Going International: How globalisation of K-pop has impacted sales and revenue

The rewarding impact of Korean pop-culture on the world.

South Korean pop-culture or K-Pop in the last couple of years has risen inexorably resulting in widespread attention not only nationally but on a global scale. It is referential to Hallyu or the Korean Wave, an indigenous term that describes the international success of Korean culture and music industry. The phenomenon has been at the forefront of the Korean government’s priorities mainly due to the hefty income it generates.

While the popularity of K-Pop is perennial in its country of origin, globalisation has been a major milestone for the music industry, accompanying various financial and qualitative outcomes. Global revenues obtained from online music streaming reveals a steady growth in popularity and remuneration.

Global Revenue Comparison
Global Revenue Comparison of K-Pop music through streaming services. Source: Statista

Data compiled by Statista illustrates the prime consumers and streaming data of K-pop, apart from the Korean audience. With a market volume of about $4,357m the United States records high revenue generated in 2019, inexplicably exceeding the revenue figures of Korea itself at only $313m. Other leading economies include China which stands second with $820m, followed by Germany with $668m, Japan with $663m and United Kingdom with $635m. This goes to show that the pop phenomenon has been well received in the western world.

The Japanese streaming numbers are visibly smaller hinting that it is doing surprisingly well despite the 50 year culture-sharing ban that had once been imposed. The ban disallowed Korea and Japan to liaise with each other until it was lifted in 2000.

The International Federation for the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) feature South Korea as the sixth largest music market highlighting a potential growth in physical revenue (+17.9%) , in its annual Global Music Report. BTS and Blackpink are stated as the driving force behind the expansion of this market. Further, the report highlights international physical sales declined by 10%, but it still picked up growth in Korean, Japanese and Indian markets.

The international streaming revenues only continue to change drastically, growing year by year attributed to user penetration. User penetration in a broad sense refers to the number of users, making use of the internet to access streaming platforms to listen to music.

User Penetration
Global User Penetration figures from streaming services. Source: Statista

With 56.0%, the United States’ user penetration is highest in music streaming, followed by the other big digital economies – Sweden at 40.3%, Singapore at 34.0%, Croatia at 33.8% and Estonia at 26.8%, respectively. South Korea stands at 21.1%, less than half of the United States’ figures.

Korea hasn’t approved Spotify for launch as of yet, but Korean artists still share their works to their global audiences through the platform, and also collaborate on personal playlists. They sustain a following, in this manner. Last year Spotify reported that BTS was the second most-streamed artist following Imagine Dragons in the first place.

Despite the prominence of music websites such as Spotify, ITunes and online K-pop music service, Melon, YouTube currently happens to be the go-to platform for streaming music. In 2018, YouTube released annual data highlighting the most viewed K-pop artists on the website. The artists, co-incidentally are those that also embarked on their premier world tours or travelled overseas to promote their artistry. In chronological order, the top five artists are as follows BTS, Blackpink, Twice, Momoland and Exo.

Infographic by Anoushka Pinto: Popular K-Pop artists as per maximum views on YouTube. 

BTS made their US debut in 2017, and has remained a favourable K-pop group since. Their collaborations with various western artists and a Grammy nomination for their album ‘Love Yourself: Tear’, have further added to their credibility. Blackpink is also the first K-pop group to be performing at Coachella this year, which is sure to be a boost to their popularity. A surprising inclusion to the list is new-comer Momoland. The group only debuted in 2017, but have climbed the ladder of success to gain international recognition.

Spotify’s data scientist, David Erlandsson, revealed to Forbes Magazine that last year listeners from Peru, Canada and France contributed to over 100 million streams.

K-pop fans in Korea and the world-over, have also re-embraced physical formats as a way of showing support to their favourite idols and for also getting their hands on collectibles for their money’s worth. Management companies invest generously in promotions and sales that albums comprise of not only a CD and list of songs, but other collectible items like picture diaries, calendars or featured images of the artist.

But more so than anything, streaming has helped the industry to stretch beyond its borders into a multi-national sphere and K-pop’s reputation only continues to grow by leaps and bounds.

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