Hollywood animated films have an average production cost of US$114.3 million (123 billion won), while the Korean hit animated feature “Leafie: A Hen Into the Wild” in 2011 had a production cost of 5.8 billion won (US$5.36 million). The domestic animation industry shows a stark contrast with these figures alone. The value of animated films in the global market is growing day by day as a golden goose but it is still at the poor and petty level in the domestic market.
The South Korean animated film ecosystem is poor itself. Its market is so small that it is hard to collect billions of won of production costs and it also shows a limit with an abnormal form based on the toy business rather than a qualitative improvement of animated films. The domestic animated film market is worth 610.1 billion won (US$563.71 million), accounting for a mere 0.6 percent of 100.49 trillion won (US$92.84 billion) of the total sales of domestic content businesses as of 2015. It has the smallest ratio compared to other content businesses such as publication, broadcasting, advertising and games.
Since the market is small, most production companies are small as well. The number of domestic animated film production companies and their employees were 376 and 4,728 in 2015. The figures were much lower than those in the United States and Japan. Most of the companies produced animated feature films under the original equipment manufacturing (OEM) deals, mainly drawing a picture, instead of producing their own. Workers are also in short supply in animations for TVs and theaters which often take more than two years to be produced. The bigger problem is that most of the companies are just subcontractors of toy companies or those led by foreign capital even though the animation industry has a higher added value. In short, the South Korean animation industry is losing the driving force of the development of films and industry as a whole.
Such a petty production environment made the domestic animation market sacrifice for foreign productions. In particular, American and Japanese animated films for theaters continuously made a hit so animated films are naturally associated with foreign animated films now.
Considering the fact that animated films have a long production period, the domestic animation industry has an inevitable gap with global studios, including the U.S. and Japan, due to the absence of studios specializing in animated film production and long-term investors and the limited audience of children and their parents.
In the U.S., the largest animation market in the world, four animated films made the top 10 Hollywood box office charts in 2016. “Finding Dory,” which earned a whopping US$486 million (526 billion won), ranked second, “The Secret Life of Pets” fourth with US$368 million (398.36 billion won), “Zootopia” seventh with US$341 million (369.03 billion won) and “Sing” tenth with US$265 million (286.73 billion won). Only five or six South Korean animated films made the top 50 South Korean box office charts in the past three years, including “Hello Jadoo” and “Moonlight Palace” in 2016 and “Pororo, Dinosaur Island Adventure” in 2017.