“The New Abnormal?”: How the K-pop Industry navigates within a concert-less world during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Sat, 18 Jul 2020 || By Jasmine Noor

The Korean Pop (K-Pop) industry’s rise has been one of the most interesting talking points in recent memory as its prevalence has been immense in many parts of the world. K-Pop has been promoted as a part of the “Hallyu wave” along with Korean dramas and films, as a tool to increase South Korea’s soft power. K-Pop’s meteoric rise in the recent decade has ushered a new era of South Korean soft power and economic power that arises from the industry. Manifestations of this prowess is through the sales of K-pop related music, merchandise, and concert tickets. This was showed through Hallyu exports, which accounted to $8.2 billion in 2018[i] and the exponential increase of Korean music industry export value from $13.89 million in 2007 to $512.58 million in 2017.[ii] This demonstrated the lucrativeness of K-Pop-related products to boost Korean economy. With the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions, it severely halts the industry, especially for concerts as large-scale events are prohibited by the government. Facing this and the uncertainty of offline concerts in the near future, the K-Pop industry is trying to navigate within a concert-less world by creating online concerts to cater to fans from the comfort of their own home.

 

The lucrative business of K-pop concerts

The K-Pop industry has seen a tremendous rise in the past decade as they expand their outreach from Asia to world-wide. With this, K-Pop concerts have also seen a large amount of attractors with arenas and stadiums being sold out in many parts of the world. The most famous acts in K-Pop such as BTS, EXO, Seventeen, NCT and Twice could racked up millions from performing in stadiums all over the world and also attract people to come to Korea to watch their concerts. A prime example is BTS’ Love Yourself World Tour, which grossed $196.4 million from 42 shows during its run.[iii] More strikingly, the three-day final encore concert in Seoul brought a huge economic profit to South Korea as it was estimated to accumulate an economic value of almost ₩1 trillion and attracted 187,000 foreign visitors to the country.[iv] With the COVID-19 pandemic, it forces the lucrative business to cancel or postpone their concerts due to the banning of large crowds and travel restrictions. To navigate through the ‘new normal’, K-Pop companies have been trying to search for a way to hold substitute these concerts by teaming up with video streaming companies to hold paid online concerts. To enhance and emulate the experience of these concerts, they have found new way to incorporate new technologies to entice more fans to buy the tickets. This ‘new normal’ in the K-Pop concert industry is one of the most cutting edge of its kind and this article will analyze this issue through SM Entertainment’s Beyond Live concerts and BTS’ Bang Bang Con.

 

SM Entertainment’s Beyond LIVE online concerts

SM Entertainment is one of the biggest entertainment companies in South Korea and they introduced their innovation for paid online concert streaming service in April 2020, called “Beyond LIVE”. They partnered up with Naver (Korea’s most-used search engine) to organize the live streaming service, aimed to provide “online-optimized digital concert content”. The partnership intends to incorporate SM’s artists with Naver’s technology, such as through the “Fanship” platform which is a global fan platform based on big data and let the artists assemble their own personalized fan membership system.[v] Acts that performed include SuperM, NCT 127, NCT Dream, WayV, TVXQ, and Super Junior in a weekly basis and were broadcasted in the online streaming platform of VLive. They included technologies such as digital light sticks, real-time comments, and a fan-dedicated segment.[vi] It was reported that Super Junior’s “Beyond the Super Show” drew the most viewers at 123,000 viewers and generated a revenue of about ₩4 billion (approx. $3,300,000). The second-highest one was NCT 127’s “Beyond the Origin” which racked up more than 104,000 people and ₩3.4 billion (approx. $2,805,000) revenue.[vii]

 

 

BTS’ Bang Bang Con

BTS is arguably the most famous K-Pop group right now and boasted a massive online presence in social media. As aforementioned before, their concerts were very successful and they were planning to hold their “Map of the Soul Tour” this year before the pandemic forced them to postpone the tour. With the tour being postponed, the group announced “Bang Bang Con”, where they streamed their past live concerts and fan meetings for free on YouTube in mid-April. It attracted 50.6 million total views and 2.24 million concurrent viewers, making in one of the most viewed musical live-stream performances in the platform.[viii] They follow this up with the “Bang Bang Con: The Live” that was held on 15 June. In this concert, they live-streamed their musical performances in collaboration with a streaming service start-up, Kiswe Mobile, which allowed viewers to watch the concert from six different camera angles. The 100-minute online concert attracted a peak of 756,000 concurrent viewers from 107 countries, becoming the biggest audience for a paid live-streamed concert.[ix] To put into context, the size of the audience can be equaled to the combined audience of 15 stadium concerts and was reported have amassed around $20 million in revenue.[x]

Lessons learned?

