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Short-Form Content Is the Future
Short-Form Content Is the Future
The race is on to bring short-form contents to consumers in Korea and abroad.


A typical day for a TV viewer prior to the late-2000s would include sitting in front of her TV with a remote control in hand and flipping from channel to channel to see what is on. On a day when her favorite show is scheduled, she would rush home after work, so as not to miss any part of it. With her eyes glued on the screen, she would devote a good whole hour – if not hours – until the show comes to an end with either a jaw-dropping cliffhanger or anticlimactic nonsense.

Gone are the days when TVs were an integral part of the lives of people including Koreans whose country has long been acclaimed as a cultural powerhouse. Today, people are ditching cable for online streaming services and choosing their entertainment on demand and a la carte.

That shift away from traditional TV to streaming or digital platforms was largely driven by the arrival of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets and the expanding video-watching capabilities thereof, says Yoon Young-chul, a professor at Yonsei University’s Graduate School of Communication and Arts. What is accelerating that switch is of course the rise of over-the-top (OTT) services like Netflix, Disney Plus and Apple TV Plus that deliver video content to internet-enabled devices rather than the traditional distribution methods of cable or satellite.

Cords have been cut and mobile devices have become first screens, and this is especially true among younger generations who show completely different viewing behaviors and content interests – Millennials, born between 1981 and 1996, and Gen Z, born in 1997 and onwards.

“Younger audiences spend most of their content consumption hours on social media and streaming services,” the professor says. “They gobble up streaming videos during the in-between times” like heading to school or work, taking a break between meetings, or waiting at a restaurant for a friend.

In Korea, where OTT services abound, YouTube has particularly risen in prominence over the past few years and continues to grow in popularity. According to the latest data from Wiseapp, which represents the country’s Android users who make up roughly 80 percent of its 51.5 million population, YouTube has witnessed a massive increase in unique users in the market, almost to a saturation point. Nearly 34 million people used the U.S. video-streaming app at the end of last year – a 6 percent rise from 2018 and a 38 percent rise from 2016.

What makes YouTube a huge hit seems to be due in large part to its short, clip-style presentation. From makeup tutorials, to “mukbangs” or eating shows, and to highly-personal vlogs of online personalities, a wealth of addictive pleasures is available on YouTube, as well as some informative, “how-to” videos and videos for DIY projects. While many of the successful contents that go viral are usually emotionally visceral and transcend language barriers, one important thing to note is that they are shorter in length – seldom longer than 20 minutes.

For example, each episode of “Secret Crushes,” a 2016 web drama series by Whynot Media that has raked a combined 100 million viewership, lasts under five minutes. The videos are not extracts of long dramas; they are meant to be short.

“The reason for this strategy is simple,” says CEO Lee Min-seok. “Viewers prefer – and will prefer – content that is short and impactful.”

Short-form video is the new focus of content creators and service providers, with many short-video specific brands appearing on the scene, such as widely-popular TikTok and mobile-only Quibi, which is to be launched in the U.S. this April. In Korea, Kakao M, a subsidiary of South Korea’s top messenger operator Kakao, plans to launch “Talk TV” this year with a focus on short videos. The launch of an OTT platform by entertainment giant CJ ENM and cable network JTBC is also in the works.

That new approach to video content and production is also penetrating into the Korean TV industry that is taking the brunt of this ever-more-competitive video landscape.

With Na Young-suk, a well-reputed producing director of reality shows, at the helm, cable channel tvN has recently launched “On Friday, Friday Night,” an omnibus-style program with six short-form segments that focus on varying themes like sports, science, art, travel and cooking. Each segment, which is around 15 minutes long, features different cast members, including singer Lee Seung-gi, boyband WINNER’s Song Mino, soccer commentator Han Joon-hee, and professors Kim Sang-wook and Yang Jung-moo.

The South Korean government is getting involved too, strengthening support for production of short-form broadcasting contents for cross-platform use. The Ministry of Science and ICT announced earlier this year that it had set aside a total of 18.9 billion won to fund planning, production, and overseas distribution of high-quality broadcasting contents.

The production of short-form video has a number of benefits over traditional TV content production.

Whynot Media’s Lee says: “TV dramas, for example, are expensive to produce. The ‘platform cost’ of TV broadcasting is high. Big opportunity costs can lead to higher sales, but when sales are small, the risks are high. There is little room for experiment because the production itself is time-consuming and expensive. The barrier to entry is high. The higher the barrier to entry, the less guaranteed players (directors, writers and actors), so the unit price is also high. But short-form video production is the opposite. You can quickly deliver great results at low risk.”

But whether viewers will embrace short-form contents on TV as much as those on online platforms is anybody’s guess, and so too is the future of Na’s show, whose viewer rating, according to Nielsen Korea, hovers around 3 percent.

“Choppy segments lead to a lack of continuity,” says Shin Su-kyung, 33, a resident of Gumi, Gyeongbuk Province. “The show would have been better if the same cast comes out in all segments.”

Carina Lee, an assistant programmer at A&E networks Korea, thinks otherwise. She believes the show has “a wide variety of styles and colors.”
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