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Generalist Channels: Ingrained into Our Lives

At some point, more and more Korean people will watch generalist channels as well as the more mainstream channels of KBS, SBS, and MBC. The viewer ratings of the main news also re­ect this. 5.5% for Newsroom of JTBC, 11.8% for KBS, 3.8 % for SBS and 3.1% for MBC respectively. The gap between terrestrial channels and generalist channels has almost disappeared not only in the drama ratings but also in the news ratings. Accordingly, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) will now look into the past, present, and the challenges of generalist channels that are getting attention through their fresh and diverse contents.

What Is a Generalist Channel?

Definition and Introduction to Generalist Channels

The generalist channel is a channel that can broadcast all genres that are currently broadcasted by terrestrial channels such as coverage, culture, entertainment, and drama. Strictly speaking, terrestrial channels are also generalist channels, but usually in everyday life, generalist channels indicate four channels, JTBC, Channel A, TV Chosun, and MBN excluding terrestrial channels. Generalist channels were introduced with the revision of the so-called Media Law. In 2009, an amendment to media-related laws, such as the Broadcasting Act, an act on the Guarantee of Freedom and Functions of Newspapers, as well as the Internet Multimedia Broadcast Services Act were passed. This allowed the cross-ownership of newspapers and broadcasters and allowed them to take their own stakes in broadcasting ­rms up to 30%. The media law was even brought to the Constitutional Court due to some controversial points in the legislative process. It was controversial, however, because the Constitutional Court ruled that the law is in effect, although the voting process was illegal. After that, the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) selected four channels which are JTBC, Channel A, TV Chosun, and MBN through the approval process.

Feature of Generalist Channels

Households should subscribe to the paid service to watch the generalist channels because the channel is sent out only through cable TV, IPTV (Internet Protocol Television), or satellite TV. Whereas typical cable TV can only broadcast one genre such as entertainment for tvN, and coverage for YTN, generalist channels can broadcast all genres. Generalist channels are similar to terrestrial channels, but there are many differences between them. Unlike terrestrial channels, where interspersed advertisements are limited, generalist channels can insert interspersed advertisements in their own way. So, viewers can ­nd phrases like “To be continued in 60 seconds” in generalist channels’ television programs. The duty rate of public service announcement broadcasting for generalist channels is 0.02% which is lower than 0.5% of terrestrial channels. Overall regulations on advertisements are more lax than terrestrial channels. In addition, terrestrial channels have a 19-hour broadcasting limit, but the generalist channels can broadcast 24 hours a day.

Past and Present of Generalist Channels

Past: Low Awareness and Lack of Contents

In 2012, at the beginning of broadcasting station, all four broadcasting companies were given golden channel numbers around the late 10s, which is close to the terrestrial channels and home shopping channels. But due to low awareness, they even had difficulty exceeding 1% viewer ratings. Low ratings led to low advertising costs, which has been a direct factor of falling sales. As a result, the three companies, excluding JTBC, aired restricted genres such as coverage to reduce production costs and target the middleaged who directly affect ratings. On the planning stage, all four companies had planned to share 20% of reporting programs, but in fact, the three companies, excluding JTBC, shared 30% to 50% of the reporting programs, showing a signi­cant focus on coverage. Also, all companies showed 40-50% rerun rates. In content investments including self-production, outsourcing production and program purchases, four companies invested only 50% of their original investment plans so that they received a correction order from the KCC. Although some predicted a pessimistic future that the appearance of the generalist channels will lead to a decline in quality in the overall broadcasting standards, others said that it was just a start of the channel and people should wait and see how they would develop.

