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K-pop platform Universe records 2.6m viewers for first show

NCSoft Corporation, the South Korean developer behind the long-running online video game Guild Wars, welcomed more than 2.5 million viewers in 164 countries to its first online concert, staged via new artist-to-fan platform Universe on Valentine’s day.

Universe (no relation to the ticketing service) launched earlier this year as an “all-in-one technology platform” to connect Korean fans with their favourite K-pop and ‘idol’ groups.

The app is seen as a rival to Big Hit Entertainment’s Weverse fan platform, which is home to the likes of BTS, GFriend, CL and TXT. Weverse currently holds the record for the biggest-ever ticketed concert live stream, for BTS’s Bang Bang Con: The Live, which recorded 756,000 concurrent viewers last summer.

The concert featured a multi-view mode that allowed fans to watch the acts from five different angles

A total of 2.6m people viewed the free-to-watch debut show, Uni-Kon, which was held at 7pm Korean time yesterday (14 February). Performers included Park Ji Hoon, Iz*One, Monsta X, the Boyz, Kang Daniel, WJSN and AB6ix.

“There haven’t been big concerts recently due to Covid-19, but we could enjoy many artists’ performances today through Universe,” said Daniel during the show, JoongAng Ilbo reports. “I hope today’s Uni-Kon was a gift for the audience.”

The concert featured a multi-view mode that allowed fans to watch the acts from five different angles, as well as ‘extended-reality’ (XR) virtual stage effects. The entire show, as well as interviews and backstage footage, will be made available on the Universe platform in the coming days.


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Save Our Stages movement reaches South Korea

Around 70 South Korean bands will take part in a livestreamed benefit concert in aid of the country’s shuttered music venues.

Taking inspiration from the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA)’s Save Our Stages campaign in the US, which culminated in a US$15 billion relief package of the same name, #SaveOurStages Korea launches with a multi-day event taking place at five music venues in western Seoul.

Local acts Galaxy Express, No Brain, Jambinai and Crying Nut are among those taking part in the #SaveOurStages concert, which runs from 8 to 14 March in the Hongdae area of the South Korean capital, according to the Yonhap news agency.

Promoter CODE says most of the money raised in ticket sales and donations will be used to pay venues’ rent and compensate artists and staff, with the remaining amount going back into the local music scene.

Hongdae (pictured) is one of Seoul’s most popular shopping and entertainment areas, but has been hit hard by lockdown and social distancing measures. The greater Seoul area is currently under a 9pm curfew, with gatherings of five or more people banned.


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Universal Music, YG invest in livestreaming service

Universal Music Group (UMG) and K-pop label YG Entertainment have invested in KBYK Live, a livestreaming company backed by BTS’s management company, Big Hit Entertainment.

The investment from YG – home to Korean superstars including Blackpink, Big Bang and iKon – and UMG will go towards expanding KBYK Live’s VenewLive, bringing both companies’ rosters of artists to the platform, which boasts augmented reality (AR), multi-view and 4K streaming capabilities. KBYK Live was established after Big Hit and tech start-up Kiswe partnered last summer.

The technology behind VenewLive was demonstrated at BTS’s record-breaking Bang Bang Con: The Live and Map of the Soul: One in June and October respectively. The former drew in a peak concurrent audience of 756,000, while the latter was viewed by nearly a million people worldwide.

The shows also offered a variety of premium features, delivering a full stage production from multiple angles in 4K resolution, with live chat and synchronised light sticks.

“This past year has shown that the need for reliable and innovative livestreaming has never been greater”

“VenewLive has already livestreamed several large-scale performances last year and provided unique immersive fan concert experiences that can be offered through our cutting-edge technologies, including six-angle multi-views, 4K resolution and various interactive features,” says KBYK Live CEO John Lee. “Our technology will be the basis for enabling fans to feel closer to artists, and help artists express their energy on a digital stage.”

“We are excited about this investment as our company, with many artists competitive on a global stage, has secured a high-quality platform with leading technologies,” adds YG Entertainment COO Sung Jun Choi. “We will continue to do our best to provide more interactive experiences and new services to global fans.”

Boyd Muir, executive vice-president and CFO of Universal Music, says its unspecified investment into KBYK/VenewLive will allow the company to “evolve the opportunities and live streaming experiences for UMG artists and their fans today and into the future”.

