SM Embraces ‘Culture Tech’

high-tech digital corporate presentation onstage

S.M. Entertainment’s Lee Soo-man in January at the company’s SMTOWN venue in Seoul. (Photo courtesy S.M. Entertainment)

K-pop powerhouse S.M. Entertainment is pursuing a strategy of global expansion powered by New Culture Tech — finding innovative ways to reach its audience using the devices that are part of its daily life. Lee Soo-man, who founded the South Korea-based S.M. in 1995, has expanded the four core tenets of “CT” — casting, training, producing and marketing — that form the template of creating an “idol band,” to include a fifth area of focus: interactive, resulting in New Culture Technology, or NCT.

On Oct. 27, Lee accepted honors at the Asia Game Changer Awards in New York, the first Korean recognized by the organization, which also celebrated the contributions of Chinese architect I.M. Pei and director Zhang Yimou (The Great Wall, House of Flying Daggers), among others, at its United Nations awards dinner.

S.M. product is branded under the umbrella SMTOWN, which in Seoul is a brick-and-mortar tourist destination in a shopping center. Earlier this year Lee gave a major digital presentation there, unveiling the new K-pop boy band, Neo Culture Technology to embody the NCT paradim (get it — they’re both NCT). In addition to creating idol bands and EDM DJs, S.M. is a virtual popcorn machine of marketing snacks, spinning off new gimmicks faster than fans can chomp ’em. But there’s no arguing with success; publicly traded S.M. reported 2015 revenue at approximately US$287 million.

soo-man lee looks Asian hipster in black-on-black including black frame glasses

Soo-man Lee, founder of S.M. Entertainment and Asia Game Changer honoree.

The bedrock of the approach Lee rolled out this  year is interactivity. A multi-prong initiative designed to connect its audience includes the Rookies Entertainment mobile app, for fans who “dream to become a producer.” The Rookies app allows users to “experience the SM star incubating system” by following along in a group’s development and providing pre-debut suggestions on how best to improve the newbs.  Participants will get feedback and acknowledgement, and whomever is deemed the top image-shaper gets credit on debut album along and an internship at SM.

The company also debuted a new multi-channel network (MCN), Visual Broadcast Radio, in which interdisciplinary S.M. artists — including singers, actors, models and sports stars will participate in a variety of original content “created endlessly. The idea is also to be able to see this content anytime and any where all around the word making the MCN mobile-friendly and breaking the language barrier.”

And, there’s a new digital music outlet, STATION, which releases a new single a week — collaborations between S.M. artists, producers, composers and brands outside of the SM label.

The globalization of of K-pop — or hallyu, the “Korean wave” — is exemplified by the NCT boy band, which will have interchangeable members, or “sub-units,” in cities around the world, cast based on the language and presentation preferences of the territory, with members able to migrate between units. The group debuted in April with six members in Seoul, with iterations set for Tokyo, Bejing, Shanghai and Latin America.

“Technology and culture change the world and help people make their lives happier. S.M. and I will put forth our best efforts to pursue happiness in the world that is rapidly changing with new technology, especially with robots and AI,” Lee said in accepting his award at the U.N. gala. The Asia Game Changers Award is presented by the Asia Society, now in its 60th year.

Members of the K-pop boy band NCT sport outrageous clothes and hair.

S.M.’s new boy band, the Seoul-based Neo Culture Technology. (Photo courtesy S.M. Entertainment)

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