South Korea - Country Commercial Guide
Entertainment and Media

This is a best prospect industry sector for this country. Includes a market overview and trade data.

Last published date: 2021-08-13

One of South Korea’s goals is to become the world’s leading exporter and importer of entertainment and media. Today, the Korean wave (Hallyu) has gained global popularity, seen everywhere from Korean TV shows and films on media service platforms to pop artists’ videos and games. The Korean government considers the entertainment and media industry as a key driver for the future national economy.

Thanks to abundant ICT infrastructure such as high-speed mobile connectivity and diverse purchasing power in entertainment, South Korea has become an ideal test bed for new entertainment technology and media. For example, Virtual Reality has been widely adopted from gaming to sports broadcasting and many Hollywood movies are launching their world premieres in Seoul.  

Film

ITA CODE: N/A

Overview

Over the past decade, South Korea’s status evolved to be a content powerhouse with popularity of “K-Wave” dramas, film, and music. “Parasite”, one of the notable examples of the globalization of K-film won the 2020 Oscar’s for best picture. In fact, this blended genre Korean movie became the first foreign language film to win the Oscar for best picture.   

The film industry in Korea has grown into one of the world’s most active markets through the development of multiplexes and the popularity of the movie-going culture. According to the Korea Film Council, in 2019, the Korean film market was estimated to be $5 billion reporting over 226 million moviegoers, surpassing the 200 million mark for the eighth year in a row. Overall, in 2019 South Korean consumers watched an average of about 4.37 films per capita, one of the highest numbers in the world compared to the U.S. average of 3.51 films according to data from IHS Markit. 

For 2020, COVID-19 substantially impacted the Korean film market.  The Korea Film Council (KOFIC) estimated that the total size of the Korean film market was down from approximately $5 billion to $4 billion. The number of moviegoers dropped by 74 percent from 226 million to 60 million and the average films per capita also dropped from 4.37 to 1.15 according the latest available data from the Korea Film Council.

Opportunities

One of the conventional ways to export film to Korea is partnering with local independent importers.  According to the 2018 Content Industry Statistics by the Korea Creative Content Agency, there are 50 local film buyers and distributors in Korea. Excluding the films handled by the US direct distributors such as Warner Bros, Walt Disney, UPI, and Sony Pictures, 90 percent of US films were released by local independent importers according to the Korea Box-Office Information System.  CJ Entertainment and Lotte Entertainment produce and distribute films and are also the largest importers of foreign films.  Additionally, JOYNCINEMA, NOORI pictures, Pop Entertainment, Mountain Pictures are other well-known local film importers.  Major film markets such as EFM, Cannes Film market and AFM provide an opportunity to build business connection with the local Korean film importers. 

As Over-the-top (OTT) services gain more popularity among Korean movie watcher, partnership with major/local OTT platforms can provide US content companies with access to local market.  Competition among local and foreign OTT platforms has intensified over the past few years and these platforms are stepping up their efforts to import more contents.  Netflix first entered the Korean market in 2016 and became the largest by far and fastest growing OTT service in Korea, accounting for half of the total market value.  Disney+ also plans to enter the Korean market soon.  The most active local OTT platforms are Wavve (co-operated by terrestrial broadcasters MBC, SBS, KBS and mobile carrier SK Telecom); TVING (operated by CJ); and Watcha. 

Film viewing via OTT) platforms took over cinema viewing and movie releases. Many movies which have had their theatrical releases postponed or canceled due to the pandemic were released on OTT platforms.  Industry expects that OTT will continue to surpass cinema viewing this year.

The popularity of OTT streaming platforms is changing the Korean film industry. These new services are opening new opportunities for film markets as accessing a wider range of content is more convenient and easier.

In terms of genre, the Hollywood-style action blockbusters are trending. In 2019, action movies including ‘Avengers: End Game’, ‘Spider-man: Far from Home’, and ‘Captain Marvel’ generated 25 percent of total box office followed by drama, comedy, and animation.

