An index to my ten-part series on the business strategy behind BTS's success
BTS and the Future of the Fan Economy is a summary of what you need to know about BTS and the business strategy behind their success. I’m well aware that most readers, unless they’re a fan (ARMY) or a business nerd, do not want to spend hours reading a ten-part deep dive into the business of BTS.
I first published this series in October 2020. Since then, the lead article has been:
- Translated into Japanese (BTSとファン・エコノミーの未来) by Miyamoto Hiroshi
- Taught at the Berklee College of Music's Master of Arts in Global Entertainment & Music Business by Sam Arvidsson
- Included as required reading for Li Jin's course on How to Build for the Creator Economy
- Summarized by Neil Cartwright into a PechaKucha-style YouTube video
This first article is where I explain the infographic The Next Generation of Fan Engagement which summarizes how Big Hit Entertainment and BTS have engaged with their fans to create an intense emotional bond and how they’ve leveraged that bond to sell products and services.
Part 2: The Business of K-pop talks about the inherently global and commercial ambitions of K-pop and how it’s not so much a musical genre as it is a specific entertainment business model. I explain:
- How entertainment agencies train, package and promote idols, which is a very different model from how record labels discover and sign artists in the West
- The explicit emphasis on idols cultivating parasocial relationships with fans, and how the performance of “fan service” is one of the key tactics used in the industry to strengthen that emotional bond
- How K-pop’s focus on performance and fan engagement makes it particularly suited for the digital age
The rest of the series focuses on the three key elements of BTS’s success: the seven members (artist), Big Hit Entertainment (company), and their ARMY (fans).
These three parts on the seven members of BTS explain how the talent, unique chemistry and artistry of these seven men is catering so well to the cultural zeitgeist and moment of time we find ourselves in.
Part 3: BTS Begins charts the septet’s underdog origin story and provides a history of their rise to global superstardom.
Part 4: The Seven introduces the members and their roles and key contributions to the band.
Part 5: BTS: Music & Artist for Healing discusses the key aspects of their artistry and teamwork, including:
- Musical Genre: how BTS has evolved from their roots in hip-hop to exploring a number of popular musical genres
- Lyrics: the narrative arc, emotional depth and sincerity in their lyrics that provide fans with comfort and healing despite the language barrier
- Performance: how BTS continues to push the boundaries of creative expression through their performances, driven by the members’ talent and work ethic as well as Big Hit’s in-house creative teams and partners
- Teamwork: how the group’s friendship and teamwork is the basis of a large component of their appeal for fans
- An antidote to toxic masculinity: If you’re new to K-pop, the makeup and touchy-feeliness (the Korean culture of “skinship”) may throw you off initially, but BTS’s willingness to be open about their feelings and mental health drives great emotional intimacy with their fanbase
Company: Big Hit Entertainment
Bang Si-hyuk and the agency he founded, Big Hit Entertainment, are the architects of BTS as a group and continue to evolve what it means to be a record label of the future. How did Big Hit amplify and optimise BTS's comforting messages and unique charms into worldwide dominance?
Part 6: The Machine discusses Big Hit’s overarching strategy as a music and entertainment company.
Part 7: BTS as Super-Influencers: BTS have been the biggest masters of and beneficiaries in the music industry of the direct relationship with fans enabled by the evolution of technology and social media in the 2010s. In this section, I provide a field guide to Big Hit’s content strategy with BTS and how it has enabled the group to become some of the most powerful influencers in the world through case studies of their commercial partnerships with Hyundai and Samsung.
Part 8: The BTS Universe gives an overview of the “Artist Indirect-Involvement" business model (leveraging BTS’s secondary IP brands) that Big Hit has developed to ensure a more stable, recurring revenue base that isn’t directly dependent on BTS releasing music or performing. This section also discusses Big Hit’s key innovative strategies, including the development of their proprietary fan engagement platform Weverse, and what they’ve done to improve both the in-person and virtual concert-going experience.
Fan: BTS’s ARMY
How the emotional bond between BTS and its ARMY has created a truly symbiotic investment in success between the band and its fans
Part 9: The ARMY: BTS’s Vast Global Fandom is all about how the fans are a critical component of BTS’s rise - not just through the typical appreciation and support of the group’s music but through an enormous amount of fan labour that has gone into organizing and mobilizing for BTS’s success.
Part 10: BTS & Beyond: I summarize their business strategy into “The BTS Playbook” and give you a preview of what’s next for this juggernaut of an act now that they’ve officially hit the global mainstream.
I am tremendously grateful for my friends’ vital emotional support through this writing process. As a first-time internet writer, it was insanely nerve-wracking to even envision my writing being read by complete strangers and I had my fair share of rough patches. I nearly gave up on the thought of even publishing more times than I’d like to admit. Thank you for believing in my ability to tell this story.
I am indebted to my first readers for their feedback. Thank you Anna and Phillip for your detailed notes on bringing the “so what” into prominence in every part. Thank you Owen for your sharp journalistic eye for story and context.
I wanted to highlight the inspiration of two writers I’ve long admired for their coverage of the business of media and entertainment. Thank you Lainey for introducing me to BTS through your relentless championing of their music and work. Thank you Matthew Ball for your industry-leading analysis of all things entertainment. (You have to check out his six-part Epic Games primer if you haven’t read it already.)
And finally, a huge thank you to Michael who has held onto this domain for years in the hopes that one day I would get my act together and finally publish my writing online. Thank you for the encouragement to start.