Growth of Generalist Channel

Advancements in IPTV, VOD (Video on Demand) and online streaming services such as Netflix have completely changed the media watching environment. Unlike TV that is ­xed on one channel, young people who use these services mainly choose single content and consider the quality and fun of the contents themselves. Taking account of this, broadcasting companies also needed to develop innovative contents. JTBC is one good example. JTBC has invested in dramas and entertainment. Consequently, adventurous and refreshing contents such as the drama Secret Affairs, and the entertainment show Abnormal Summit and Witch Hunt could gather young viewers. In contrast, other three companies mainly have focused on news and issue talk shows, targeting the middle-aged who guarantee ratings. Kangjeockdeul of TV Chosun and Quadonanma of Channel A are one of those successful cases. Instead of emphasizing the spirit of journalism such as objectivity and justice as terrestrial channels’ show, the programs invite experts and do not hesitate to use provocative words in the conversation. In this private talk journalism, panels do not control their feelings, but rather develop a consensus through feelings and generalize their opinions, which is a novel format that did not exist before. This strategy has effectively worked on people of the ages of 50s and 60s whose main media is still TV and who mainly have led to an increase of viewer ratings.

The Present: Influential as Terrestrial Channels

According to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism (MCST), in share by media group of news consuming concentration, generalist channels topped the list by 32.5%, followed by terrestrial channels by 24.5%, cable news channels by 18.5%. As the media watching platform moves from TV to mobile and Internet, the perception that terrestrial channels are the mainstream is diminished and the boundaries between terrestrial and generalist channels have almost disappeared. Not only ratings, but also reliability and preference of generalist channels outstripped terrestrial channels. JTBC ranked top for two straight quarters in the broadcasting reliability survey conducted by KBS in June 2019. Moreover, content that overwhelms terrestrial channels in the rating and popularity is increasing. For example, TV Chosun’s audition program Miss Trot recorded the highest ratings among its rival programs that are aired at the same time. The drama Sky Castle of JTBC, which was aired in the first half of 2019, showed a clear change in the media environment, topping the ratings as well as being ranked ­rst in the list of popular dramas. In response, terrestrial channels are breaking the 9 p.m. news and 10 p.m. drama formula and have started to change by organizing “Friday-Saturday dramas” at 9 p.m. to secure viewers.

Challenges to Overcome

Eight years have passed since their start and generalist channels have achieved amazing accomplishment that is enough to threaten terrestrial channels. There are, however, several challenges remaining.

Dispute on Biased View

From the beginning, the generalist channels have been criticized for their biased view toward certain political tendencies. In April, MBN aired news with subtitles describing President Moon Jae-in as the President of North Korea and they received a sanction from KCC. Besides, in the first half of 2019, TV Chosun received seven administrative guidances for violating objectivity and two for violating dialogue and discussion programs clauses. The generalist channels mostly violate objectivity clauses and fail to improve their image of unfair broadcasting. Although the perception of the generalist channels is changing positively through successful entertainment programs, dramas, and so on, its reporting style and bias are still being criticized. It is necessary to be a meaningful channel that all viewers can enjoy watching.

Pursuing Diverse Contents

Overall, terrestrial channels are indeed in downturn and generalist channels are moving upward, but there is a huge gap among the generalist channels. In 2018, JTBC made business profits of 13 billion won, but other generalist channels could not avoid operating loss. TV Chosun, Channel A, MBN made loss of each one billion won, 7.9 billion won and 3.6 billion won respectively. This is because viewers are not looking at one channel but focusing on the content itself. Unlike JTBC’s constant attempts toward various entertainment shows and dramas as well as reporting, the other channels are less diverse in the number of entertainment shows and dramas but just focus on maintaining the existing successful talk shows or programs. For instance, Channel A did not air dramas for six years but just started showing a drama recently. Attracting all age groups through developing diverse contents is necessary for the growth of these channels.

Concerns and criticisms from the beginning seems to be melting away and the generalist channels are certainly on the rise. But it is not at the perfect stage yet and there are still many problems to solve. Generalist channels should be faithful to achieve the original goal of differentiating between each channel. That will provide a wide range of choices to viewers and promote diversity in a media environment.

백주희  vb852@naver.com

<저작권자 © THE SUNGKYUN TIMES, 무단 전재 및 재배포 금지>

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