Moreover, niche genres are gaining in popularity in Korea. In the past, niche genres did not receive attention or time slots at the cinemas; however, thanks to the internet-based services opportunities for niche genres are increasing.  Korea is welcoming more diverse filmmakers, importers, and distributors into the film market.  There are growing examples of films that are by-passing the cinema and being released directly through VOD/OTT platforms, and are making a profit.  There are opportunities for U.S. content providers in both the traditional cinema path and via the new internet-based services.

Regulation and Rating

To enter the Korean film market without complications, foreign companies must understand a number of key regulations in the market.  The “Promotion of the Motion Pictures and Video Products Act” lays out the key measures governing the local film industry.   

  • Screen Quota:  In 1960, to protect the domestic film industry, the Korean government introduced the screen quota system.  This quota remains in effect and stipulates that each of the country’s screens must show domestic films for 73 days per year.   
  • Film Rating:  All films, videos and other motion picture must receive a rating from the Korean Media Rating Board (KMRB).  The KMBR is the public agency that provides age-based ratings. The ratings are determined with following criteria: Theme, Sex/Nudity, Violence, Language, Horror, Drugs, and Imitable Behavior.  Based on the 7 criteria, the Board rates films into 5 categories: All, PG-12, PG-15, R-18, and Restricted Rate.   

The Korea Communications Commission limits broadcast time for foreign films to 75 percent of all films for terrestrial television and 80 percent in cable and satellite television.  Also, foreign animation may not exceed 55 percent of all animation for terrestrial television and 70 percent in cable and satellite television. OTT/VOD platforms are not subject of these quotas.

In 2020, the Korean government reformed the “Telecommunication Business Act” to regulate OTT platforms in the market, requiring content providers to ensure local network stability. OTT platforms are now obligated to ensure a stable connection, to share contact information for customer care, and to report to local regulator in case of service failure.  Any OTT platforms that attract an average of more than one million users per day and account for more than one percent of the country’s internet traffic are subject to this regulation.   

Resources

Trade Shows

  • Busan International Film Festival (October, Busan)
  • The BIFF is the largest and the first international film festival in Korea.  In 2020, 192 films from 68 countries were screened.
  • Asian Content & Film Market (October, Busan)
  • Hosted by the BIFF office, the ACFM is the largest local film market and conference.  In 2019, the market featured more than 200 exhibition booths and 2,200 representatives from 56 countries.
  • Busan Contents Market (November, Busan)
  • First hosted in 2006, the BCM is the trading market for local video contents. The trade show also features conference and funding sessions.  In 2020, 433 representatives from 37 countries participated.
  • Jeonju International Film Festival (April, Jeonju):
  • The JIFF is one of the major film festivals in Korea mainly highlighting independent and short films.  In 2019, 262 films from 52 county were screened.
  • Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (July, Bucheon)
  • The BiFAN has established its identity as a fantastic-genre film festival.  In 2020, the festival attracted about 36,000 horror, thriller, fantasy, and animation film fans from both offline and online.

Trade Associations and Government

  • Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism
  • Korea Creative Content Agency
  • Korea Film Council
  • Korea Media Rating Board
  • Korea Copyright Commission
  • Korea Copyright Protection Agency
  • Copyright Protection Center
  • Korea Film Producers Association

Gaming

Overview

Game Industry Market Data: 2016-2020; CAGR

 

2016

2017

2018

2019

2020

CAGR

Total Market Size

9,383.8

11,620.4

12991.1

13369.2

14414.5

  11%

 

PC

4,029.8

4,014.9

4566.9

4125.2

4133.8

   1%

 

Mobile

3,729.6

5,490.9

6050.7

6643.7

7959.8

  21%

Console

226.3

330.5

480.5

596.2

735.3

  34%

Arcade

70.1

159.0

168.5

191.9

64.9

  -2%

Others

1,328.0

1,625.1

1724.5

1812.2

1520.7

  3%

Exchange Rate:

1 USD

1,161

1,131

1,100

1,165

1,180

 

Source: 2020 White Paper on Korean Game; Unit: $ millions.