“This past year has shown that the need for reliable and innovative livestreaming has never been greater,” he adds. “VenewLive offers some of the most creative and memorable opportunities for today’s artists to globalise their art and performances, tailored to enhance the community and fan experience.”


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Fan tents and sanitiser showers at 1,200-cap K-pop show

An estimated 1,200 K-pop fans attended an innovative socially distanced live show intended to offer a blueprint for how live events may continue in South Korea while Covid-19 is still a threat.

The Live in DMZ concert, held as part of an annual event promoting peace in the Korean peninsula, was organised by the government of the province of Gyeonggi as a means of providing “comfort” to people who are tired of ongoing coronavirus restrictions, according to local media.

For the show, fans were placed in 300 clear dome-shaped tents, specially constructed for the occasion and capable of seating four people (from a single household/bubble) apiece. According to organisers, the tents aim are the first of their kind in the world, and prevent the transmission of potentially disease-carrying droplets between fans.

In addition to the unusual seating arrangement, the Gyeonggi authorities installed an ‘air shower’ gate that sprayed a disinfecting mist at the entrance to the concert, as well as a thermal temperature-checking system and a ‘distancing fence’ to prevent household mixing in the waiting area before fans took their seats, reports the Gyeonggi Daily.

In addition to the unusual seating arrangement, authorities installed an ‘air shower’ gate that sprayed a disinfecting mist

For the purposes of contact tracing, all attendees were required to fill in a health-check questionnaire and provide their details in advance of the show. After filling in the form, ticket buyers received an automatically generated QR code to use for entry into the concert.

Explaining the concept to Cities Today, Lee Jae-gang, Gyeonggi’s vice-governor for peace, says: “By operating a web-based access system that enabled entry using QR codes for confirmation, the Gyeonggi provincial government was not only able to implement rapid and accurate quarantine procedures, but [can] also undertake follow-up management by once again sending self-health-check questionnaires to concert attendees two weeks after the event.”


Held from Friday 23 to Sunday 25 October at the 41,000-seat Goyang Sports Complex in Goyang (a satellite city of South Korean capital Seoul), the Live in DMZ show featured performances from local stars including Monsta X, Mamamoo, Itzy, Loona, (G)I-dle, and Oh My Girl’s Seunghee and Yooa.

According to Cities Today, the novel set-up gave the stadium a capacity of 1,200 for Live in DMZ, while an additional 400 people watched the concert online.


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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South Korea: Venues open, despite Covid-19 spike

There are no plans to reinstate social distancing in South Korea, one of the first countries to report cases of Covid-19, despite a spike in infections linked to a cluster of venues in Seoul, the country’s deputy health minister has said.

Health officials were placed on high alert last week when a 29-year-old clubgoer tested positive for Covid-19 after having visited five nightlife venues in the neighbourhood of Itaewon, potentially exposing thousands to the virus, according to UPI. At press time, there had been 76 confirmed patients who attended the Itaewon clubs, as well as 43 who were infected through secondary transmission.

While some Seoul nightclubs and bars were temporarily re-shuttered, the government has stood by its decision to ease restrictions by reopening offices, public facilities and sports centres, reports Reuters. Despite the reopenings, daily infections remain under 50 a day (for comparison, the still-locked-down UK, which has only 15 million more people than South Korea’s 51.6m, is still reporting more than 3,000 daily cases).

“For now, we will monitor how the current transmissions go and review [at a later date] whether we should reconsider our distancing policy,” said Kim Gang-lip at a media briefing today (13 May).

Live entertainment began to return to Korea in March, after the January–February peak in infections, at a time when much of the western world was still formulating its response to the growing pandemic.

“For now, we will monitor how the current transmissions go and review whether we should reconsider”

Key to South Korea’s success in getting the coronavirus under control is its robust programme of testing and tracing, which experts believe could provide a model for other countries to restart their economies while keeping their citizens safe. Kim also said today there will be no return to social distancing while authorities can trace at least 95% of infections.

According to the Guardian, “by the time the World Health Organization issued its plea in mid-March for countries to “test, test, test”, South Korea had spent weeks doing just that, quickly developing the capability to test an average of 12,000 people – and sometimes as many as 20,000 – a day at hundreds of drive-through and walk-in testing centres. The mobile centres conducted the tests free of charge within 10 minutes, with the results were sent to people’s phones within 24 hours. By mid-March more than 270,000 people had been tested.”

