Hallyu on Everyone’s Fingertips

I was invited by the Korean Cultural Center of the Philippines to share on the topic “Hallyu on Everyone’s Fingertips: The Role of the Internet in Sustaining Filipino’s Interests in Hallyu”. This was my speech. Photos of the PowerPoint are available on my Facebook.

HALLYU ON EVERYONE’S FINGERTIPS:

The Role of the Internet in Sustaining Filipinos’ Interest in Hallyu

By Catherine Deen

Yahoo! Southeast Asia

The “Hallyu” phenomenon or the “Korean Wave” has become an unstoppable force in today’s pop culture. Initially coined by Chinese journalists in the late nineties, the term “Hallyu” was used to describe the popularity of Korean dramas in China. Ten years later, the terms “Hallyu” and “Korean Wave” have become common knowledge and largely understandable in mass media and academic circles. For this paper, I shall adapt the definition of Yang (2012), which states that:

“Hallyu means both the flow and popularity of Korean popular cultural products, specially media contents, in other Asian countries and beyond, as well as exported Korean popular cultural products themselves. (p. 104)”

Falling in Love with Korean Pop Culture

I first fell in love with Korean pop culture after watching the drama “Boys Over Flowers” back in 2009. Some of my closest friends were already heavily into K-Pop and have been encouraging me to try the genre. I resisted for a long time until peer pressure won over and I gave in.

The Korean drama “Boys Over Flowers,” a remake of a Japanese and Taiwanese drama, tells the “Cinderella” story of a simple young woman who falls in love with an arrogant rich heir. With its universal theme reminiscent of the classic plot of “Pride and Prejudice,” “Boys Over Flowers” won the hearts of many female fans including mine.

Just like a smitten teenager, the Internet quickly became my portal to the K-Pop world. For many hours, I scoured the Internet for information about my favorite Korean stars. Since I was from the Philippines, where else could I go to feed my curiosity? My initial plan of simply reading about the artists led to discovering more Korean music videos, movies, and television shows. I found myself falling deeper and deeper into the K-Pop spell and, obviously, I did not stop. The Internet become my friend, my enabler, and in some ways, my enemy in sustaining my passion for K-Pop.

The Internet and the Hallyu Phenomenon

The Internet is attributed to having a large role in the proliferation of the “Hallyu” phenomenon. Although the Internet is not the direct cause of the Korean wave, no one can deny that it has a role in its rapid expansion.

In the past, it was incredibly difficult for Korean artists to have their music heard in other parts of the world. Today, it is as easy as uploading a music video on YouTube or posting a music file on an artist’s official website. A recent example of how the Internet can facilitate a breakthrough for a Korean artist comes in the form of YG Entertainment artist PSY, whose “Gangnam Style” music video went viral with more than 100 million views and counting. This kind of crossover phenomenon is unheard of before the Internet age.

In an article by Maqsudul and Billah (2012), they expressed that Koreans, aided by the Internet revolution, are proactively promoting their cultural values and economic accomplishments abroad while their music, drama, and arts are becoming more and more popular in Japan, China and the United States. In a recent New York Times and International Herald Tribune article by Sang-Hun and Russell (2012), they said that:

“The Korean Wave has long conquered Asia, but before the proliferation of global social networks, attempts by K-pop stars to break into Western markets, including the United States, has largely failed…but now YouTube, Facebook and Twitter make it easier for K-pop bands to reach a wider audience in the West, and those fans are turning to the same social networking tools to proclaim their devotion.”

So what is the main function of the Internet in spreading Hallyu? The answer is clear. The Internet is, without doubt, the most powerful facilitator of the Hallyu phenomenon. Let me discuss how the Internet facilitates the Hallyu phenomenon using two perspectives: (1) The Internet and the Filipino Hallyu Fan, and (2) The Internet and the Hallyu Star.

The Internet and the Filipino Hallyu Fan

The Philippines, a Southeast Asian country characterized by a unique archipelago of 7,107 islands, is a highly wired nation. In the recently concluded “Ad-Tech Conference” in Singapore, comScore, a respected firm specializing in digital measurement research, revealed that the Philippines is one of the world’s fastest growing online populations, increasing 11% in 2012 from 2011. They also expressed that Southeast Asia accounts for half of the world’s youngest markets (i.e., below 35 years old) with the Philippines accounting for 70.6% of users, a few percentage points away from the leader India at 74.1%.

A Filipino Hallyu fan utilizes the Internet for three main reasons: (1) information, (2) social networking and community, and (3) purchases.

Information

When I speak of information, I refer to all types of K-Pop information including text, photos, and videos. Filipino Hallyu fans spend hours on the Internet looking for available information on their favorite stars, dramas and shows.

The Internet is full of websites, blogs, and video channels devoted to K-Pop news and views. Websites such as soompi, allkpop, and dramabeans are just some examples of top K-Pop websites frequented by ardent fans. Many of these websites started as blogs run by passionate K-Pop fans which later grew into viable income-generating ventures.

