Warner Bros. Korea to Debut Some Films Via Online Services

Blended Still - H 2014
Warner Bros.

Blended Still - H 2014

Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler rom-com 'Blended' will be offered on a Warner-themed VOD service on IPTV platforms

Amid the surge of the South Korean online market for movies in recent years, Warner Brothers Korea will make films without theatrical release plans in the country available on the online video services of telecom giants starting Oct. 16.

Koreans will be able to see Blended, a rom-com starring Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler, for the first time this week via a new Warner-themed film VOD service offered on KT Olleh TV, the top local HD IPTV service provided by Korea's main telecom operator KT, as well as LG U+tv, a similar service operated by telecom firm LG, among others. The companies' IPTV products typically offer streaming  services for a monthly fee that give access to a collection of movies, along with download offers.

Other Warner titles that have not yet hit Korean theaters are also set to be released in online form, including Clint Eastwood's Jersey Boys and Ben Falcone/Melissa McCarthy's Tammy. Films that the studio will debut through web channels are ones unlikely to be released in Korean cinemas.

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"There are more than 10 million IPTV users in Korea, and so we have decided to pioneer this new distribution channel," said a spokesperson for Warner Brothers Korea. "It's a service model aiming to revive the local video market amid fast-growing digital platforms. We are also providing a legitimate way for consumers to watch movies that did not receive a theatrical release here."

Financial terms weren't disclosed.

The Korean DVD market has been nearly non-existent as people have used legal and illegal digital options more and more.

Since 2009, the Korean online market for movies has grown over 60 percent — not surprising for the country with the world's highest Internet and mobile penetration rates — and naturally local filmmakers and distributors no longer consider the sector just another secondary market.

Frozen, one of the highest grossing films in Korean cinema history (over $77 million according to the Korean Film Council's KOBIS database) also garnered much popularity through IPTV services.

"We don't use the term 'secondary market' but the 'digital distribution market,' meaning that we view the online market at the same level as the theater distribution business," said Joon S. Im at the Korean Film Council’s industry forum on digital markets during the Busan International Film Festival last week. Im is director of Channel 1 Division, the arm of CJ E&M that distributes film and TV content for online platforms.

Korea's market for Internet movies currently stands at a fourth of theatrical distribution, which may seem small, Im said, but represents a significant comeback given how the secondary market fell down to 10 percent overall following the collapse of the DVD market.

"When CJ looks at distributing titles we always consider how much we can make for IPTV and OTT (over-the-top content) now," said Im. CJ's CGV is Korea's largest theater chain.

The rise of digital platforms also has influenced the way in which local projects are made amid the ongoing Korean film boom

"When Korean films had been primarily dependent on theater sales, investors and distributors were very careful about working with new directors, for example," said Lee Hyun-Myoung, CEO of production company Greenfish (Secret, The Suspect). "But now the rise of the online market has been giving a lot of opportunities for film projects involving new talent. Also more erotic films are being made by big companies."

The trend has also given more opportunities for indie and arthouse films to reach audiences, and KT Olleh TV plans to launch a program specifically for premiering indie films.

Oct. 13, 5:03 a.m. Updated with an expanded description of the Korean online services.