Outside Korea, several European countries and US states have set a timetable for reopening entertainment and hospitality venues, although all still include some form of social distancing – Dutch proposals to allow venues a maximum of 30 people, including staff, provided they remain 1.5 metres apart, for example, have been dismissed as especially unworkable.

The Event Safety Alliance, which recently released a ‘reopening guide’ for entertainment venues, describes how some countries are “using contract tracing to enable health authorities to track who has been to an event or location if an outbreak flares up. They are then contacted and instructed to seek medical advice.”

Privacy advocates in Japan and South Korea have been critical of those countries’ use of emergency powers to snoop on citizens

This enables venues to reopen more safely, knowing that any outbreaks can be isolated and contained, though only South Korea and, to a lesser extent, Australia (which is tracking the virus using its COVIDsafe app), currently have the capability to do so, according to the guide. Additionally, “some societies are more tolerant of the perceived impact on personal liberty than others”, it warns.

Privacy advocates in Japan and South Korea have been critical of those countries’ use of emergency powers to snoop on citizens, according to the Japan Times, where virus carriers’ contacts are “aggressively traced” using tools like GPS tracking on smartphones, credit card records and CCTV. “People’s movements before they were diagnosed are published on websites and relayed via smartphone alerts to inform others whether they have crossed paths with a carrier,” the paper adds.

While Korea-style contact tracing could provide the answer to reopening venues safely – and when faced with a choice between privacy invading contact tracing and socially distanced shows with 30 people, the latter arguably looks more appealing – not everyone is convinced.

Germany – whose testing and tracking regime is the envy of much of Europe – has warned it could reimpose lockdown after a rise in Covid-19 cases last week. “We always have to be aware that we are still at the beginning of the pandemic,” said chancellor Angela Merkel, “and there’s still a long way in dealing with this virus in front of us.”


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Beyond Live: K-pop band SuperM sell 75,000 virtual tickets

More than 75,000 paid viewers tuned into a two-hour live stream by South Korean boy band SuperM yesterday (Sunday 26 April), for the first show in a new online-only concert series, Beyond Live.

The seven-piece, assembled last summer by management company SM Entertainment, performed to fans in 109 countries, including South Korea, the US, the UK, Japan, China, France, Germany and Australia, via video streaming service VLive (the same platform used by BTS for their Wembley Stadium broadcasts last summer) 3–5pm local time. Further Beyond Live shows include Chinese group WayV (on 3 May), NCT Dream (10 May) and Seoul-based NCT 127 (17 May).

“Compared to [physical] shows by popular [K-pop] idol groups, which are usually held with an average of 10,000 people per show, the world’s first online dedicated paid concert, Beyond Live, attracted 75,000 people around the world at once,” says SM in a statement.

“By mobilising an audience 7.5 times bigger than ‘offline’ concerts, we expect to develop a new concert business”

“By mobilising an audience 7.5 times bigger than ‘offline’ concerts, we expect to develop a new concert business.”

Fans who tuned into the first Beyond Live show paid an average of US$30 to be there, according to Forbes, earning SM some $2 million from virtual ticket sales.

In comparison, SuperM’s February date at the Forum in Los Angeles saw gross sales of just over $1m, per Billboard’s Boxscore. SuperM are represented by CAA in all areas.

Prior to the current livestreaming boom, K-pop superstars BTS earnt an estimated €3.5m ($3.8m), or just shy of $1.9m per show, from livestreaming their two performances at Wembley Stadium in London in June 2019.


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Big Hit releases BTS-themed Korean language course

Big Hit Entertainment, home to K-pop superstars BTS, is launching ‘Learn Korean with BTS’, a series of videos dedicated to enabling global audiences to understand the band’s lyrics.

The release comes as many around the world are looking for new ways to pass the time, as they are confined to their homes or facing social restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Rolling out on fan community platform Weverse tomorrow (24 March), ‘Learn Korean with BTS’ consists of three-minute videos teaching simple Korean grammar and expressions.

The episodes will be aired a total of 30 times, with the first three three episodes released at 5 a.m. (GMT) on 24 March, followed by one episode released every Monday at 12 p.m. All episodes will be free for anyone who is registered on Weverse.

“With the recent popularity of K-pop, the demand for learning Korean is increasing greatly”

Professor Heo Yong of the Department of Korean Education at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies and researchers at the Korean Language Content Institute (KOLCI) participated in the development of the learning programme.

