KOREA: YouTube opens Korean site with dim outlook

Local competition and Internet censorship pose challenges for success of newly-launched Korean YouTube

The Korea Times
Wednesday, January 23, 2008

By Cho Jin-seo

YouTube opened a Korean-language version site Wednesday, joining the already jam-packed video-sharing Web service market in Korea.

The Korean YouTube site faces a daunting mission in competing against locally grown services from Daum, Pandora TV and Afreeca. Tricky censorship regulations and skeptical sentiment toward foreign Internet firms will also become a hurdle to success for the U.S.-based site in Korea.

"Korea has one of the fastest IT infrastructure in the world and the broadband penetration here is very high so YouTube will be able to fill the demand for videos," Sakina Arsiwala, the international manager of YouTube, said during a press conference in the Hotel Shilla in Seoul.

It is a belated arrival for YouTube in Korea, considering it is already operating localized services in 18 other nations. Google, which owns YouTube, has been cautious about expanding in Korea knowing that many other globally popular Web services of YouTube's caliber have failed to win over the Korean market.

Since the early days of the Internet boom in the late 1990s, Korean Internet users have shown a strong favor for locally grown sites. For example, Google and Yahoo respectively have less than 5 percent of the search-engine market share, while Korean search engines Naver, Daum, and Nate continue to prosper. Social-networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace have even weaker presences here though the latter hopes to open a Korean site in the first half of the year.

Recognizing the cultural and language barriers, YouTube's Arsiwala said that the Korean version will have locally-made content from seven local Internet, broadcasting and entertainment firms, including CJ Internet, TU Media and JYP Entertainment.

Localization, however, looks far from complete. On Wednesday afternoon, its front page of site carried more English- and Japanese-language videos than Korean ones.

Censorship is another critical issue that YouTube must solve. The Korean government enforces relatively strict guidelines for sexual, violent, or politically controversial contents on Web sites. So major local portals such as Naver and Daum employ several hundreds of monitors in Korea and in China who check all video and text content and filter inappropriate material 24 hours a day.

YouTube's Arsiwala said Wednesday that the firm will do its best to comply with the Korean regulations. But there certainly will be loopholes because of the sheer amount of the videos uploaded onto the site -- Arsiwala says that YouTube sees about 10 hours of videos uploaded every minute.

The site already had clashes in other countries on the censorship issue. Most recently, the Turkish government last week blocked access to YouTube because of clips allegedly insulting the country's founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which is illegal there. China also temporarily blocked it last year due to the censorship of the Taiwanese flag.

YouTube was created in 2005, and was acquired by Google for $1.65 billion last year. It became famous in Korea in late 2006 when several overseas newspapers including the New York Times highlighted a young Korean guitarist who became a superstar with his YouTube video clip, which has been viewed more than 36 million times on the site.

Lim Jeong-hyun, the 23-year-old guitarist, said being a YouTube star was a pleasant experience.

"I went backpacking around Europe last year and played guitar on the street from time to time, and I was surprised that many people recognized me saying they had watched me on YouTube," he said at the press conference.