The profits generated from Beyond LIVE and Bang Bang Con have been immense and demonstrated the potential of online concerts as the way that the K-Pop industry guide its lucrative industry during these uncertain times. This also showed the paid livestream method as an alternative for other musicians to alleviate the adverse effects that the pandemic have on their income. Musicians depended significantly on offline concerts as an income source and with the current circumstances, concert livestreaming has become the next best option for them.[xi] Online K-Pop concerts have shown how profitable livestreaming can be. Smaller acts often opt to offer their concert livestream services through platforms such as StageIT, Wave, or BeApp, which have gained more interest from artists due to the inability to hold in-person concerts.[xii] Another lesson is that the cultural industry is also one of the hardest-hit industry during the pandemic and governments should also protect the industry through financial support and incentives. Seeing Hallyu as an influential part of its economy, the South Korean government injected ₩17 billion (approx. $13.8 million) to its film industry that is affected by the virus.[xiii] This is a step that other governments should follow, especially in countries with burgeoning cultural industry like Indonesia. Governments should work hand-in-hand to rebuild industries that are damaged in the pandemic, including the cultural industry. As shown in this article, South Korea and the K-Pop industry is a prime example of finding alternative solutions to alleviate the damage that the pandemic imposed. The K-Pop industry has been in the forefront of navigating their music industry within a concert-less world and by the look of it, they are doing a very good job at it.

 

Author: Jasmine Noor Andretha Putri
Editor: Amelinda Pandu Kusumaningtyas

 

[i] Xu, A. and Hahm, H., 2018. Hallyu Exports Hit USD 8.2 Billion : Korea.Net : The Official Website Of The Republic Of Korea. [online] Korea.net. Available at: [Accessed 19 June 2020].

[ii] Statista. 2019. South Korea: Music Industry Exports 2017 | Statista. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 June 2020].

[iii] Billboard. 2019. Ed Sheeran Meets The Rolling Stones In Boxscore History: Billboard Year In Charts 2019 | Billboard. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 June 2020].

[iv] (In Korean) Kim, H., 2019. "방탄소년단 서울 콘서트 경제효과 1조원 육박". [online] Yonhap News. Available at: [Accessed 19 June 2020].

[v] Soompi. 2020. SM Entertainment And Naver Collaboratively Launch New Digital Concert Platform + Superm To Perform Inaugural Concert. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 June 2020].

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] (In Korean) Starnews. 2020. 슈주 40·NCT 34..'비욘드 라이브' 오프라인 공연 이상③. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 June 2020].

[viii] Frater, P., 2020. BTS Announces Live-Streamed Concert ‘Bang Bang Con. [online] Variety. Available at: [Accessed 19 June 2020].

[ix] The Korea Herald. 2020. BTS' 'Bang Bang Con' Becomes World's Biggest Paid Online Concert: Company. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 June 2020].

[x] Millman, E., 2020a. BTS Just Proved That Paid Livestreaming Is Here To Stay. [online] Rolling Stone. Available at: [Accessed 19 June 2020].

[xi] Millman, E., 2020b. Coronavirus Is Giving Livestreaming The Chance To Prove Itself. [online] Rolling Stone. Available at: [Accessed 19 June 2020].

[xii] Millman, 2020a.

[xiii] Yonhap News Agency. 2020. S. Korean Gov't To Inject 17 Bln Won Into Virus-Hit Film Industry | Yonhap News Agency. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 June 2020].

 

Photo credit to SM Entertainment & Big Hit Entertainment