As previously mentioned, the three major broadcasting companies (KBS, MBC, SBS) have been faced with a possibility of strike that would put some of their current dramas, all of whom are outsourced to outside production companies, on temporary hiatus. The issue at stake is unpaid wages to employees who are represented by the Korean Broadcasting, Film, and Performing Arts Labor Union.
Until the outstanding sum of more than 4 billion won is repaid, the union has taken the stance that they will refuse to allow their members continued participation in those productions. Representatives from the union gave a press conference on September 1, which was the deadline that the broadcasters were scrambling to meet in order to keep their affected dramas filming.
The union stated at the press conference, “The broadcasting company is at fault when outside production companies cannot adequately pay their actors and crew. The broadcasters can no longer air programs for free.”
The problem pointed out by the union is that there is an imbalance created with the system of using outside production companies. The broadcasters foot some of the production budget and make money off advertisers (and here’s where ratings are important, because the higher the ratings of a drama, the more ads they sell and at higher prices). However, they put undue pressure on the outside production companies when they pay, for example, only 50% to 60% of the actual cost to actually produce a miniseries. The union stated that the broadcast stations need to increase the production budgets they pay.
KBS was the first to settle matters by providing payment guarantees according to the rules stipulated, and therefore their shows will continue as normal. (They barely made it, coming to an agreement just three minutes before the press conference was called to announce the union’s decision.) That means that their heavy hitter, Baker King Kim Tak-gu, can continue to dominate in its Wednesday-Thursday timeslot without interruption. The other KBS shows involved were Monday-Tuesday’s Sungkyunkwan Scandal and the weekend show Marry Me, neither of which should be affected.
On the other hand, MBC and SBS still have ten dramas affected while the stations continue negotiations. MBC has four currently airing dramas on the line: Dong Yi, Gloria, Kim Suro, and Playful Kiss. SBS has six: Giant, Neighbor Enemies, My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho, I Am Legend, I Don’t Know Women, and Life Is Beautiful.
Life Is Beautiful, Playful Kiss
In the case of SBS’s Life Is Beautiful, which is produced by the same company as KBS’s Baker King Kim Tak-gu, the drama has settled its outstanding payment issue through the end of July, but because the broadcaster is different from Tak-gu, they are still at risk while Tak-gu is clear. (It appears that the union is taking an all-or-nothing stance per broadcaster.)
The union’s refusal to participate in filming will end as soon as MBC and SBS are able to negotiate a settlement.
What, ultimately, do they want? Aside from “settling” the outstanding wages, the union wants the broadcasters to provide a way of fundamentally preventing such lapses in the future. That means they’ll have to produce more than an IOU to get off the hook (as well they should).
So what does this mean for the dramas? Effective now and until the issue is solved, the affected productions will be denied union participation in filming. (Note: Filming, not airing. Of course, those two go hand in hand, but the difference means some shows can continue to air for a while.) Dramas that have a few episodes shot in advance will be able to air for a few weeks before falling behind. Example: Playful Kiss has five episodes filmed and doesn’t expect to be much affected. However, it’s likely that some will have to go off the air for a short time until the matter is fully resolved. My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho, for instance, is already filming in live-shoot, which means they’re filming the week’s episodes in the week leading up to broadcast. They have less buffer.
(This is serious business so I don’t mean to diminish it, but ultimately I’m not freaking out about this. I doubt it’ll get to that point and honestly, it seems the broadcasters will be doing everything possible to get in the clear, because wasted airtime is just more wasted money.)