A user is booking a ticket for the “Avengers: End Game” during the period of “N-viewing frenzy”
/Photograph by Lee Seon-yeong
Screen monopoly has resurfaced as a problem after “Avengers: Endgame” was released on April 24th. On that opening day of the movie, the screening rate of the “Avengers: Endgame” was 65.2 percent. According to the statistics of the Korean Film Council, the “Avengers: End Game” was on 2,760 screens across Korea on the opening day. The screening rate was 80.9 percent. In other words, eight out of 10 movies were “Avengers: End Game” in the movie theater. Consequently, it is a screen monopoly as it exceeds 50 percent.
Screen monopoly refers to a small number of movies monopolizing 50-70 percent of the screens at theaters. It limits the choice of the audience and deprives them of the opportunity to watch other movies. In order to guarantee the diversity of movies available for audiences, the government and independent film distributors are pushing for the introduction of a screen ceiling system. This system would limit a certain movie from exceeding an official standard (50 percent) of the total number of screens in the movie theater.
There are two causes of screen monopoly in Korean film industry
An example of a screen monopoly in Korean film was when “The Admiral: Roaring Currents” distributed by CJ E&M entertainment, was shown on more than half of all domestic screens and the accumulated number of audience reached about 55.2 percent. In the case of international films, “Transformers: Dark of The Moon,” released in 2011, was shown on 1,420 screens. At that time, the total number of screens in Korea was 2,229, which means the film had a screen monopoly of 63.7 percent. Why is screen monopoly prevalent in Korean film industry? There are two main reasons behind this phenomenon.
The first one is a lack of legal regulation in Korea, such as a screen quota system enacted back in 1976. This system mandates the screening of homegrown movies in their own country for a certain period. In detail, Korean movies are required to be screened for at least one-fifth of the year, which is more than 73 days of the 365-day screenings possible in a movie theater. The purpose of this regulation is to prevent foreign films from monopolizing the domestic film market and to protect domestic firms. Even though the system exists in Korea, it became largely useless due to the free trade treaty with the United States in 2006.
Article 6 stipulates that “Contracting Parties shall not be obliged to use domestic components or purchase, use or preference of domestic goods or services at a certain level or rate.” Therefore, the government can not impose the obligation of domestic movie screening days. As a result, the screen quota was drastically reduced in the number of days from 146 to 73. In addition, legal punishment is rare even if the film market do not meet or obey this system. As a result, screen monopoly got severe as the theaters tend to rely on films which have high popularity among the audience to raise a lot of profit.
Another reason for the screen monopoly system is the vertical integration of the Korean film industry. Vertical integration is a combination of film production, investment, distribution, and operation by a single operator. In Korea, there are three major film distributors which make up 90 percent of the market share: CJ CGV occupied 38.6 percent of total screens in theaters, LOTTE CINEMA, 30.8 percent and MEGABOX 20.9 percent. On top of this, in 2014, the Korea Fair Trade Commission (KFTC) impeached unfair acts and imposed fines on CJ CGV and LOTTE CINEMA, because they favorably provided screens to affiliate movies such as the movie “Masquerade,” distributed by the independent distributor, INDIESTORY. As the negative side of screen monopoly is emphasized, more people have started to voice their opinions of enforcing legal regulation and separating the vertical structure of the Korean film industry.
There are contrasting opinions and casualties of the system
Many people started to assert the necessity of imposing mandatory laws like a screen ceiling system as they became more aware of the problems of screen monopoly. Currently, four related laws are pending in the national assembly. In detail, the screen ceiling system is contained in the amendments of the existing law, the Act on the Promotion of Movies and Videos. This amendment is intended to regulate the screening limit to 50 percent in the prime time, 1 P.M. to 11 P.M., when the screen monopoly is in severe condition. Regarding this, there are two sides introducing the screen ceiling system.
Those who are for amending legal legislation assert that from the perspective of the public, the screen monopoly infringes the freedom of choice. To be specific, 81.3 percent of respondents were aware of such disadvantage of screen monopoly in the “National Cognition Survey on the Korean Film Industry in 2019,” prepared by the Committee for the Preparation of the Cooperation with the Korean Film Commission. Lee Jae-eun (Junior, Department of English Language and Literature) asserted, “I think there is not much choice for me to watch the movie. It seems to me that only popular movies, such as “Avengers: Endgame” are on the screen all the time. If I want to see an unpopular movie, I have to go early in the morning or late at night. I think that is unfair.”
