Portly, bespectacled, and mop-topped, Big Hit Entertainment’s Bang Si-Hyuk doesn’t exactly give off the vibes of a global music mogul, but as Korea’s newest billionaire, he likely no longer cares if his suit has a few wrinkles. Korean investors may question his look, but they certainly don’t question his eye for talent.
It was “Hit Man” Bang who plucked seven teenagers from obscurity, named them BTS, and took them on a 10-year journey to the pinnacle of pop music across four continents. In October 2020, Bang launched a tumultuous IPO that instantly shot his company far ahead of the legacy “big three” Korean entertainment agencies that have controlled K-Pop for more than 20 years.
Now, however, Bang will have to keep his investors happy as he navigates a very uncertain future.
Big Hit’s IPO might have been more successful if the BTS money train didn’t have a scheduled stop up ahead. Kim Seok-jin, who at 28 is the oldest member, has just two years to go before he has to trade his Gucci for camouflage and enlist in the Korean military for 18 months.
As time passes, the other six members will follow, leaving the group incomplete for years. Given that BTS currently generates more than 90% of Big Hit’s revenue, it’s quite a dilemma.
While it’s easy to argue that BTS is far more culturally and financially valuable to Korea on stage than it would be digging trenches at the DMZ, Bang knows better than to ask for any favoritism, a move that would surely be met with outrage. Desperate fans have been racking their brains trying to find a good solution. Perhaps all seven members could serve simultaneously in some sort of morale-boosting entertainment squad, minimizing the time they would be out of the public eye.
It’s far more likely Bang will slice and dice BTS into subunits, collaborations, and solo projects, keeping the fires burning while he scrambles to fill his stable with new acts—a younger group called TXT is already on the charts—and expand in every possible direction: music, concerts, TV dramas, film, and merchandise, perhaps looking to Disney as inspiration.
Bang also has one big trick up his sleeve: technology. BTS has schooled the music industry on how best to leverage tech to build, service, and monetize a huge fan base, including on its own lucrative subscription-based We Verse platform. Expect him to license that knowledge to the highest bidders.
The pandemic has also proved to be a tech catalyst. In October, BTS raked in more than US$50 million from two extremely well produced augmented reality online concerts that attracted almost a million fans, suggesting another great revenue stream that may endure long after the pandemic fades.
Whatever happens, it will be fun to watch. This may be a business story, but it comes with a really catchy soundtrack.