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Fan community platforms

K-pop content platforms team up to take lead in community market

Naver, HYBE alliance takes on Kakao, NCSoft coalition

By May 31, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

BTS performed their latest single, Butter, on ABC News' Good Morning America May 29.
BTS performed their latest single, Butter, on ABC News' Good Morning America May 29.

Platform operators targeting global K-pop fans are mired in fierce competition as companies team up to vie for the lead in the fan community platform market.

The current market frontrunner, an alliance between platform giant Naver Corp. and BTS label HYBE Co., is being challenged by a new coalition between game publisher NCSoft Corp. and Kakao Corp., the operator of Korea's largest messaging app.

According to the IT industry on May 31, NCSoft’s K-pop community app Universe has seen a rapid increase in user numbers since its launch in January. So far, the app has been downloaded over 8 million times globally with over 3.3 million active users monthly.

The Universe app is serviced in 134 countries, including the US, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Philippines, with foreign users accounting for 83% of total users.

On the Universe app, K-pop fans can enjoy various forms of content from their favorite K-pop artists and interact with each other on forums. They can also gain access to online concerts, exclusive footage and try out artificial intelligence services such as producing their own virtual music videos on the app.

NCSOFT, KAKAO TIE-UP TO STIR UP FAN COMMUNITY MARKET

Recently, NCSoft teamed up with Kakao by bringing in many artists from labels under Kakao's entertainment arm such as Monsta X, Cosmic Girls and The Boyz on the Universe app.

“The core competitiveness of the K-pop content market lies in intellectual property -- which are mostly the artists themselves,” said an entertainment industry official, adding that artists under Kakao labels have entered the fan community scene to diversify their revenue.

Since last month, Kakao’s music streaming service Melon has also partnered with the Universe app to reward users that stream songs of artists featured on the fan community app.

NCSoft's fan community app, Universe
NCSoft's fan community app, Universe

However, the tie-up between Naver and HYBE remains the strongest in the fan community platform market. Naver was notably the first to create a fan community platform on its video streaming service, V Live, which has over 30 million global users.

Naver also partnered with Blackpink label YG Entertainment and EXO label SM Entertainment, investing 100 billion won ($90 million) in each label. 

FIERCE COMPETITION OVER K-POP IP

Earlier in January, Naver and HYBE became former rivals-turned-partners when Naver invested 411.9 billion won in BeNX, the operator of fan community platform Weverse under HYBE, and became its second-biggest shareholder. Weverse has over 4.7 million users.

Moving forward, Naver and HYBE plan to integrate their fan community services.

“We want to cultivate fandom culture, which got its foothold from Big Hit (currently HYBE) and K-pop, to spread beyond Asia and North America to Europe and Latin America as we aim to take it mainstream," said Han Seong-sook, the chief executive at Naver.

Weverse also featured non-HYBE label artists on its platform. (Courtesy of Weverse)
Weverse also featured non-HYBE label artists on its platform. (Courtesy of Weverse)


In September 2020, CL, a former member of the popular K-pop girl group 2NE1, joined the Weverse platform as the first non-HYBE label artist. Since then, other non-HYBE artists, such as Sunmi and Henry, have joined the Weverse platform.

Watching BTS' online concert, MAP OF THE SOUL ON:E via Weverse
Watching BTS' online concert, MAP OF THE SOUL ON:E via Weverse


Since last year, the fan community platform market has seen rapid growth due to increased non-contact content consumption as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

This has led to firms scrambling to beef up their K-pop IP portfolios. Currently, platform giants Naver and Kakao are competing for a stake in SM Entertainment, the label behind popular artists such as SuperJunior and Red Velvet.

Last year, Weverse streamed BTS’ online concert, MAP OF THE SOUL ON:E, drawing in almost 1 million viewers across 191 countries, with ticket sales reaching around 49.1 billion won. HYBE estimates the local fandom market to be valued at around 7.9 trillion won.

Write to Joo-wan Kim at kjwan@hankyung.com

Danbee Lee edited this article.

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