episode. In 2007 the international market for television formats was worth over 3 billion won, and is currently estimated to be around 4 billion won. This active trading of television formats is significant in that ideas and knowledge are being commercialized and treated as a product.

What’s so attractive about foreign formats?

   Since the programs that are imported have already proven to be popular in their home countries, there is a high possibility that they will be well-liked in other countries as well, and that is usually the case. Viewers are easily able to get in touch with overseas programs that are popular, through the internet or cable television. Therefore, many people are already familiar with the format of a program by the time it comes into their own country, which makes it easier for viewers to understand and accept the program. An example could be Love Switch, which placed 1st in ratings for 8 weeks, among cable programs which were running at the same time. Also, Top Model Korea has constantly had high ratings and is currently in its 4th season.


   The total sum of formats that have been imported add up to around 20 programs, and the numbers are increasing due to the fact that these programs can reduce costs and save time. When broadcasting companies bring in a format, they are usually given what is called a ‘format bible’ from the original producers, which is a very specific guideline on how to make the program. The bible includes information about the size of the production crew, the role of cast members, and even what screen and sound effects are needed for each situation, so that the program can be as similar to the original format as possible. Not only that, but it also notifies producers of expected viewers, what computer graphics are needed when editing certain scenes, and what time would be most suitable to air the program. In some cases, the company that signs a contract with the importing broadcasting company sends one of their own producers to oversee the making of the program. Therefore, producers are able to receive very much guidance when importing a program format.

   It has become easier for programs to be produced in the same form as the original, because of the existence of multinational businesses that supply formats. However, some viewers think of this trend as nothing more than copying the programs of other countries. If we continue to concentrate on depending on the formats of others, efforts put in making our own programs could diminish. This definitely should not happen, since Korea is more than capable of creating fun and fresh programs. Among our many television programs, We’re Married was sold to Turkey, Challenge Golden Bell, to Vietnam, and Rollercoaster to China. These programs are proof that our country’s producers are capable of making entertaining programs, but when looking at the number of foreign formats that are being brought in, worrying about the slowing down of our own creations does not seem to be a stretch.

The need for localization

   Of course, from a producer’s point of view, ratings are of the utmost importance, so it is understandable that they would want to bring in popular and reliable formats rather than take a risk creating a whole new program. However, broadcasting companies should take into consideration their long-term competitiveness. Many experts point out that we should not take in foreign formats exactly as they are, but that we should analyze why they were so successful and localize it so that it fits our viewers. If we put efforts into localizing foreign programs, we could end up with our own version of the program, distinctive from those of other countries.

   Recently, audiences are responding to programs that have modified the original version. An appropriate example would be Sunjeong-nyeo (The Girl Who Ranks), which is originally from Ranking the Stars, a section of the Japanese television program, London Hearts. This program is a variety talk show, in which each episode, 10 women who are single, rank each other about their images. Producers who brought this format to Korea kept the basic concept, clothes, and set, but when it came to the details, they applied the characteristics of Korea’s entertainment programs.  

…but HOW?

   Broadcasting companies can also localize programs by changing the title. For instance, the title of Change the Mom is originally Wife Swap. However, this title could be misunderstood as ‘exchange your current wife for somebody else’ and has a negative connotation. The production team took into consideration Korea’s family environment, in which the notion of ‘mother’ is considered more important than ‘wife’. They also decided to put more emphasis on the mother- child relationship rather than that of couples, because they thought it to be more culturally acceptable. In the case of Neverland, which comes from Belgium, the production team omitted an episode in which the characters play a prank with the ashes of someone who passed away. It was highly likely that Koreans would find this scene offensive rather than entertaining.

   QTV’s production team leader Lee Moon-hyuk stated, “Format production is very similar to the act of translating.” This suggests that when importing a program format, the overall outline should be maintained while adjusting the small parts so that the program is adequate for that specific country, just like when translating something into another language. According to a thesis presentation given by the Korea Association for Journalism & Communication Studies, the act of bringing in a standardized program format and localizing it according to a country’s distinctive characteristics and sentiments, could really open up possibilities of multiculturalism.

   The competition in Korea’s broadcasting field is very intense, and this sort of environment encourages producers to come up with some very creative ideas. We already have enough foreign formats coming into our country, but what we really need is a system that will protect our formats and open up a way for them to be exported to other countries. Experts call this a ‘format library’, which is basically an organized system for selling our program formats abroad. In order for this sort of system to be set up, the government, along with content development businesses will need to actively cooperate with each other. 

   There is no doubt that popular programs such as Project Runway Korea, or the recent The Voice of Korea are very entertaining. Even so, we shouldn’t get too comfortable taking in foreign formats when we could possibly be making even more interesting programs on our own. The government and related business sectors should not hesitate to support our producers and aid them in exporting our country’s program formats.

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