In 2020, the size of the Korean game industry was estimated to be $14.4 billion and is considered one of top five largest gaming market worldwide, according to the 2020 White Paper on Korean Game published by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. Over the last five years, the Korean gaming industry recorded an average annual growth of 11 percent, and the industry is optimistic that this growth rate is sustainable for the next few years thanks to the increased accessibility of playing games through multiple platforms.

The penetration rate of gamers within the general population in Korea is among the highest in the world.  According to a survey by the Korea Creative Content Agency, more than 70 percent of Koreans between 10-65 years old play games on a regular basis. Thanks to the high-speed internet connection and a culture of internet cafés, Korea had earned its name in the global game industry with PC games.  Recently Korea has diversified its profile into mobile gaming. In 2019, more than 67 percent of Korean gamers used their mobile phones as their main gaming device.  Because of the COVID pandemic, more gamers played at home, causing many internet cafes to close.  This resulted in the growth of the local console market.

Market Demand

For the first time, in 2017 the industry generated more sales from mobile games than PC games.  As of 2020, mobile games were expected to account for 55 percent of the total market in Korea, an estimated $8 billion in revenue, with 21 percent growth from the previous year. PC games which accounted 29 percent of the market, generated an estimated revenue of $4.3 billion in 2020. Console games and arcade games accounted 5 percent and 0.5 percent respectively.

Most mobile games are released through app stores like Google Play Store, Apple App Store and ONEstore, a local app store which was established by Korea’s three mobile carriers (KT, SK Telecom and LG+). In addition, local portal operators such as Kakao and Naver also distributes mobile games through their own platforms. Many times, mobile games are serviced through local publishers.  These publishers provide funding for development, marketing, and operational resources. PC games are distributed by both local game publishers and global game distribution services like Steam and Epic. 

In terms of genre, massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) are leading the trend. In addition, Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA), simulation, strategy, puzzle, and board games are also popular genres in Korea.

Regulation and Rating

To enter the Korean game market without complications, foreign companies must understand a number of key regulations governing the market. Since the mid-2000s, the Korean government introduced the “Game Industry Promotion Act”, which implemented several measures and regulations on the gaming industry.  For example,

 

Permitted for use by all

Permitted for use by 12-year-old

Permitted for use by 15-year-old

Not permitted for use by juveniles

Mobile

Game Content Rating Board (GCRB)

Independent Rating Classification Business (IRCB)

 

PC

 

Console

 

Arcade

Game Rating and Administration Committee (GRAC)

 

While domestic games might be the preference for Korean gamers, U.S. developers can jump into trendy genres and seize opportunity in the Korean market. International Gaming companies have successfully developed certain titles within genres, like strategy and casual games where there has been limited supply from local brands.  Local brands have continued to focus on role playing games (RPGs). In order to be successful in the Korean market, it is important to comply with local regulations and invest in the localization process such as translating games and content into Korean.

Resources

Trade Shows

  • G-Star (November, Busan):
  • Organized by KOTRA, a trade promotion organization operated by the South Korea government, G-Star is the largest trade show for game industry in Korea. Major Korean game developers as well as international companies participate in this event.
  • Play X4 (May, Goyang)
  • Hosted by the Gyeonggi Provincial government, Play X4 is an exhibition focusing on small and medium developers in the Korean game industry.

Trade Associations and Government

  • Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism
  • Ministry of Gender Equality and Family
  • Game Rating and Administration Committee

Rating Guide

  • Korea Creative Content Agency
  • Korea Association of Game Industry

Music

Overview

South Korea is the sixth largest music market in the world and is the second largest market in Asia after Japan according to the IFPI Global Music Report 2021.  In 2020, the total value of the Korean music market was estimated to be $6 billion, representing a growth of 8.9 percent over the previous year according to the recent industry report by the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA), a public agency that oversees the promotion of the Korean content.  Despite the cancellation or postponement of live music events in 2020, K-pop is expected to continue to grow in popularity thanks to the global success of the bands like BTS and Blackpink. 

