Women in their 20s and 30s are now in control of the remote and the commercial market.
While Korean network television is still struggling to air new entertainment for the masses, cable television is blazing its own trail, capturing audiences with a mix of foreign and local programs in tune with the tastes of its viewers ― mainly single women in their 30s and late 20s.
Although its shaky beginning in 1995 met plenty of skepticism, Korean cable television is now more popular than ever. With the launch of On Media corporation's On Style channel in early 2004, lifestyle programs and reality shows that deal with fashion, beauty and food ― targeted at financially stable single women ― have found a strong market. Other channels include Dongah TV and CJ Media's O'live network. According to ratings data by TNS Media, On Style scored an average of 0.172 in ratings in 2006, followed closely by O'live with 0.1 and Dongah TV with 0.025.
The success of On Style motivated other cable networks to pursue this new consumer market. CJ Media's Food Channel, which had a brief hit with Jamie Oliver's cooking show, changed its name to O'live in 2005. It now includes a broad range of topics, from plastic surgery to fashion how-to programs.
"We wanted to expand the viewers' target in general", said Kim Sae-nal, general manager of O'live.
"During the food channel days, the viewers were limited to mostly women in their 40s. However, after we broadened the program content to lifestyle in general, viewers were mostly in their 20s and 30s".
This shift was a positive step for the company as its total sales increased rapidly.
"This is due to the fact that there is increased interest from advertisers and sponsors. In the past, most advertisers and sponsors interested in the channel were food-related, but now, industries such as fashion and beauty are involved", said Kim.
Women in their late 20s and 30s are now in control of the remote and the commercial market. This group was the first generation to go on trips abroad and have a strong attachment to cultural sectors, including music, film and television.
Companies started listening to this group, which was ignored as a viable market in the past. A 2005 survey by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry interviewed 86 market specialists, and 92 percent said that women constitute their main target market to generate sales.
As for age groups, 61 percent of the marketers replied that people in their 30s are the strongest market for commercial products, while 26.2 percent pointed to consumers in their 20s.
Shin Jong-su, the programming producer for On Style, explained the channel's commercial strategy.
"Our success lies in the fact that we have, from the beginning, concentrated solely on our target viewer group ― women from 20 to 35 years of age", Shin said.
"This group, shown by marketing research, has proved to be one of the most powerful consumer groups. We were the first channel to actually recognize this and choose [foreign programs], as well as produce local programs".
Shin added that data like these influence programming that includes reality shows that deal with fashion, cosmetics, surgery, talk shows (the Oprah Winfrey Show in particular) and American sitcoms.
In contrast to On Style, however, which features mostly American programs, O'live network and Dongah TV have been airing many self-produced local programs. "Unlike On Style, we produce our own programs. As for Dongah TV, they produce almost all of their own programs", said Kim.
The companies disagree on the pros and cons of local vs. foreign programming. On the one hand, On Style stresses that its target viewers want high standards, which have not been met by locally produced programs that deal with fashion and trends, thus explaining the success of On Style.
"We have a few self-produced local shows airing", Shin said. "However, we try to focus on quality, not quantity, and invest time and money on these few shows and try to develop them. At this stage, high-quality foreign shows are still much more preferred by women in their late 20s and early 30s. We view On Style as an entertainment channel, whereas O'live deals more with what's happening in Korea".
To reach their target viewers, these channels, as well as others like Mnet and tvN, have women fronting their headline shows.
Dongah TV recently aired "Sora's Choice", with Lee Sora, the former Korean supermodel turned variety show host and entrepreneur. The show deals with everyday women and their lifestyles, covering everything from diet and fashion to mental health issues.
Models, it seems, are busier than ever these days, strutting their stuff on fashion and beauty programs.
A good example is the highly popular "I am a Model", program, patterned after "America's Next Top Model", the hit show hosted by Tyra Banks. It features Korean supermodels picking fresh-faced newcomers and training them for the industry. On O'live, model/actress Lee Seon-jin
hosts "Design It Yourself 2", which interviews models about style-related issues, from making a shirt with designer Lee Sang-bong
to a makeover of a clueless guy she picks up from the street.
Other popular shows featuring famous women hosts are tvN's "Like a Virgin ", hosted by singer Ok Ju-yeon, and Mnet's "Trend Report Feel", featuring model Song Gyeong-ah.
The approach of this new breed of programming is to make fashion accessible and provide information to the public.
On the program "Get It Beauty" on O'live, the hosts are model Park Dul-sun and comedian Jeong Seong-ho
They interview beauty experts including make-up artists and hair stylists, and provide step-by-step lessons on the trends of the season.
"O'live aims to be a combination of an entertainment network and information network. Through the shows, we try to include both these elements", said Kim.
On the recently ended "Style Magazine", carried by On Style, the host was top actress Lee Seung-hyeon.
She proved herself to be an informative host as she updated viewers on the latest global fashion trends.
"These kinds of programs are expected to increase in the future", Shin said.
"Because network television needs to cater to a broader spectrum of people, cable television will be responsible for airing shows that meet the needs of specific viewer groups".
By Cho Jae-eun Staff Writer / Reporting by Lee Eunjoo