K-pop Concert Flicks Are Big Business

SUGA of BTS released “SUGA | Agust D Tour ‘D-Day’ The Movie” in select theaters April 10. It is the top grossing concert film of 2024 despite spending only five days in theaters.
Courtesy Hybe

As Taylor Swift’s “The Eras Tour” and Beyoncé’s “Renaissance: A Film” proved, the market for concert films is still there, as devoted fanbases devour every creative endeavor from their favorite artists.

It should be no surprise, then, that K-pop — with its famously loyal fandoms — is finding tremendous success with the genre, both in theaters and streaming.

BTS member SUGA, in fact, has the highest grossing concert film of 2024. His “SUGA | Agust D Tour ‘D-Day’ The Movie” grossed $10.16 million during a five-day, limited-screen theatrical run from April 10 to 14, according to distributor Trafalgar Releasing. It cracked both the worldwide and North American box-office Top 10 on its opening weekend and found success in Mexico, as well, where it grossed more than $2.5 million and was the No. 2 grossing movie its release week. Initially released to 3,500 theaters, another tranche of 100 screens were added to the distribution to satisfy demand.

The movie captures the finale show of the rapper’s tour at Seoul’s KSPO Dome on Aug. 6, 2023. SUGA – who also performs under the name Agust D – capped a 28-date, six-country tour. 

Trafalgar Releasing CEO Marc Allenby said the success of the Swift and Beyoncé movies — which his company distributed in Europe, Asia and South America — in 2023 was proof-of-concept the market existed for a resurgence of the concert film.

“We’re really excited with the phenomenal response to ‘SUGA | Agust D Tour ‘D-Day’ The Movie.’ It’s a true testament to SUGA’s artistry and not only speaks volumes about his power to motivate fans but also signifies the strong appetite for event cinema experiences worldwide,” he said.

More than 20% of the gross for the SUGA film came from IMAX screens as theater-going audiences, like those consuming other forms of entertainment, clamor for premium experiences. 

In addition, the movie had specially branded popcorn tins and cups — a now-common marketing strategy made famous by the viral “Dune 2” popcorn buckets. Trafalgar sold 100,000 of the items.

Trafalgar has been in the K-pop space since 2018 when it began partnering with BTS for concert films. The company also distributed “BLACKPINK THE MOVIE” in 2021. All told, K-pop has generated $120 million for the company. Trafalgar is partnering with South Korean company CD 4DPlex for four “immersive, multi-sensory” K-pop concert films to be released this year, starting with “Aespa: World Tour,” which screened April 24-27 in nearly 50 countries.

K-pop makes for small-screen success, too. Disney+ partnered with genre giants HYBE on streaming content in 2022 and has since produced numerous K-pop-centered titles including “SUGA: Road to D-Day,” a documentary about the inspiration for the rapper’s D-Day album.  

Disney+ didn’t launch in Korea until 2021, which put it behind other major over-the-top providers in a growing market, but the company has since shown a strong commitment and is now expanding its focus, according to Carol Choi, executive vice president of original content strategy for the Asia Pacific region at the Walt Disney Company.

“Now in our third year of launching our services [in Korea], we are still in the very early stage of our creative journey,” Choi said during a press conference March 12 in Seoul. “Disney Korea is evolving, from playing the role of distributor of global stories to creating and producing it here and taking it outside.”

Concert film and documentary content is cost-effective and attractive to streaming services because filming at one event can produce footage that can be used in multiple productions. Streamers — unlike traditional film distributors — have the luxury of an audience that can be reliable repeat viewers with products that can remain available more or less indefinitely. 

K-pop benefits from this more than other genres. Male artists are forced into hiatus by South Korea’s compulsory military service — the members of BTS, including SUGA, are serving their time now — and concert films provide a revenue stream when the normal routes are unavailable.

Disney benefits from the star-making apparatus already in place in K-pop, making K-pop content a low-risk, high-reward play and one that works internationally. While other Asian markets have homegrown idols, K-pop has proven to be the most exportable genre from the region, not just to other Asian markets but to North America and Latin America as well. K-pop content is consistently among the most streamed international content for Disney+ in Latin markets.