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Wed, Jul 23rd - 12:10PM

Television Obsolete in South Korea
South Koreans are rebels without a TV. Koreans prefer to use their computers and laptops to watch user-generated content and can see programming on his mobile phone. In South Korea peer-to-peer video services have exploded.

The laptop is the single most popular entertainment gateway in South Korea. The Internet is the distribution platform of choice and the content at their fingertips is a dizzying array of pirated TV shows and movies. Paying a small subscription fee to an Internet service allows users to download thousands of movies, including Hollywood films not yet released in North America.

American TV shows such as “American Idol,” complete with Korean subtitles, are available less than 24 hours after airing. Lax enforcement of copyright laws and South Korea’s high broadband penetration rate have helped fuel the popularity of these services.

“So many people do this that I’m not scared of getting caught. Everyone else thinks the same thing, too,” says one university student.

User-generated content sites such as “ipop” (www.ipop.co.kr) have clubs where users can pay by the download or pony up monthly subscription fees of about 10,000 won to 20,000 won ($11 to $22) that will let them tap into a huge library of U.S., Japanese, Chinese and Korean TV programming and movies.

“I like to download stuff because I don’t have to wait to watch something” says another university student.

Young professionals with little time to spare and students with an abundance of time to search for material are the main clients for these services — making cable TV and TV sets obsolete.

The clubs often obtain content from Koreans living abroad who upload movies. They also upload TV programming within hours after it airs and translate it. The clubs have helped to make shows such as “Prison Break” and “Ugly Betty” hits first among Internet users. Cable companies later picked up local broadcasting rights. South Korea this year stepped up penalties for those who violate copyright laws by downloading pirated material, but that has had almost no effect.

South Korea’s biggest daily newspaper, the Chosun Ilbo, said in a survey in 2007 that the average movie fan watches about two movies a month in theaters and about three new releases a month via illegal downloads.

Major entertainment companies have tried to get into the act by starting up services for legal downloads. Hanarotelecom, the country’s No. 2 broadband provider, is offering a subscription service where users can legally download programming to their mobile phones. Media specialists, however, only see the pirating trend getting stronger. More Koreans are used to finding their programming over the Internet and are aided by even faster download speeds to their laptops and mobile phones.

“Even if you are watching a computer or mobile phone, you still say in Korean that you are watching television,” said Yoon Tae-jin, associate dean of Yonsei University’s Graduate School of Communication and Art. Yoon said young Koreans want flexibility in time and space. Downloading entertainment allows users to watch programming at a time they feel appropriate and handheld devices allow them to watch it wherever they please. “More and more people will forget about the television set and regard the Internet as the gateway for so many types of programming and content,” Yoon said.

A spokeswoman for one of South Korea’s biggest TV makers, LG Electronics, said the TV needs to evolve into a device that can tap into computer networks and cable providers need to provide instant gratification for a smaller profit if they expect to survive. “The line between TV and PC is being blurred. Today’s consumers no longer care about the conventional definition of a gadget. They just want one that fits their lifestyle,” said Judy Pae of LG.

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