Following the success of the “BTS World” mobile game that launched last year, the global boy band once again collaborated with game developer Netmarble to unveil “BTS Universe Story,” an interactive mobile storytelling platform, on Wednesday.
This is in alignment with the recent moves of BTS’ label, Big Hit Entertainment, to expand character merchandise by integrating storytelling into music, pushing the K-pop industry to a new level of possibility.
A large banner featuring the lyrics of BTS’ ‘Run,’ the lead song of the boy band’s album ‘The Most Beautiful Moment in Life, Pt. 2,’ is installed on the exterior of the Kyobo Building at Gwanghwamun in central Seoul, Aug. 19. It reads, ‘Run, run, run again. It’s OK if you fall. Run, run, run again. It’s OK to get hurt.’ “Storytelling will be expanded in stages to include artists in our multi-label organization,” Bang Si-hyuk, founder and co-CEO of Big Hit Entertainment, said during a press conference held in Seoul, Aug. 13.
According to the label, it sold 458 intellectual property (IP) products in the first half of this year, including the “Graphic Lyrics,” a series of graphic books that depict five BTS songs, and “TinyTAN,” BTS-inspired animated characters. The “Graphic Lyrics” book features illustrations decoding the hidden messages of the following five songs: “A Supplementary Story: You Never Walk Alone,” “Save ME,” “House Of Cards,” “RUN” and “Butterfly.”
Words from their song “Run” are currently displayed on an iconic billboard on the exterior of the Kyobo Building in Gwanghwamun Square in central Seoul. “With ‘Graphic Lyrics,’ we are introducing a new way of enjoying music for the first time with BTS songs and are planning to continue the series with Big Hit’s multi-label artists as well,” the agency said in a statement.
Big Hit has various IP releases planned for the latter half of this year, which include a BTS-themed Korean language-learning course in association with the Korea Foundation and Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, and “The Most Beautiful Moment in Life: The Notes 2,” a sequel to a prior book that explores the “BTS Universe.” Big Hit is also preparing a drama series titled “Blue Sky,” which tells the story of BTS and the group’s rise to stardom, slated for release in the second half of 2020.
Many other entertainment agencies are following Big Hit’s steps in creating a universe (a collection of music videos, short films, and other media that tell a fictional story based on the group’s members) and circulating related content to increase revenue.
YG Entertainment has joined hands with Naver Z’s three-dimensional avatar service Zepeto to create BLACKPINK-themed characters. It offers four characters that correspond to each member of the girl group, and allow fans to see the characters dance and sing, as well as take pictures together.
JYP Entertainment recently launched 2D animated short clips of “B2World” which feature character dolls of Boy Story, a rookie K-pop boy band that consists of Chinese members. Cedarbough Saeji, a visiting assistant professor of Korean Culture at Indiana University, explained that expanding IP and merchandise businesses is actually a very savvy business plan.
“According to 2018 cultural contents export data from Korean Creative Contents Agency, more money was made through games and character licensing than through music. Unlike K-pop groups, their characters can work 24 hours a day and never go to the military,” Saeji said.
“If these products make money we will definitely see other entertainment agencies trying to make money in the same way in the future.” The increase in IP products may be correlated to the COVID-19 pandemic as K-pop stars are unable to hold concerts or fan engagement events. Some K-pop stars hold online concerts, but tickets are priced much cheaper than offline concerts.
“We want to build a business structure so that artists can make money even when they are inactive. By developing various non-music related content, we can provide an alternative experience to fans when artists cannot hold concerts,” Yoon Seok-jun, Global CEO of Big Hit Entertainment, said during a press conference, Aug. 13. K-pop watchers said entertainment companies are able to capitalize on merchandise because super fans not only consume music but also enjoy collecting merchandise. It is the power of K-pop fans that actually completes an idols’ narrative and character creation.
Jo Min-sun, a K-pop researcher, writes in “A Study on the Transmedia Storytelling of Korean Idol Content: Focusing on EXO and BTS” that “The fandoms build and expand the story world of idol content because K-pop leaves a room for participation ― whether it be interpretation or reproduction.”
“When a K-pop fan buys merchandise, they are creating a link between their world and the world of the idol ― a little piece of the idol they can take home. This link demonstrates their belonging in the fandom community, and it demonstrates their support for the idol,” professor Saeji said.
Culture critic Kim Heon-sik said he expects the market for secondary content including artist-based characters will likely grow in the future thanks to fans who are incredibly loyal to their idols.
Source: The Korea Times