Asia News: AEGX, Spotify, Ticketing & More


Avex Joins AEG Presents

The Wall Street Journal reports that Japan’s biggest independent record company, Avex Entertaimment Incorporated, has formed a new joint venture with the American concert promoter AEG Presents called AEGX. 

The goal will be to expand the popularity of J-pop worldwide and, at the same time, promote more American artists in the Asian music marketplace. The two companies will achieve these aims by combining their resources and local expertise in the areas of artist development, venues, festivals and touring. 

AEG, it should be noted, was instrumental in helping to break BTS and Blackpink, the two biggest global hitmakers of K-pop, in the U.S., and thus is considered the most obvious choice for helping expand other Asian artists’ appeal in America. In fact, according to Wall Street Journal, the joint venture thinks that J-pop may have even more potential. 

The main reason for this optimism is the sudden popularity of music streaming in Japan, which has grown 117 percent from January 2019 to January 2021, according to Spotify. AEG Presents CEO Jay Marciano told the Wall Street Journal, “Streaming has kicked down the borders of music discovery and acceptance on the world stage. It’s made music borderless.” 

The main priority of the AEGX plan is synergy: American and Japanese acts helping each other out. One way of doing this will be for American artists to open tours for Japanese acts in Japan and then Japanese acts open for American artists in the U.S. 

In a statement, Katsumi Kuroima, CEO of Avex, said, “We are very excited to announce the launch of AEGX with AEG Presents. Our companies both share the same goal with this new partnership. AEGX will serve music fans around the world by contributing to the global development of Western artists, while also expanding the reach of Japanese artists beyond [Japan’s] borders. The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of the positive power and limitless potential of music and entertainment. We are thrilled to take this stride forward together and look forward to the future.”

Spotify Launches In South Korea

Speaking of Spotify, the global music streaming service only recently launched in South Korea and almost at the same time the service was forced to pull a great deal of K-pop content from the platform in other countries. 

Spotify has yet to reach for many major K-pop acts, including IU and Zico. According to NME, 38 percent of the songs featured on the Top 400 yearly song list of South Korea’s main music chart company, Gaon, come under the Kakao M umbrella. Spotify told NME that starting March 1, “due to the expiration of our license,” Kakao M’s catalogue would no longer be available on the platform. 

In a statement, Spotify said, “We have been working with Kakao M over the last year and a half to renew the global licensing agreement, so that their artists’ music would remain available to Spotify’s 345M+ listeners in nearly 170 markets around the world. Despite our best efforts, the existing licensing deal we had with Kakao M (which covered all countries other than South Korea) has come to an end.”

The statement goes on to say that Spotify hopes that the “disruption” will only be temporary and that they will continue work with Kakao M toward a satisfactory solution. 

NME points out that Kakao M’s parent owns its own streaming service in South Korea, and that a disagreement between that company and Spotify caused the current rift. That much was tweeted by K-pop star Tablo of the group Epik High, who said, “Why is it always the artists and the fans that suffer when businesses place greed over art?”

The South China Morning Post reports that as a result of the removal, many global K-pop fans have cancelled their Spotify subscriptions in protest, and some K-pop acts whose songs were removed are trying to get them back on by negotiating new distribution deals. A concern in the Korean music business is that the move might lead to a resurgence in illegal downloading of K-pop content worldwide. 

Ticketing Problems Plague Reopening

Now that live performances are starting to return to the South Korean entertainment scene a new headache has emerged: ticketing problems due to overwhelming demand. 

The Korea Herald reports that when a popular audition show started selling tickets to its latest edition on Feb. 15, more than 130,000 people tried to buy tickets online, causing the ticketing website to crash after ten minutes. 

Of course, the show, which had been staged for the last year but without an audience, sold out immediately, forcing those who had not secured tickets to seek them out on social media, thus giving rise to a problem that has always plagued the South Korean entertainment business but which had been fading in recent years: black market ticket sales. When tickets for the musical “Wicked” starting appearing on the black market for 2.5 times their face price, the lead actor in the production, Ock Ju-hyun, went on social media to beg resellers not to buy them up. “Please help so that only those who love this work can join us,” he wrote.

One problem, according to the Korea Herald, is that supply-and-demand principles don’t always apply, especially with stage shows. Tickets for musicals are uniformly priced throughout their stage runs, even if the actors change from night to night. Consequently, the productions featuring big name actors sell out quickly and become in-demand on the black market while nights when other actors are featured don’t sell out at all. Black marketers then put all their resources into buying up tickets for those big-name performances. Some critics have said the problem might be solved if there were a variable pricing system that charged more for popular stars, but the business side seems averse to such a strategy. 

Another factor is the disappearance of pop concerts, which were the black marketers main source of income. Though concerts are slowly making their way back, it will still be a while before they can be staged at the scale they once were, so black marketers are now targeting musicals and other staged performances, like the audition show. Another problem is that black market ticket sales add to costs, since presenters feel obligated to increase security to catch people who have bought tickets on secondary sites at the door. In addition, older fans tend to be less internet savvy than younger ones, who know the tricks needed to get into ticketing websites more easily. All these problems are now acute, what with the return of live performances, and the business is trying to think of ways to make ticketing more equitable.
China Appears To Soften Embargo On Korean Entertainment

Since 2016, China has effectively banned Korean entertainment content and concert performances by Korean artists on the Chinese mainland in retaliation for South Korea’s agreement to host a U.S. anti-missile system that greatly displeased neighbor China. 

Though the ban has never been officially recognized in China and in recent years several individual K-pop artists have secured endorsement deals in China, there has been no appreciable thaw that indicated any change in the sanction until now. 

In late February, China’s state broadcaster, CCTV, announced that it has signed a partnership for program development with South Korea’s public broadcaster, KBS. According to various media, in its announcement, CCTV called 2021 “the year of Sino-Korean cultural exchange,” thus indicating that the freeze may be coming to an end. 

The partnership appears to be in the area of online video and will involve “content development, media technology, industrial management” and other matters, according to the CCTV announcement. Most importantly, it will involve personnel exchanges, which could mean a wider scope beyond just video and broadcasting. 

Since the missile system, called THAAD, was installed, no Korean films have had a theatrical release in China and no Korean musicians have been invited to perform live. Variety reports that the content deal may have been the result of a state visit by the Chinese foreign minister to South Korea in November where the two countries pledged to cooperate toward greater cultural exchange ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022.