Monday, April 30, 2012

Korea's service sector lagged in 2010

Statistics Korea has released the nation's first-ever economic census.   Not surprisingly, it shows that in 2010 the manufacturing sector continued to dominate South Korea's economy.  According to the report, the total yearly revenue of Korean businesses reached 4,332 trillion won ($3.8 trillion) in 2010.  The breakdown of that total among major sectors is show in the accompanying graphic (click on it to see a full-size version). Note that the services sector, includes dining and lodging, broadcasting and media, education and health and social services.
As illustrated in a post I did over a year ago, the heavy dependence on manufacturing represents a long term trend.  Korea's dependence on manufacturing and the export of manufactured products seems to permeate its ICT sector.  Over the past week or so, Samsung Electronics has received a great deal of publicity owing to the dramatic increase of its exports in the first quarter of 2012, spurred by high global demand for its smartphones and other mobile handsets.  Industry observers have also noted the success of Samsung, along with LG, in the global market for television sets and displays, now that the thinner, lightweight and lower power consumption LED technology is going mainstream.
Despite South Korea's remarkable success in manufacturing and the global export of its manufactured products, there seems to be a general understanding that, to ensure future success, the nation must improve the relative strength of its service sector.   The reason for this is the relative size, in the global market place of services, software and content, compared with communications hardware.
It is difficult to convey just how large the global ICT sector is, but the accompanying bar chart from the Digital Planet 2010 report of the World Information Technology and Services Alliance provides one industry estimate. (click on the chart to see a larger version)  To interpret this chart, keep in mind that communications spending, represented by the blue bars, includes the total value of voice and data communications services and equipment.  The equipment category, of course, includes both wire line and wireless handsets, switching equipment, answering machines and so forth.  Nevertheless, it seems clear from this bar chart that the total value of software and services far exceeds that of hardware and equipment.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

K-pop and Korea's Entertainment Industry

One of the topics to which I have returned on occasion is the heavy dependence of South Korea's economy and its ICT sector on manufacturing versus software and the creation of content and services. There are some bright spots that suggest this situation may change in the future. One of those is the multiplayer online game industry, especially as that industry adjusts to the increasing availability of mobile broadband around the world. Another one is South Korea's entertainment industry, which has generated a "Korean wave" that has swept across the globe, especially throughout Asia, in recent years. This year the U.S. market seems to be taking notice of K-pop. As suggested by the headline of a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, this may be the year that "K-pop enters American pop consciousness."   As the article appropriately notes, "Poised at the intersection of two countries' fast-moving pop cultures and cutting-edge media technology, the sprawling genre colloquially known as K-pop has operated outside the American pop limelight. But that's changing."  Later it notes that K-pop grew in Korea partly because "Songs and especially videos were quickly passed over high-speed Internet and mobile devices several times faster than what's available in America. In a related point, the article suggests that, "...while K-pop has a lively Internet presence, America lacks a dominant media hub for first encountering K-pop culture. If one emerges, it might the Culver City-based Mnet. Its cable channel, a division of CJ Entertainment, is heavily focused on K-pop and broadcasts a mix of video countdown shows like "M! Countdown," "Jjang!" (a celebrity gossip show) and "Hello Pop!" (a social-media-themed show whose 21-year-old host, Chrissa Villanueva, is L.A.-raised and Filipina).
K-pop received a big boost with the appearance in January of this year of The Girl's Generation on The David Letterman Show, as shown in the following video.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Online games and the end of mass media