Big Hit plans to expand the venture to include educational content for other artists on its roster in the future.

“With the recent popularity of K-pop and other Korean cultural contents, the demand for learning Korean is increasing greatly, so we are planning Korean education contents to improve our accessibility,” reads a Big Hit press statement.

“We hope that through learning Korean, global fans will be able to deeply empathise with the music of artists and enjoy a wide range of content.”

Big Hit works with artists including Tomorrow X Together and Lee Hyun.


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Switzerland imposes ban on events over 1,000-cap.

The Swiss government this morning (28 February) placed a ban on events of more than 1,000 people, becoming the latest European country to implement widespread measures against the spread of coronavirus.

The number of coronavirus cases in Switzerland has risen to 15, with the first diagnosis being made on Tuesday. More than 100 people are currently in quarantine in the country. The ban follows similar measures imposed in Italy, which has suffered the worst outbreak of the virus in Europe.

“Large-scale events involving more than 1,000 people are to be banned. The ban comes into immediate effect and will apply at least until 15 March,” reads the Swiss government statement.

“The Federal Council is aware that this measure will have a significant impact on public life in Switzerland. However, the move […] should prevent or delay the spread of the disease in Switzerland, thus reducing its momentum.”

Events consisting of fewer than 1,000 people are still allowed to go ahead, provided event organisers undertake a risk assessment first.

The ban has led to the cancellation of events including Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and shows by Santana, Alice Cooper and Peter Maffay at the 15,000-cap. Hallenstadion in Zürich.

“Large-scale events involving more than 1,000 people are to be banned”

“Unfortunately, we have to inform you that all concerts have been cancelled until 15 March 15,” reads a post on the venue’s Facebook page. “Tickets will remain valid for any postponement date. The promoter will decide on a final cancellation and on the ticket refund policy.”

A post on the website for the Swiss city’s 5,000-cap. Samsung Hall, where Halsey and Avril Lavigne are scheduled to play before 15 March, reads: “At the moment we do not have any information on how to proceed. Please be patient until we can announce further information here.”

Event space X-TRA, where Stormzy is set to perform on 5 March, states it is “evaluating the impact of all planned events” in response to the government’s decision.

Halle 622 (1,600-cap.), which is hosting acts including Sam Fender and Fat Freddy’s Drop, also advises fans it is “in close contact with the Federal Office of Public Health”. The status of events will be updated on the venue’s website.

Coronavirus has led to the cancellation of many high-profile shows and tours around the world. K-pop stars BTS today cancelled four upcoming dates at Seoul Olympic Stadium (69,950-capacity), as part of their Map of the Soul world tour, with management company Big Hit Entertainment saying it is “impossible to predict the scale of the outbreak” for when the concerts are scheduled to take place in April.

“While we hope that the situation will improve, we must take into consideration the health and safety of hundreds of thousands of guests as well as our artists and the dire impact a last-minute cancellation may have on guests from overseas, production companies and staff,” continues the statement.


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Coronavirus causes ‘immense’ issues for Asian live industry

As the number of cases of coronavirus rises daily around the world, many international tours have put the brakes on visiting China and surrounding countries for the foreseeable future.

Speaking to IQ last month, promoters in China predicted that the coronavirus-related disruption to live shows would worsen in the coming weeks. Cases confirmed of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in China at the time stood at 7,700.

Two-and-a-half weeks on, and numbers of the virus have sky rocketed. As of this morning (Tuesday 18 February), it is believed that 72,869 people have been infected by the coronavirus, which has claimed at least 1,873 lives worldwide.

The vast majority of cases have been found in China, where the virus originated. According to the China Association of Performing Arts, around 20,000 shows have been cancelled or postponed between January and March in China and Hong Kong, costing the sector RMB 2 billion (US$286 million).

“As all venues remain closed, we have cancelled more shows in February and March,” Zhang Ran, director of international business at Modern Sky tells IQ. US alt-rockers the Pixies were among artists affected, cancelling upcoming dates in Shanghai and Beijing.

Modern Sky, China’s biggest festival promoter, recently streamed a number of past editions of its Strawberry festival, to “bring an element of fun” to housebound music fans.

“We hope that the festivals and artists (such as Two Door Cinema Club and Mac Demarco) can all be moved to the second half of the year”

The 2020 editions of Strawberry festival, which takes place in Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu and Hangzhou, have also been affected, with Modern Sky in talks with already-booked international artists as the events “will all likely be rescheduled for the second half of the year”.