Also, from the perspective of the film industry, independent movies cannot get enough attention due to the screen monopoly. “Touch” and “How to Steal A Dog” are the examples of independent films suffering from this unfair competition. In the case of “Touch,” the producer eventually took down the film voluntarily just eight days after it was released. This movie was not able to fully use a theater and was only done in cross commercialization through 12 theaters nationwide. The cross commercialization is a way to show a movie that is not well-publicized at an intersection with other profitable movies in the early morning or in the middle of the night. Since there are few viewers watching movies at such times, it is obvious that these are not optimal times to show movies. The production company tried to defend a small number of screens by a group of 200 people without success.
Furthermore, “How to Steal A Dog” manufacturer resigned from the company due to the small audience share. This movie was from a small distributor, Little Big Pictures, and “Ode to My Father,” which is distributed by CJ Entertainment were released in the same period at the end of the year. Consequently, “Ode to My Father” reached 10 million, ranking second in audience share, due to the support of the major distributor while Little Big Pictures, the distributor of “How to Steal A Dog” declared his resignation following the film’s relative failure.
However, people who are against enforcing a screen ceiling system have argued that screen monopoly occurs to meet audience’s demand. In fact, “Avengers: Endgame” has exceeded two million pre-sale tickets before the opening of the film, and there were no seats available on opening day in the theater. In other words, they were only supplying the audience with the desired demand. Limiting supply, in this case, would hinder the viewer’s choice. For example, CGV is giving out prizes to those who have seen “Avengers: Endgame” several times in response to “N-viewing” frenzy. Cha Da-eun (Junior, Department of Business Administration) asserted, “I do not think screen ceiling system is necessary because the theater is simply filming the movie that majority of people wants to watch. I think it is simple to follow the law of supply and demand and thus, the screen ceiling system has no right to restrict this.”
|CGV is hosting an event of N-viewing frenzy of “Avengers : End game” /Extracted from CGV|
International cases demonstrate the benefit of screen ceiling system
In the United States, film industry production and distribution of film were separated following the “Paramount Judgment” of 1948. At that time, the U.S. Supreme Court sold theaters owned by major producers and distributors such as “Warner Bros” and “Paramount.” The verdict was to dismantle vertically integrated major Hollywood studios following their anti-competitive conduct such as price-fixing and independent film discrimination. Thanks to this, more independent producers have been able to enter the market and contributed to diversity of films.
Similarly, France enforced a screen ceiling system by law. In detail, it prevents one film from exceeding 30 percent of the number of screens. Furthermore, subsidies are paid to movie theaters that show movies that are less popular or experimental movies. Maxime Pannier (International student from France, Department of English Language and Literature) explained, “In France, there are lots of independent movies playing in the theater unlike in Korea. The currently popular one is also an independent film. I think it was only possible because of the screen ceiling system. I agree to this system as it allows me to enjoy different genres of movies.”
On the other hand, in the case of Japan, legal regulation is more autonomous in that the cinema company takes measures to ensure that certain films do not exceed 25 percent of the maximum number of screenings. For example, large film companies such as TOHO TOEI produce, distribute, and screen movies but they rarely monopolize screens. Hanami Suzuki (International student from Japan, Department of Business Administration) stated, “There is no such regulation as screen ceiling system in Japan. However, I did not experience any discomfort as there are lots of different movies I could watch anytime. I think it is better to make the cinema company take responsibility regarding monopoly as they know the film industry better than the government.”
The debate surrounding the screen upper limit introduction seems to be divided into the choice of the audience and protecting independent films. Nevertheless, film that is not supported by a major distributor suffers the damage of screen monopoly and thus, audiences may not be able to choose variety of movies. Referring to the international cases and public opinion, South Korea could decide whether or not the screen ceiling is the appropriate solution for the future film industries and audiences.
Lee Seon-yeong email@example.com
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