This week my undergraduate class at KAIST, entitled "Introduction to Mass Communication" is looking at the game industry, both globally and Korea's role in it.  I was surprised when one of the students asked me to explain why we were studying online games in a course on "mass communication."  A good question and it is worth being explicit about the answer.
First, I think there is a good argument to be made (it already has been by many scholars) that the era of mass communication took place in the twentieth century and is over.  The data show that, all over the world, people are spending less time watching television or with other traditional "mass media" pursuits and more time online.  The online experience is decisively different from "mass" communication and nowhere is this more apparent than in the online game industry.
Second, the game industry, including online games, arcade games, video games (as in Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft X-box) and most recently mobile games) are part of the entertainment industry.  As digital technology, the internet and cloud computing continue to develop, online games are converging in some ways with both television and the motion picture industry.  If you doubt this, view the following trailer for the new version of World of Warcraft.
Third, as we discussed in our Tuesday class meeting, Korea has a big stake in the game industry, as illustrated in the accompanying graphic that was published in a December 2011 Korea Joongang Daily article.  (click on the graphic to see a full-size version).  The title of that article, "E-sports spread from PC Bang to world stage" hints at the answer to my student's question about why the game industry is becoming part of media today.
Finally, the game director of Diablo III, one of Blizzard Entertainment's popular online games, was in Seoul earlier this week and was interviewed by the Korea Joongang Daily.  He addressed the question of how important or large mobile online games may become as part of the global game industry.   His take on this question is quite interesting. He suggests that, despite their alarmingly rapid growth, games designed for smartphones will not replace those made for online use on PCs but rather offer gamers a more diverse range. He cited his own personal experience. “I play tons of games on my smartphone. I play tons of games on my PC. And I play tons of games on my console,” he said during the interview. “However, each one gives me a different experience.”
So there you have it.  Participation in a multiplayer online game, whether at home, at a PC Bang, or while riding home on the subway, is not really "mass communication," or is it?  Comments welcome.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The rise and fall of Korea's PC Rooms (a.k.a. Internet Cafes)

In recent years I have posted on occasion about the phenomenon of South Korea's internet cafes, known here as PC Rooms or PC Bang in Korean.  Last July, I took note of the declining numbers of PC Rooms.
Just this past week, The Korea Times carried an article that elaborates on the decline of PC Rooms. The article notes that "A recent survey on Internet cafe owners by the Korea Federation of Small and Medium Business showed that 64.5 percent of them have been in deficit for the past year; one out of three was barely breaking even, and only 1.8 percent saw a profit. Six out of 10 said their business seemed in bad shape, and 34.5 percent said it was very bad."  Then, as I suggested last year, the article goes on to document mobile games and the arrival of the smartphone era in Korea as major reasons for the decline.  Indeed, we might suggest that the decreasing popularity of PC Rooms here is another aspect of the so-called "smart-phone shock" that has rippled through South Korea's market since the arrival of the iPhone in late 2009.    The graphic accompanying this post is an updated version of one published in my book with Dr. Myung Oh, Digital Development in Korea:  Building an Information Society, (click on the graphic to see a larger version). I have not yet been able to find the data for 2009, although it appears that the number of PC Rooms began to drop sharply that year.  Note also that the peak number of PC Rooms, 22,548, appears to be correct based on multiple white papers published by the Korea Game Industry Association.  (I mention this because the graphic from the Joongang Daily article last July has a different figure, 23,548 and may have been a typo).

Friday, April 13, 2012

North Korea's Communication (Satellite) Failure

A few days ago, noting the increased attention of global media, including CNN and the BBC, to North Korea, I thought about doing a blog post.  It was apparent that the North Korean government wanted to use its planned rocket launch, along with other events, to create positive international public relations for the nation to honor the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung.
Now that the rocket launch has failed, the question of how North Korea will deal with the international television and other media reporters who are in Pyongyang looms large, as noted by CNN reporter Stan Grant in this report earlier this morning.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A tip for smartphone users learning Korean: Use Google translate!

Like many expats in Korea, I've been struggling to improve my command of the Korean language.  It will, of course, be a lifelong struggle.   However, Google Translate, the subject of earlier posts here, has taken a giant leap forward with the release of its "voice-to-voice" translation service.
This morning I downloaded the Google translate App for Android to my Galaxy Nexus phone and was delighted to learn that the voice-to-voice translation service is up and running for Korean to English or English to Korean translation.    This is really a 21st century service.   Basically, you just open the app, adjust a few settings and then speak the word, phrase or sentence that you want translated, after which you touch the speaker icon on your phone to hear a woman utter the translation in either English or Korean.   It gets even better..... in "conversation mode" you can view the text of the translation even as you're listening to it being spoken.
Of course, the translations are not always perfect, and Google translate still works better for simple words and phrases than more complex expressions.   Nevertheless, this is a tool that gives a glimpse of things to come!  If you haven't tried it, I recommend installing the app and starting immediately, as an enjoyable supplement to more rigorous study of Korean.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The continuing problem of Korea's Microsoft Monoculture

