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South Korea

South Korea

Population: 51 million
Internet penetration: 96%

News consumption and trust in news media have both increased since the outbreak of COVID-19, but media outlets are struggling to shore up finances that have been adversely affected by the pandemic.

Koreans have come to depend more on the news over the last year as the pandemic has impacted both lives and livelihoods. This is likely to be a key factor in the sharp rise in trust (+11 percentage points) in this year’s survey, while trust (and consumption) of social media has fallen. Much of this has been driven by increased reliance on television news and increased reach for both scheduled news bulletins and live news channels.

A survey by the Korea Press Foundation,1 also found widespread dependence on television as a source of news about COVID-19, along with the big online portals Naver and Daum. Three-quarters (72%) of respondents said their news usage had increased over the last year. Use of OTT streaming services like Netflix has increased and overall viewing time is up, after years of decline.

But media outlets have been struggling to cope with the financial fallout from the pandemic. According to industry research,2 corporate ad spending for 2020 is projected to fall by 5% for television, print, and other media, while online ads are expected to rise. The decline in corporate ads has hit broadcasters more severely than newspapers, which can still rely on a steady stream of government advertising – levels of expenditure have risen every year since 2016.3 For this reason, terrestrial broadcasters issued a joint statement calling for emergency financial support from the government.

Against this backdrop, media companies are trying to slash costs and diversify revenue streams. Broadcasters have increased the proportion of online and mobile ads, while taking active steps to produce and distribute content through online platforms. Newspapers have introduced unpaid leave and cut staff. A survey conducted by Korea Press Foundation,4 found that a third (31%) of newspaper companies have already reduced the number of pages or plan to do so. While many companies are hoping for governmental support such as tax cuts, some are experimenting with new business models, including paid digital subscription.

In South Korea, news consumers tend to pay for a mix of diverse content such as YouTube Premium or bundled content services offered by telecom service providers. Few people are willing to pay a subscription just for news – and most of the rest (80%) say they would be very or somewhat unlikely to pay in the future.

Online reader payment has been slow to take off in South Korea because of the strength of online portals that offer a convenient package of free news from multiple publishers. For many years these portals have paid publishers significant sums to license content – rather like Facebook and Google are starting to do elsewhere. But in 2020 the largest portal, Naver, announced it would be switching back to an advertising revenue share model and announced plans to offer an additional subscription-based model for premium content. Publishers are considering whether to sign up for the new service which would provide a share of profits but might risk building deeper connections on their own websites.

While YouTube remains the most widely used platform for Korean users, Facebook, KakaoTalk Messenger, and Instagram are emerging as fresh news sources. Also notable is the increased industry focus on email newsletters, with a variety of new services from start-ups to mainstream media companies, even if usage levels remain low.

Media bias has long been regarded as a chronic problem of the Korean media – especially when it comes to politics. Many respondents to our survey feel that news coverage is often particularly unfair when it comes to representing different political opinions as well as people from a lower socio-economic class. With Korea set to hold the presidential election in 2022, fairness of media coverage on serious topics such as politics and the economy is expected to be a critical issue.

This year’s survey also finds that the vast majority of Korean respondents still hold out the hope that media outlets will offer objective news, carrying a variety of perspectives that help consumers make up their own minds. At the same time, last year’s report showed that the proportion of respondents who prefer ‘news reflecting their views’ was also high. This suggests that there is both political bias in news production and readers’ bias in their consumption of news which may be hard to balance.

Se-Uk Oh
Korea Press Foundation,
and
So-Eun Lee
Pukyong National University

Changing media

The use of TV news, which was declining, has rebounded since the outbreak of COVID-19. Social media have become much more important as a source of news, driven by global platforms YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram.

Pay for online news

13%

Listen to podcast in the last month

49%

Share news via social, messaging or email

25%

Trust

Trust in news overall

32%

(+11) =38/46

Trust in news I use

42%

Trust in news in search

26%

Trust in news on social media

21%

Trust in the news in general has surged (+11pp) amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but remains low by international standards. Trust in individual media brands has also gone up, with a number of broadcasters heading the list – including YTN, a 24/7 cable news channel, and public broadcaster KBS. Newspapers, by contrast, tend to be less trusted.

Footnotes

1 Korea Press Foundation, Changes in the Everyday Life After COVID-19 in Korea. https://www.kpf.or.kr/front/research/consumerListPage.do

2 Korea Broadcast Advertising Corporation, Korea Advertising Expenditure Research. https://adstat.kobaco.co.kr/sub/expenditure_report_view.do?MENU=ad_data&BBS_ID=1308

3 https://www.goad.or.kr/hp/info/govAdStat.do

4 Korea Press Foundation, Newspaper Industry in Korea 2020. https://www.kpf.or.kr/front/research/realityListPage.do