As seen in KT’s ‘Attorney Woo’ experiment, telcos making big leaps into content business

July 27, 2022

“Extraordinary Attorney Woo,” a South Korean TV series about a rookie lawyer with autism spectrum disorder, has become the latest global K-drama sensation, dominating local cable show ratings and topping Netflix’s viewership chart of non-English shows for multiple weeks.

And for all the praise the show has garnered, fans may be surprised that a major force behind the production is not a traditional K-drama household name, such as CJ ENM Co. or the three terrestrial TV networks, but a company that some may find uniquely interesting — South Korean telecom giant KT Corp.

KT, the country’s largest fixed-line operator and No. 2 wireless carrier, established KT Studio Genie, a content production subsidiary, in March of last year, throwing down its gauntlet into the content production market amid the growing global popularity of Korean intellectual properties.

“Extraordinary Attorney Woo” is just the second original series of KT Studio Genie, following its debut project “Never Give Up,” starring Kwak Do-won, released in May to largely lukewarm reception.

For KT, the establishment of KT Studio Genie is part of its overarching business strategy to diversify its future growth portfolio — which now includes an array of new areas, such as cloud storage, media and mobile platforms, and even AI semiconductors.

A scene from KT Studio Genie TV production "Extraordinary Attorney Woo" (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)
This photo provided by SK Telecom shows its visual effects studio, TEAM, newly established in Pangyo, south of Seoul. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

A scene from KT Studio Genie TV production “Extraordinary Attorney Woo” (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Many industry watchers see the transition as being unavoidable, as KT sees little room for growth in its traditional fixed-line, wireless communications and broadband service areas. KT’s 2021 sales in the three areas, although tallied at a whopping 9.34 trillion won (US$7.2 billion) combined, grew merely 1.7 percent on-year.

KT has announced a three-year plan to invest 500 billion won to produce over 30 new original drama series and 300 entertainment shows through 2025. KT Studio Genie plans to release 22 more original drama series by next year.

“Starting this year, KT Studio Genie will showcase well-made dramas and expand both its distribution channels and production spectrum through partnerships with businesses from both home and abroad,” Kim Cheol-yeon, CEO of KT Studio Genie, said in a press conference in April.

KT is not alone when it comes to the introduction of content-oriented business models in the telecom industry.

SK Telecom Co., the country’s No. 1 wireless carrier, holds a major stake in local video streaming service operator Content Wavve Corp., which it established with the country’s three major broadcasters — KBS, MBC and SBS — in 2019.

Wavve has promised to invest 1 trillion won in content by 2025 to strengthen its portfolio amid growing competition from local and foreign rivals.

SK Telecom also recently opened a visual effects studio, named TEAM (an acronym for Tech-driven Entertainment for Asian Movement), in Pangyo, south of Seoul, to strengthen its content production capabilities and expand partnerships with global media companies.

Comparable to StageCraft, an on-set virtual visual effects system designed by Industrial Light & Magic of the United States, SK Telecom’s studio, spanning 3,050 square meters, provides production environments across two different LED wall stages.

LG Uplus Corp., South Korea’s third-largest wireless carrier, has also made recent commitments to strengthen its content-related businesses, with an emphasis on children’s content.

The company recently made an undisclosed amount of investment in SAMG Entertainment, a local kids animation studio responsible for the popular children’s series “Catch! Teenieping.” The two companies plan to cooperate in developing new content and even explore the possibility of building a children’s theme park.