Since I live in South Korea, direct personal experience with the so-called "Microsoft monoculture" here is more or less inevitable.  I've posted somewhat regularly on this topic.
At any rate, this week I tried to make use of a Google docs presentation in one of my classes, only to discover that the electronic podium was loaded with Windows XP and an older version (IE 6.1 I believe) of Internet Explorer that would not even allow me to log on to Google docs, let alone view the presentation!  That excruciating experience reminded me that it was about time to take another look at this nation's excessive dependence on Microsoft software that much of the rest of the world has already discarded.   The Korea Times carried a good summary a few days ago, entitled "Korea still stuck in Active-X."   The opening two paragraphs of the story pretty much tell the story about internet use in South Korea, as follows.
"Many Internet users find Web browsers Google Chrome and Firefox more convenient than Internet Explorer (IE), but users here often stay with the latter due to the prevalence of Active X technology.
Over 80 percent of the country’s Internet sites still use this technology, which is not only vulnerable to malicious code, but also damages consumers’ right to freely choose the Web browser they want." The article goes on to note that "Internet users wanting to engage in commerce have no option but to use the Microsoft browser, and as a result IE has an 80 share of the browser market here while its ratio has fallen to below 40 percent globally."  The accompanying graphic from StatCounter shows the global trend (click on the graphic to see a full-size version).
The Korea Times article contains some interesting background detail on how the current situation in Korea came about and is well worth reading.
I am one of many consumers, both Korean and expatriate, who would love to use my smartphone to check bank account balances or do other such routine tasks, but this will have to await decisions by government and industry bodies here to shed their dependence on outdated Microsoft software and enter the 21st century.  People like me will not switch from using Chrome or Firefox back to Internet "exploder" just to do their banking or credt card transactions, especially with the security risks that such a move might involve.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Mobile telephony and communication with North Korea

As readers of this blog will be well aware, mobile telephony has gradually been spreading in North Korea, mainly through the efforts of Orascom, but also, according to many anecdotal reports, use of Chinese mobile services whose signals reach into North Korea along its border with China.  The Telegraph has published an article that provides some interesting, current detail on how clandestine mobile phone calls are being used by North Koreans who have fled to the South, to communicate with their relatives and others inside North Korea.  Entitled "What North Koreans really think of Kim Jong-Un," it is well worth reading.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Korea leads world in proportion of WiFi Households

Why was I not surprised by the findings of a new survey by Strategic Analytics?  80.3 percent of South Korean households use WiFi, compared with 73.3 percent in the UK and lower percentages in the other countries surveyed (with the U.S. at 61%). With fiber to the home (FTTH) or fast DSL service, it was only natural that South Korean households rapidly adopted WiFi for home use.   My wife and I both use notebook computers at home, and I also make good use of my Galaxy Tab 10.1 pad device and Galaxy Nexus smartphone here at home.  A wireless router connected to the FTTH router from Korea Telecom makes all of this very easy.
The graphic to the left shows the results of the Strategic Analytics survey (click on the graphic to see a full sized version).

Friday, April 6, 2012

Kindle Edition of Television's Window on the World published

My first book, Television's Window on the World:  International Affairs Coverage on the U.S. Networks, was published in 1984 and was based on my doctoral dissertation in Communication at Stanford University.  I've now made it available in a Kindle edition, via Amazon's KindleDirect program here.
Although it does not deal with Korea or with telecommunications per se, a careful reader will notice the influence of my earlier Peace Corps experience in South Korea.  The book did quite well, as academic monographs go, and can be found in many university and other libraries around the world.  A few years ago I published the book in full view and with PDF download available through Google Books, and there have been thousands of visits to it in that form.
However, with the rapid diffusion of mobile broadband and smart devices, I thought it was time for a Kindle (Mobi-pocket) edition of the book.  My own experience has convinced me that some readers will prefer this format over a straight PDF.   It can be placed on one's Kindle bookshelf and organized alongside other books.  The ease of highlighting, annotating and searching are shared with other e-book formats.   Most of all, reading the book on a nice tablet device is more natural and easier on the eyes than sitting in front of most computer screens.
Over the years, Television's Window on the World has seen some use as a textbook, mostly in graduate seminars. That was another motivation to re-format this book as a Kindle edition.  It fits in with my longstanding plan to eventually write a completely revised second edition, with embedded video or hyperlinks to video examples of television coverage throughout.
I've written a short new introduction to the Kindle edition.  Otherwise it is the same book whose yellowing pages can be found on library shelves all around the world.  The 40-plus tables and figures in the book have all been included as jpeg files, so the reader will occasionally need to double-tap to enlarge the scanned image.