South Korea's Xports takes national team to cable

Citing the success of a one-year-old South Korea cable sports channel exclusively broadcasting an international football game, Cho Jin-seo of the Korea Times suggests that cable television and other "non-mainstream" media are now threatening the realm of conventional terrestrial television.

On Wednesday night, Xports aired South Korea's AFC Asian Cup match with Syria; the first time a national team match was not shown on the three terrestrial television channels, KBS, SBS and MBC. "Adding insult to injury," Cho opined, "was the fact that the Korea-Syria match was also viewed on versatile mobile phones with satellite DMB functions, another emerging medium of entertainment."

Xports said 15 percent of all TV viewers watched the match during the two-hour period, replacing a previous cable tv record of 10.4 percent set by a mixed-martial art match on MBC-ESPN.

"So we succeeded in breaking the oligarchy of the three national-wide broadcasters," Koo Dong-hoi, an executive of IB Sports, the company which bought the broadcasting rights to the game from the Syrian Football Association and resold it to Xports, told Cho. He said IB Sports had first tried to sell the license to one of the three terrestrial broadcasters but they had decided not to bid separately.

Instead, they submitted a joint offer - SBS for the Syria match and KBS and MBC for two latter matches against Iran and Taiwan - "in order to lower the bidding price."

Koo said that IB Sports wanted to punish the big three by giving the exclusive right to its sister company Xports. "We failed to reach an agreement with SBS. But in some part, we didn't sell it because we didn't want to," Koo said.

According to Cho, both IB Sports and Xports were criticised by football fans who do not have access to cable television at home and there was also complaints that Xports lacked experience in broadcasting big sporting events. During the first half, two match commentators mistakenly contributed a goal from Kim Do-heon to Lee Ho. They corrected the error at halftime after hundreds of fans protested on web sites.

IB Sports is aware of the public sentiment. "We should think more carefully about the future, whether we will again sell it to Xports exclusively or not. The possibility is bigger that we may sell it to the big three broadcasters," Koo said. "Maybe we were a little too greedy, as we expected that the viewer rating to be 20 percent on Xports. Even if 85 percent of South Koreans have access to cable TV, we should consider the remaining 15 percent, too."

Cho Jin-seo noted Korean Broadcasting Commission statistics showing that the audience of cable channels soared from 4.1 percent in 2001 to 12.1 percent in 2005. However terrestrial channels still earn 81.9 percent of all television advertisements because of their superior reach. The commission also estimated there are 17 million television households, among which 14 million subscribe to either cable or satellite television channels. Xports has around 11.5 million subscribers, "meaning that about one third of viewers could not watch the football match at home."