Just like other countries, the Korean music market is rapidly shifting from the sales of physical copies to digital streaming and download services. According to the KOCCA, in 2020 more than 63 percent of Korean listeners answered that they paid for digital services. In contrast, only 20 percent responded that they purchased physical copies during the past year.  The competition among music platforms is expected to heat up as Spotify, the world’s largest music streaming platform recently entered the Korean market in March 2021.

In South Korea, there are four organizations responsible for collecting license and royalty payments for music rightsholders. Through the reciprocal licensing agreements between the local copyright trust organization and overseas trust management organizations, any music played or performed in South Korea becomes a subject of monetary compensation.

In support of Korea’s ever-growing popularity of “K-pop”, the government continues to strengthen its IP protection regime.  Ever since its WTO membership in the year 1995, South Korea has observed the WTO TRIPs agreement and actively participates in multilateral discussions on copyrights and other IP issues. Also, South Korea is a signatory to the following international IP agreements: the Bern Convention, the Universal Copyright Convention, the Geneva Convention, the Rome Convention, the Brussels Convention, the Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances, and the World Intellectual Property Organization treaty. Industry assessed the South Korea authorities to be generally effective in monitoring and enforcing copyright infringements.

Opportunities

By Music Genre

In 2020, ballad, dance, R&B and hip-hop were the main trending genres in Korea.  A new trend, trot is growing in popularity.  Trot, known for its upbeat tempo, repetitive rhythm, and vocal inflection, used to be ridiculed as music for older people, is making a comeback thanks to the popularity of TV audition shows. 

In terms of the language, 84 percent of Korean listeners responded that they mostly prefer to listen to songs recorded in Korean followed by English (12 percent) and Japanese (2 percent).  Songs recorded in English were generally preferred by the younger generation.

By Medium of Listening

Koreans use smartphones as their main music player.  According to the 2020 Music Industry White Paper by the KOCCA, 66 percent of Korean listeners responded that they used mobile devices as the primary medium to listen to music over TV, computer, and radio.  Digital music services are further divided into video streaming platforms and music streaming/download platforms. As of 2020, Kakao’s Melon had 35 percent of the market share of Korean digital music platform, representing the largest market share.  Kakao is a Korean messenger app & entertainment company. Followed by YouTube & YouTube Music (30 percent), Genie (11 percent) and FLO (8 percent).  Other digital music platforms in Korea include Naver VIBE, Bugs, Apple Music, and Spotify.

By Distribution Channel

Global Publishes such as Warner Music, Universal Music, and Sony Music Entertainment distributed most of American music directly to the local music platforms.  Another option for overseas artists and publishers is partnering with local publishers.  Major local publishers including Kakao M (Melon), KT Music (Genie), and NHN Bugs (Bugs) operate their own music streaming platforms.  These publishers provide a company with access to more local listeners and promotional resources.  In addition, there are many mid-size local publishers in the Korean market.  To access local music platforms, overseas artists, agencies, and publishers will often enter a multi-year contract with local publishers.

Resources

Trade Associations and Government

  • Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism
  • Korea Creative Content Agency
  • Korea Copyright Commission
  • Korea Copyright Protection Agency
  • Copyright Protection Center
  • Korea Music Copyright Association
  • Recording Industry Association of Korea
  • The Korean Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers
  • Federation of Korean Music Performers

Contact

Mr. Chan Hyuk Kim
Commercial Specialist
U.S. Commercial Service, Korea
U.S. Embassy Seoul
188, Sejong-daero, Jongno-gu
Seoul 03141, Korea
Tel: 82-2-397-4466
Chanhyuk.kim@trade.gov
https://www.trade.gov/south-korea