“We hope that the festivals and artists (such as Two Door Cinema Club and Mac DeMarco) can all be moved to the second half of the year, but we can’t really confirm anything yet because it’s all dependent on how the virus situation develops,” continues Zhang.

“Right now everyone is just staying in doors and working from home, in the hopes it will help it will all be resolved more quickly.”

The Chinese live event sector is not the only one feeling the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, with many promoters halting the entire Asian leg of tours.

AEG, for example, called off the Asian leg of Khalid’s Free Spirit tour on Friday, postponing dates in Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, India, Japan and South Korea. UK grime artist Stormzy last week postponed the Asia dates in his HITH world tour, in addition to the cancellation of shows by K-pop artists GOT7, Taeyeon, Seventeen and NCT Dream, among others.

“[The coronavirus] has immensely affected most, if not all, live events in general across the region,” Tommy Jinho Yoon, president of Korea’s International Creative Agency (ICA) tells IQ.

“[The coronavirus] has immensely affected most, if not all, live events in general across the region”

“Most headline shows and some of our festival are being pushed back or even, in a lot of cases, cancelled because of the coronavirus situation,” says the ICA president, who cites shows by artists including Post Malone, Camila Cabello and Kenny G, as well as “many top-drawing K-pop artists”.

In Japan, as well, it seems that a number of shows are being affected by the coronavirus, although not quite to the same extent. Four dates by Korean girl group EXID have been postponed, as well as a few fan meet-and-greets, Katsuhiko Kondo, a spokesperson for Japanese promoters’ association ACPC tells IQ.

ACPC members are taking action to prevent the spread of infection at live shows, including providing disinfectants and mouthwash within venues and encouraging concertgoers to wear surgical masks.

Live entertainment behemoth Live Nation is another promoter focusing on preventative action.

“Live Nation is monitoring the situation closely. The safety of artists, patrons and staff is our top priority and we will continue to act on advice from the authorities on the coronavirus and take precautionary measures in line with prevention efforts,” a spokesperson tells IQ.

As the uncertainty rumbles on and the coronavirus continues to spread, the long-term effects for the Asian live sector remain uncertain. As ICA’s Jinho Yoon states: “We just have to pray and hope that this gets resolved soon.”

Photo: Emilio Herce/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0) (cropped)


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YouTube-conquering Blackpink become biggest K-pop act

After their song ‘Ddu-Du Ddu-Du’ earlier this week become the first by K-pop act to surpass a billion views, girl group Blackpink are officially the hottest Korean pop export, outranking even BTS when it comes to online buzz, according to Viberate.

Using data drawn from streaming services, social platforms and official artist websites, Viberate found that Blackpink (pictured), signed to YG Entertainment, just edge out the Big Hit-signed boy band to become the most popular K-pop act.

According to the platform, “it’s a close call, but the answer is Blackpink. Blackpink tops BTS in Viberate’s overall rankings, as well as their mainstream pop and Asianpop rankings, which are calculated according to digital popularity on Twitter, Instagram, Spotify, SoundCloud, and YouTube.”

Not surprisingly, it continues, “YouTube is where Blackpink especially dominates, with 4.5 billion yearly views and of course the recent ‘Ddu-Du Ddu-Du’ benchmark. BTS only surpasses Blackpink in Twitter followers and SoundCloud popularity (where Blackpink has no presence).”

Courtesy of Viberate, here’s how the K-pop titans stack up:

Viberate BTS vs Blackpink

Viberate, one of the first wave of music-focused cryptocurrencies, started out as an Airbnb-like service which promised to cut out the agency middle man and connect unsigned musicians (who would be paid in Viberate’s native crypto, the vibe) with a database of those who might want to book them.

Two years on, its creators are focused on building blockchain-powered database that maps the entire live music business, including artists, music venues, booking agencies, festivals and other music events. Dubbed the ‘IMDb of music’, Viberate allows artists, music professionals and fans to add artist/agent/venue/festival profiles to its database; following review by a team of around 80 ‘curators’, the submitters are rewarded with cryptocurrency.

Following news that its biggest stars would go on a touring hiatus, BTS’s management company, Big Hit Entertainment, recently announced plans to hold global auditions for a new girl band, to rival the likes of Blackpink and Twice.


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