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CJ Entertainment, the largest film and entertainment companies in Korea, has from its inception been one of the most internationally minded film companies in Korea. Still, when CJ hired David Shin, a career television executive, late last year, it surprised many. Born in Seoul, raised in the U.S., and with more than a decade of experience all over Asia, Shin is in keeping with the company’s international focus. David Shin talked to The Hollywood Reporter’s Korea correspondent Mark Russell about CJ Entertainment’s international plans in Asia and around the world.
The Hollywood Reporter: CJ Entertainment was your first time working in a Korean company, plus you arrived after many years in Asian television. How was the transition?
David Shin: Honestly, it is about what I expected. I’ve done business all over Asia, in Japan twice, and I see lots of similarities with corporate cultures with Japan, particularly more than with Southeast Asia. That said, Korean companies try to be a lot more innovative. Japan can still be a little stodgy. But here people really are trying to push boundaries — sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully. One happy thing I’ve found is a strong willingness by Korean filmmakers and studios to really look at overseas opportunities. But we are fairly vertically integrated, with media assets in movies, television, Internet. And within film, we have exhibition, distribution, investment, etc. There are few companies like us. Still, for international, we need to develop our development and production expertise. We need more international partners, and find areas we can add value.
THR: How are those international plans going these days?
Shin: Well, each country has different priorities. The U.S. in very competitive and film is inherently risky, so if you go there without domestic networks it is even more risky. Therefore we are trying to bring our intellectual property to US filmmakers, with remakes and things like that where there is strong interest. China is interesting. It is the fastest growing territory, but still not entirely open. There partnerships and “guanxi” is so important. That’s why our MOUs with the China Film Group are quite important. I think we’ll end up doing about two projects a year together and concentrating on our other CJ businesses in China. The other big market for us is Japan. Japan represents about 80% of our film exports and it is still interested in Korean content (despite the bubble bursting there last year). It is the No. 2 film market in the world. All those metrics make it quite attractive to us.
THR: What’s been the biggest change you’ve seen since coming to Asia?
Shin: Every time I go to China, it seems to change every day. Back in the ’90s, although the economic reforms to a more market-oriented economy were well under way, China was still viewed by many foreigners as a manufacturer of low-cost products. Now, though, there are so many entrepreneurs. With China entering the WTO and the Beijing Olympics coming, it’s like a big coming-out party.
THR: Domestically, many in the Korean film industry think that the last year was terrible. How do you see Korea’s domestic market?
Shin: Not just us, the entire Korean film industry had trouble in the last year. The Korean film industry relies over the boxoffice for 70%-80% of its revenue, which is inherently risky. Growing alternative windows, beyond theatrical, including international, is of paramount importance. When I started at ITC Films, I noticed how fully they exploited their catalog and library. It was a big chunk of its value. In Korea, I think (the lack of catalog revenue) is partly just the newness of this business, its recent coming of age. We have a whole team looking into our options. IPTV is hot, and companies like KT and Hanaro are pursuing that technology aggressively. For piracy, we need to do more. That cracking down on piracy is just one side of the issue. It’s defense. But we also need the other side, offense. We need the pricing and access that will make it easy for consumers to use our product legitimately. So far, many, especially in Hollywood, have been very defensive. But that is starting to change rapidly.
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