SK Telecom ups ante in media blitz

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SEOUL -- SK Telecom, Korea's largest mobile operator, is stepping up its move into the media business, announcing forays into IPTV, broadband Internet and American-style theme parks.

SKT affiliate iHQ -- Korea's leading talent management company, with wide-ranging division in movie production, distribution, cable TV and mobile gaming -- said Wednesday that it will work with MGM to build a theme park in Korea, slated to open in 2011.

The size of iHQ's investment was not revealed, but the company said it has signed an agreement with MSC Korea, the local company working with MGM to build a park in the southern port city of Busan.

Universal Studios and Paramount Studios also have announced plans to build theme parks in Korea, with Paramount eyeing a 2009 opening in the northwest city of Incheon and Universal aiming for a 2012 opening in the Seoul area. Disney also is rumored to be looking for a possible Korea location.

Meanwhile, SK Telecom also stepped up its plans to enter the IPTV and broadband industries.

A consortium led by American International Group and private equity fund Newbridge Capital on Wednesday made SK Telecom the preferred bidder for the consortium's 38.9% stake in Hanarotelecom, Korea's No. 2 broadband provider and leading online television company.

Hanarotelecom is valued at about 1 trillion won ($1.1 billion), with more than 700,000 subscribers to its HanaTV service.

IPTV is still technically illegal in Korea (Hanarotelecom's Hana TV is currently restricted to VOD service only), but the government is revising media regulations to allow the service.

With the Korean mobile market saturated, telecoms have been increasingly looking to media and content for future growth.

SKT bought iHQ, Korea's largest talent management company, in March 2005, and through iHQ it also owns a controlling share of production-distribution house Chungeorahm Film and the cable TV network YTN Media.

SKT also owns music label Seoul Records, online game developer Ntreev Soft, and is Korea's leading provider of online music services.
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