Broadcast stations prepare for strike possibility
A potential strike is on the horizon, which may halt immediate episodes for some drama productions, including Kim Suro, Baker King Kim Tak-gu, Gloria (the three pictured above), Giant, and I Am Legend, among eight others. There are a total of 13 shows that are affected, all from outside production companies.
The union for broadcasting professionals (repping actors, staff, and performers) held a meeting on August 27 to discuss the problem of outstanding salary payments, and came to the decision that they will refuse participation in those productions until the issue is settled. The strike would begin September 1, which means that those shows will have to stop filming until the matter is resolved.
The amount in unpaid wages comes to 4.368 billion won ($3.67 million), as of July 31. As a result, the three broadcasters are scrambling to find solutions if a strike becomes reality.
The broadcasting company whose shows have the most payments in default is MBC. Their drama department has called meetings on the 30th, just two days before the proposed strike, to try to find solutions. One representative said that they are trying to find the “most rational” compromise.
The drama department director from KBS said that the outside production company for Baker King has requested a cash advance, in order to pay their outstanding wages and thereby continue shooting. No doubt that the top-rated drama of the year wants to keep up its momentum toward the big finale, rather than interrupt it because of a strike.
SBS has been spending all week in negotiations, but has yet to come upon an internal consensus.
SBS’s Giant, I Am Legend
The articles point to an abuse of the outside production system; I think there’s fault on all sides. I see a couple of issues at play here. In the past, dramas were largely developed in-house within the three broadcasting stations. (Think The World They Live In.) Writers and directors were employed by the broadcasters, and the funding would therefore come from within as well. However, in recent years there have been more and more productions being “outsourced,” for lack of a better term, to standalone production houses, like Chorokbaem, Group 8, Taewon, Yigim, and so on. Those companies develop projects and sell them to broadcasters, who pay for the rights to air them. That’s how you have dramas that can be developed and shot but find themselves unable to get a concrete timeslot with a broadcast company for months on end (The Musical, Birdie Buddy).
I’m not 100% clear on the payment process, but the impression I get is that this system is financially beneficial to the broadcasters, because they reap the benefits of ad revenues but don’t bear as much risk for failed productions, since they just pay for what they buy. (If my understanding is off, please correct me.) Whereas, if a production company finances a drama project that tanks midway through, it bears the financial burden. This is doubly hard on them because they are smaller to begin with, and many of these companies are just one bad drama away from bankruptcy.
Imagine if, for example, IRIS never made it to the air — the company would have to foot the bill for all those location shoots, A-list actor salaries, crew wages, and so forth, but without a buyer, they have little way to recoup their costs. (This is also why there is a drastic increase of product placement in recent years, because that’s one way for the production teams to earn back some of their expenses.) Daemul is an example of a high-budget project that hit the skids; I feel like they can’t afford not to produce their show, at this point.