Korea Press Foundation
Home-grown portals have become the leading destination for news consumers in South Korea in recent years, eroding the business models of traditional publishers. Now online video and podcasts are beginning to disrupt the broadcast sector.
Domestic portal sites such as Naver (66%) and Daum (34%) have dominated online news consumption for the last decade with a convenient mix of news, blogs, chat, shopping, games, and email. But with Korean users increasingly attracted by video, YouTube use is significantly up on last year (38% for news) and ahead of most other countries. In our survey, almost half of YouTube users (45%) said they have spent more time with the network in the last year. Additional evidence comes from Koreanclick.com, a web metrics company affiliated with Nielsen, showing YouTube mobile app users spending 1,094 minutes on average in July 2018, whereas Naver app users spent 700 minutes. Podcasts are also surging in popularity with half (53%) saying they had listened to at least once in the last month. Domestic platforms increasingly complain about unfair competition and that international platforms like Google, Facebook, and Netflix, do not pay enough tax in South Korea.1
Meanwhile, Naver has refocused its news offering with a stripped-down beta version of its mobile app carrying just a search bar and a button on the home page. Faced with criticism over the neutrality with which it selects news for audiences, Naver has abandoned a default option selected by algorithms and staff and now asks users themselves to select news brands they want to see. Some critics fear this approach – if rolled out more fully – will favour the biggest, most popular brands and could squeeze out diversity.
As more people prefer to watch news videos on digital platforms, TV news consumption (67%) dropped by 7 points this year. In response, broadcasters are planning to open a 24-hour news channel on streaming services like YouTube. At the same time, print news consumption has decreased from 28% in 2016 to 19% in 2019 according to our survey. The legacy media remain extremely concerned about their deteriorating finances but have struggled to find sustainable solutions. Discussions about raising the licence fee (currently about US$2.5 per household per month) to support public broadcaster KBS have not made any progress. A proposal over tax exemption for newspaper subscription has been submitted, but it has not yet been approved by the government. Paywalls on most news sites are not a viable option given that most people can access news for free through online portals; just 10% pay for any online news in Korea. Nevertheless, some newspaper publishers have managed to diversify their revenue streams into ancillary businesses such as events and conventions.
Concerns about fake news and misinformation (59%) are rising with concern focused on the distribution of politically extreme views on YouTube. Last year, the government examined ways to effectively regulate fake news online, but concluded that any governmental intervention might curtail freedom of expression. Fact-checking has become a common practice in many newsrooms with Seoul National University (SNU) co-ordinating activity in around 30 newsrooms using a common platform, which in turn is financially supported by Naver. Trust in news is among the lowest again in our survey (22%). The reasons are clear with just a fifth (21%) agreeing that the news media are doing a good job in monitoring powerful people and businesses. In a related example, one leading newsroom decided not to print a report about misconduct of a large corporation, leading to protests by young reporters over the issue of lack of editorial independence from advertisers.
In an attempt to improve transparency around government advertising, the National Assembly passed a new law governing the process. From the start of 2019, the Korea Press Foundation has become the legally entrusted agency for placing advertisements on behalf of governmental and the public sector. The KPF is required to invest their commission fees into a press fund to subsidise journalism and media literacy.
South Korea tends to be at the forefront of new technologies that are ushering in the next wave of change. In this survey, 9% said they were using voice-activated speakers – almost double the level of a year ago. Still, few newsrooms have shown serious interest in distributing news in this way. Giant telecom companies like KT, SKT, and LG U+ started 5G mobile services in April 2019. But it’s not yet clear what kind of content and services will benefit or how they might be relevant for news.
Audiences for traditional TV news have started to dip partly due to more competition from long- and short-form video online. Readership of newspapers is also significantly down since 2016. More than two-thirds of our sample (70%) use a smartphone to access the news each week.
Trust in the news in South Korea is consistently amongst the lowest in our survey, though trust in individual news brands is much higher. TV news brands such as JTBC and YTN tend to be trusted most with popular newspapers less trusted in general – even if they are often more trusted by those that use the brands regularly.