Bucheon: South Korean Filmmakers Voice Concerns Over Conglomerates' Market Power


"It is imperative to push forth anti-monopoly laws like the 1948 Paramount Decree in Hollywood, which allowed smaller films to flourish."

At a time when Hollywood giants are looking to get bigger, South Korean filmmakers, researchers and academics gathered at the 21st Bucheon International Film Festival (BiFan) on Sunday to discuss the negative impact of the market power of vertically integrated homegrown conglomerates in their country.

CJ Group, for example, owns both the country's largest film investor-distributor (CJ Entertainment) and exhibitor (CJ CGV). CJ CGV has dominated about half of the South Korean box-office market share since 2013 (a total of 48.7 percent in 2017), according to the Korean Film Council, a state body for researching and promoting local cinema.

A panel discussion on the topic was co-presented by the Korean Council of Cineastes for Cultural Diversity and Monopoly Regulation (aka Korean Cineastes Council for Anti-Monopoly), which launched in November with 138 members in light of growing concerns over the matter.

"The exhibition business is suffering greatly due to the vertical [integration] of the top three distributors — CJ, Lotte and Megabox — which dominate 93 percent of the market," said Park Kyung-Sin, law professor at Korea University.

Jeong In-seon, a visiting researcher at Korean Film Council, pointed out how advance online ticket reservations for smaller films do not begin well ahead of their theatrical releases in spite of regulations advising exhibitors to do so. "This hurts the way in which theaters are secured for movies that aren't handled by the top six distributors and negatively affects ticket sales," she said. "Exhibitors are also required to guarantee screening periods of at least seven consecutive days, but small films are often given odd screening times like 1 a.m. Perhaps more important than designating periods is guaranteeing sound screening hours."

Lee Joon-dong, vice chairman of the Korean Film Council, said the monopoly issue cannot be resolved without structural regulation of the vertically integrated conglomerates. "In other words, this means taking the necessary legal steps. The Korean Film Council and local film industry need to be more proactive for this to happen."

Choi Yong-bae, director of the festival, attended the debate as a member of the audience. Choi said that the Korean Film Council needs to reach out to filmmakers about the issue.

Hong Myung Su, professor of law at Myongji University, stated the importance of taking a cue from Hollywood's famous 1948 Paramount anti-monopoly decree, which stopped major studios from owning large cinema chains. "I believe a similar law is realistically possible in South Korea," he said.

Park also voiced the same view in a subsequent interview with THR, emphasizing that the current monopoly is more severe than it was in 1930s to '40s Hollywood. "[The Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI) measuring market concentration] is currently 3,000-plus in South Korea, which is significantly higher than the 2,000-range during the Hollywood Golden Age," he said.

"It is imperative to push forth an anti-monopoly law like the 1948 Paramount Decree, which allowed smaller films to flourish. Before the case, even star producers like Charlie Chaplin and Walt Disney faced barriers," said the academic.

Politicians including Ahn Cheol-soo, a former presidential candidate, and Culture Minister Do Jong-hwan have both been pushing bills to dissolve vertical integration, but to little avail.

"The imbalance in the Korean film industry is extremely severe, but there are cineastes that are ignoring the problem," said Chung Ji-young, veteran filmmaker and chairman of BiFan, who watched the debate from the audience. "If us filmmakers don't voice our concerns in unison it will be difficult to make a difference."