Virtual concerts: How the KPOP industry turned a threat into an opportunity

November 19, 2020 by Yooah Chung


If someone were to tell you five years ago that you could go to a live concert of your favorite artist without leaving your room, would you have believed them? Though this idea may have sounded impossible just a few years ago, the recent rise of virtual concerts suggests a new direction for the KPOP industry.

Concerts have been an essential element of profit for artists, considering the industry's emphasis on close interactions between artist and their fans. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the scope of operation. The new norm of social distancing has transformed the nature of concerts and cheering culture. With fans having limited opportunities to interact with artists, it was predicted at first that the KPOP industry would temporarily decline.

Contrary to predictions, however, the KPOP industry has found a new outlet to the problems posed by COVID-19: virtual concerts. One of the first KPOP artists to make use of virtual and successfully capitalize concerts was BTS. Back in April 2020, Big Hit entertainment (BTS’ agency) announced that they would be hosting their first online streaming fan event using their official YouTube channel, BANGTAN TV. This event named ‘BTS online concert weekend’ was a 2-day event where people could watch recordings of past concerts for free. Big Hit Entertainment also made the event more interactive by letting fans sync their light sticks with the performances via a communication platform called ‘Weverse’. Though there was no revenue from ticket sales, profit from merchandise sales alone was more than 130 billion won. As Forbes Magazine’s Hugh McIntyre stated, the free concert “ended up being a very smart business decision,” as it not only collected revenue, but it also opened doors for more developed forms of virtual concerts.

Starting from their second concert ‘Bang Bang Con: The Live,’ BTS started selling tickets for their online concerts. The tickets were relatively cheaper than those of previous offline concerts and because there was no limited seating capacity, fans could easily enjoy the concert without struggling to buy tickets. ‘Bang Bang Con: The Live’ partnered with Kiswe Mobile, a streaming company, provided six simultaneous live streams, all in different angles to feature close-ups and full shots of the band. The second concert also attempted to communicate with fans through a live chat function where fans could interact with BTS and other fans. With this concert, BTS broke the Guinness world record for the world's biggest paid online music event. BTS’ most recent virtual concert has easily surpassed this record, attracting more than 990,000 people worldwide with the help of AR, XR effects, and more in-depth fan interactions.

Other companies have been emerging in the virtual concert field as well. SM entertainment partnered with Korea’s biggest web portal Naver to create Beyond Live Corporation, the world’s first online paid concert planning and operation company. Beyond Live goes beyond simply streaming live performances. Paired with high-quality camerawork and filming technology, the company’s services make use of AR technology and 3D graphics, which enhances the performance and gives greater excitement to the viewers. For example, CG graphics of tigers roaming around the venue and virtual light sticks were incorporated in Super M’s performance during their virtual concert in April. Also, Beyond Live services allow artists to engage in live interactions with fans by using a live video call function. Artists can see and hear their fans through a screen placed in front of them, letting both fans and artists feel as if they were together in one place.

In August, JYP entertainment joined Beyond Live as a joint investor. As of now, KPOP artists such as Super Junior, Twice, and NCT have hosted concerts through Beyond Live. In the future, Beyond Live is expected to expand its services, ultimately aiming to revolutionize the field of culture technology. Along with individual concerts, large-scale KPOP conventions such as KCON have also joined the virtual concert trend, streaming performances, and live video chats of more than 30 KPOP artists.

The pandemic has inevitably changed how people consume entertainment. Though the changes were very abrupt, KPOP is recognized as having successfully turned a threat into an opportunity for greater industry development and profit. There is no knowing when the pandemic will end but in the meantime virtual concerts will continue to evolve as a means of pushing the KPOP industry forward.

The UIC Scribe was founded in 2006 as the official student-run newsmagazine of Underwood International College. It celebrates diversity of thinking, excellence in writing, and the freedom of self-expression.