The harsh reality

Chinese networks plunder South Korea content under cover of missile row


Angelababy: back on Running Man after recently giving birth

Sometimes described as the comedic version of the American hit The Amazing Race, a South Korean version of the format called Running Man was an instant success when it first aired in 2010.

It follows a group of celebrities as they compete at a variety of tasks in exotic locations around the world. In 2014 Zhejiang Satellite TV purchased the rights to co-produce a Chinese version of the show with Seoul Broadcasting System (SBS), the original producer (see WiC259). The adaptation, which features actor Deng Chao and actress Angelababy as regular stars, soon became one of the most watched series in China.

The latest season – the fifth – is being rebranded as Keep Running after the authorities imposed a ban on South Korean content appearing on Chinese TV as punishment for Seoul’s decision to install US-made THAAD missiles (see WiC357). But no matter, the new name has done little to dent the popularity of the show, which is still a primetime winner.

Keep Running is a lucrative franchise. There is a regular stream of product placements and Daye Powerise Interactive Media – which went public on the New Third Board in Beijing last October – also makes money from licencing the show to a mobile game developer.

Another moneyspinner is “location fees”. Before filming starts, the producers review pitches from tourism operators that want to feature on the series for the exposure that it brings. Tourist attractions like Wanda Movie Park in Wuhan, Luoyang City National Park and Zhang Yurui Castle Winery in Shaanxi have all paid to be featured as the backdrop to episodes of Keep Running.

Local governments, too, are major advertisers. Chengdu shelled out Rmb5 million ($ to be featured in an episode in the second season. Xi’an and Luoyang paid Rmb6 million and Rmb5 million ($735,084) respectively to appear in the third season.

Other reality TV series like Dad, Where Are We Going have generated income from filming at landmark sites around the country. But the Keep Running franchise is deemed the most effective marketing channel yet. And because competition to appear is fierce, producers set the terms for location hosts. Aside from paying a fee, free accommodation is supplied to cast and crew. Some of the hosts are also asked to modify or refurbish their tourism attractions to accommodate the production’s needs. In the aftermath, the hosts can use the Keep Running brand for promotional activities for their locations for just three months. “Basically, every little detail on the show is planned meticulously to maximise the number of marketing opportunities,” says Dahao Caifu, a business news portal. “It also makes money by hosting promotional events with various brands, which inevitably will draw millions of fans [to watch].”

Daye has announced plans to issue new shares in a Rmb360 million fundraising and it says that most of the money will go towards acquiring new licences for other content.

In the meantime there are signs that the South Koreans have grown exasperated by a sudden surge in copycat activity from the television networks in China.

Last week, Aju Business Daily, a South Korean newspaper, reported that the government in Seoul couldn’t “stand it anymore” and that it would try to prevent the Chinese TV networks from plagiarising Korean content. It named several satellite networks as the worst offenders in copying content without consent.

In the past, Korean producers have earned licencing fees for adapting their shows for Chinese audiences. But with the ban on South Korean entertainment firmly in place over the missile dispute, more of the Chinese networks have been taking their chances on going it alone, and not bothering to offer payment to their erstwhile partners.

More often than not, what they have conjured up bears striking similarity to South Korean formats. Take Hunan Satellite TV’s Curious Child, a reality series that tries to nurture child prodigies. That also happens to be the premise of a Korean show called Finding Genius. Then there is the singing contest Come Sing with Me, also on Hunan TV, which is said to resemble Fantastic Duo, which aired first on South Korean cable channel tvN.

Hunan TV is a repeat offender, according to Korean newspaper Joongang Daily, which argues that the Chinese channel nabbed another of tvN’s formats in which celebrities set up a restaurant in another country to sell their national cuisine.

“There has been no internal meeting regarding exporting the format or publication rights” the Korean network complained.

“Chinese variety shows copying South Korean programmes are hardly new news,” says Aju Business Daily. “Since 2012, when Hunan TV purchased the rights to reproduce I Am A Singer from MBC, other Chinese television stations have followed suit. But it wasn’t until later, when China imposed the ban on South Korean TV formats, that Chinese television has started to plagiarise much more boldly.”

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