The recent performance of South Korean films at the box office has been dismal, with most movies released failing to reach even half of their break-even points, except for The Night Owl which was released last November. The only film to have attracted over a million viewers this year is The Point Men, starring Hwang Jung Min and Hyun Bin, which was released in January. This stands in stark contrast to Netflix original movies Jung_E and Kill Boksoon, which topped the global streaming charts despite being in a non-English language during the same period.
The Pandemic and OTT Platforms
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, watching movies at the cinema was considered an affordable and hassle-free leisure activity. However, with the rise of OTT (over-the-top) platforms like Netflix during the pandemic, consumer preferences have shifted, placing South Korean cinema in a vulnerable position.
Movie ticket prices have also increased to around 15,000 won (about $13) on weekends as a temporary measure to compensate for the reduced audience and increased losses, making it more expensive to watch a single movie at the theater than to subscribe to a streaming service platform for a month. A film industry insider said, “That’s probably why audiences nowadays are much more selective when choosing theater movies compared to when they watch content on streaming service platforms.”
Experts argue that to overcome this crisis, the film industry must adapt to the changes brought by OTT and establish a new paradigm accordingly.
The Hold Back: South Korean Film Industry’s Protective Measure in Jeopardy
For years, South Korean cinema had a protective measure in place to ensure a waiting period of around 10 weeks between a film’s theater debut and its online release. However, this measure is now under threat as movies are becoming available on streaming services or IPTV platforms just 4 to 8 weeks after their release. To make matters worse, Coupang Play plans to release movies without any holdbacks, offering a free streaming service called Coupang Cinema. This move has only heightened the anxiety among filmmakers who fear the potential negative impact on box office sales.
Meanwhile, the Korean Film Council has been holding meetings with industry stakeholders, including production and distribution companies and directors, since March to explore solutions for the struggling film industry. They are currently preparing to establish a consultative body called the “Korean Film Industry Crisis Recovery Consultative Group” to tackle these issues, with the aim of launching it by early June at the latest.