South Korea

Statistics
Population 49m
Internet penetration 92%

The media is characterised by strong broadcasters, a newspaper sector struggling to adapt to digital change, along with powerful Korean-owned online portals, social networks, and messaging apps.

Top Brands % Weekly Usage (TV, Radio and Print)

Weekly use Main source
KBS news 56% 22%
SBS news 47% 8%
MBC news 46% 9%
JTBC news 45% 17%
YTN 42% 11%
Yonhap News TV 24% 4%
MBN news 23% 1%
Joongang Ilbo 22% 3%
TV Chosun news 21% 2%
Channel A news 19% 1%
Chosun Ilbo 19% 3%
Hankyoreh Shinmun 14% 2%
Dong-a Ilbo 13% 1%
Maeil Business Newspaper 13% 1%
Kyunghyang Shinmun 12% 2%
The Hankook Ilbo 7% 0%

Top Brands % Weekly Usage (Online)

Weekly use Main source
Naver news 66% 45%
Daum news 41% 16%
YTN news online 24% 3%
KBS news online 22% 3%
JTBC news online 20% 2%
SBS news online 16% 1%
MBC news online 16% 1%
Joongang Ilbo online 15% 2%
OhMyNews 15% 1%
Nate news 15% 3%
Chosun Ilbo online 15% 1%
Hankyoreh Shinmun online 14% 1%
Yonhap News online 13% 2%
Kyunghyang Shinmun online 12% 1%
Dong-a Ilbo online 11% 0%
Nocut News 11% 1%

Overview of key developments

By Sonho Kim
Senior researcher, Korea Press Foundation

While TV remains popular in general with Koreans, TV news has suffered a gradual decline from levels of around 95% in 2011. Public broadcaster KBS is the most widely used source offline but has done less well online while SBS, another popular TV news outlet, has invested heavily in its online news brand, along with a data journalism team. Cable news channels such as JTBC, TV Chosun, MBN, and Channel A – owned respectively by newspapers Joongang Ilbo, Chosun Ilbo, Maeil Business Newspaper, and Dong-a Ilbo – have increased in popularity, while 24-hour cable news channel YTN has lost market share in recent years.

Web-portal sites such as Naver and Daum are popular digital news platforms, with about 70% of Korean people accessing news this way at least once a week. In addition to news, these portals offer web search, email, blogs, computer games, shopping, and messenger services. Naver is also the creator of the messaging app Line, though it has been a separate corporation since 2014. In the same year, Daum merged with Kakao, which operates chat app Kakao Talk along with the social networking site Kakao Story.

Given the debates in the US and Europe about the growing power of platforms and intermediaries, it is interesting to note that news providers in Korea have been eager to publish their content via portals for years. Publishers are paid for their content but the terms are kept confidential.

Naver and Daum last year together formed a Committee for the Evaluation of News Partnership, complete with a set of ethical standards to help decide which providers should be eligible to supply news to portals.

Korea is the home of Samsung and LG and consequently a market leader in mobile devices, with around 85% smartphone penetration. 1 Mobile news consumption (66%) has increased dramatically since 2011 when a Korea Press Foundation survey showed just 11% accessing this way. 2 Those who access news via smartphones and tablets now exceed those who access news via personal computers.

The number of Koreans reading newspapers has fallen significantly over the last few years to around a quarter of the population (compared with 45% in 2011). With print subscriptions plummeting, many newspaper groups have been focusing their efforts on cost cutting and innovations in digital technology. Chosun Ilbo, the largest newspaper online and offline, launched a VR news app while Financial News has introduced robot journalism to cover stock market developments. Maeil Business Newspaper is also planning to use robot journalism and VR technologies to promote their content. Using advanced natural language processing techniques, the Korea Press Foundation recently launched a news archive titled ‘Big Kinds’, akin to IBM Watson’s News Explorer, in order to support newspapers’ automation of news.

Several foreign brands have entered the Korean news market including Huffington Post Korea – in a partnership with the Hankyoreh Shinmun. Although Huffington Post Korea’s share is still low, it is notable for its adoption of native advertising as its primary business model. BuzzFeed is expected to launch its Korean news service later in 2016.

Most online newspapers remain ad-supported. Indeed, in 2015, the Wall Street Journal withdrew from Korea after it became clear that a paywall strategy would not be successful due to the extent of free news. Digital native publisher, Ohmynews, known for integrating citizen journalism and professional journalism, has struggled financially for years.

The usage of ad-blockers appears to be below average (12%) among the 26 countries in this study. This may be because portal websites tend not to use pop-ups and carry relatively few banner ads.

WEEKLY REACH PER DEVICE

Korea devices

WEEKLY REACH PER SOURCE

Korea sources

Paying for news

Online news is mainly supported by advertising. Very few newspapers charge directly for news online in Korea.

Pay Korea 3

Trust

Historically, trust in journalists and news organisations has not been high in Korea. In particular, misinformation about the Sewol ferry sinking in 2014 and about the outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome in 2015 affected trust in the news media.

Korea trust

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TOP SOCIAL NETWORKS*

RANK NETWORK ALL U35s
1 Facebook 24% 27%
2 Kakao Talk 22%
3 YouTube 16% 12%
4 Kakao Story 9%
5 Twitter 9% 8%
*used weekly for news
  1. As of Feb. 2016, the number of smartphone service subscribers had reached 44.1 million – Ministry of Science, ICT and Future Planning: http://msip.go.kr/web/
    msipContents/contents.do?mId=MTQ2
  2. The 2011 news consumption data are from Media Audience Research published annually by the Korea Press Foundation.