SPHE inks distribution deal in Korea

Distributor left the market in September

BANGKOK -- Following its exit from South Korea in September, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has struck a deal with a number of its own former executives to release Sony titles on DVD and Blu-ray under the label United Entertainment Korea.

The deal is the latest sign of Hollywood's loss of confidence in the disc distribution model in South Korea, where the average citizen downloads 54 movies a year from file-sharing sites, according to the Korean Film Council.

Late Monday, SPHE senior international vp T. Paul Miller said in a statement that partnering with UEK will ensure a smooth transition for SPHE's customers in Korea and increase the company's overall profitability in Asia.

Peter Woo, president of Seoul-based UEK and former managing director of SPHE Korea, said that "Korea remains a healthy market for home entertainment and UEK has strong, long-standing relationships with our customers."

But statistics might challenge that contention.

Total DVD sales and rentals in South Korea are less than 10% of theatrical revenue, a Warner Bros. official told The Hollywood Reporter in November when it, too, pulled out of the Korean home entertainment market after nine years, the last of the six Hollywood majors to do so.

Korea's home entertainment business has suffered thanks to a drop in the supply of DVD players, a rise in easy access to illegal downloading sites and the closing of many of the country's video and DVD rental shops.

UEK, which already has released Sony's "Hancock" on DVD, soon will release it on the high-definition Blu-ray format as well. The company also is the Korean licensee for Universal Pictures International Home Entertainment, whose "Wanted" it plans to distribute in both formats.