Yahoo! Southeast Asia recognized the growth of the K-Pop subculture in the Philippines back in 2010. To address the growing demand, the regional editor suggested that Yahoo! OMG!, the entertainment news arm of the company, host a blog called “oK Pop” to cater to all things K-Pop. Today, “oK Pop” has become a respected blog for Korean pop culture in the Philippines and has readers from all over the country and the world. Blog articles in “oK Pop” are also published in other regional sites including Yahoo! Singapore, Malaysia, UK and Ireland.

As the resident K-Pop blogger of Yahoo! “oK Pop”, I witnessed the growing demand for K-Pop content which propelled Yahoo! Southeast Asia to expand its K-Pop coverage from one blog to a whole new entertainment section called “Korean Wave”. “Korean Wave” was launched in May 2012 and features a comprehensive coverage of the “Korean Wave” including news, drama and movies, photos, fashion, and videos. Addressing the power of Hallyu in the region, “Korean Wave” was made available in other Yahoo! Southeast Asia sites, including Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Social Networking and Online Community

According to comScore, the 2011 average Internet user spends nearly 1 in 5 minutes online on social networks, with 1 in 7 minutes online spent on Facebook. Interestingly, the Philippines was found to have the highest reach of visitors for social networks in the world with 96%, and is the second most engaged social networkers with an average of 8 hours per visitor (Dale, 2012). Given the state of Filipinos’ use of social networks, it is not surprising that Hallyu fans use these to sustain their Hallyu interests.

The Filipino Hallyu fan naturally seeks the company of others who share the same passions. The easiest way to do this is through the Internet. In my article, “Experiencing the K-Pop Subculture,” I described the development of friendships from online forums and communities devoted to particular K-Pop artists or products (i.e, drama, television shows).

Although local fan clubs and forums have separate websites for their members, all of them keep Facebook and Twitter accounts. Through these channels, fans are constantly connected and their interests in “Hallyu” are further strengthened and sustained.

To illustrate the power of the online communities and social networks in sustaining Hallyu interest in the Philippines, let me discuss how the first and largest organized group of K-Pop fan clubs in the world was formed.

The Philippine K-Pop Committee is the first non-profit K-Pop organization in the Philippines. It started as a group of various K-Pop fan club administrators meeting to discuss how to increase the impact of the local K-Pop fandom. Inspired by their common interests and goals, these fan clubs joined together to form the “Philippine K-Pop Committee.” That was back in 2007. Today, the “Philippine K-Pop Committee” is officially registered with the country’s Securities and Exchange Commission and the Bureau of Internal Revenue. It is composed of more than 60 fan club affiliates and boasts of more than 77,000 members on Facebook and 7,800 followers on Twitter. The group has organized numerous activities, most notably three annual “Philippine K-Pop Conventions,” with proceeds going to Gawad Kalinga beneficiaries.

Purchases

In the Philippines, the availability of K-Pop products, including CDs, DVDs, photo books, lightsticks, and the like, is not as widespread as the demand for them. Hence, the Filipino Hallyu fan uses the Internet to purchase K-Pop products. One of the most popular Filipino-initiated online stores is “Fangirl Asia.” Officially registered in May 2010, “Fangirl Asia” has become a premiere source for K-Pop items and even expanded to include concert travel packages called “Field Trips.”

“Fangirl Asia” is just one of the many online stores that cater to the Filipino Hallyu fan. There are online stores from the more professional YesAsia.com to the entrepreneur-driven Facebook- and Multiply-hosted stores catering to a K-Pop fan’s every whim.

The Internet and the Hallyu Star

It was established that the Internet is a facilitator of the “Hallyu” phenomenon. This does not only have implications on the fans but more so on the K-Pop artists themselves.

An internet-savvy K-Pop artist has the potential to reach greater heights than those who do not know how to harness its potential. A good example of an Internet-savvy K-Pop artist is Jay Park. Park has utilized Twitter and YouTube to his greatest advantage, allowing him to successfully return to the K-Pop scene after suffering a seemingly career-ending scandal back in 2010.

According to Bernie Cho, the president of DFSB Kollective, Park’s management, “Thanks to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, Jay Park is not just an artist but also his own P.R. agent, fan club president, and TV network.” Through the Internet, Jay Park is bypassing traditional media gatekeepers and gate-crashing his way into the global market (Sang-Hun & Russell, 2012).

Other examples of Hallyu stars that successfully harnessed the power of the Internet include Super Junior’s Kim Heechul, JYJ’s Kim Jae Joong, and 2NE1’s Sandara Park. These days, the business and marketing strategies of all K-Pop artists, including debuting and established artists, have an Internet strategy.

Closing Remarks

The Internet indeed has a tremendous role in sustaining the Filipino’s interest in K-Pop. However, it also poses specific challenges. The biggest challenge is the problem of piracy or the violation of intellectual property rights. With the demand observably more than the supply coupled with the cost of entertainment products, piracy prevails and affects the industry.

According to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, sales of Korean CDs dropped by 70.7% from 2000 to 2007 due to digital piracy (Sang-Hun & Russell, 2012). This does not even include piracy of the top Korean entertainment export—Korean dramas.

Still, in this situation, the enemy can become a friend. Companies producing the selling Korean entertainment products are already utilizing the Internet as a major driver of its business model. One such success story is DramaFever, a New York-based online video service offering English-subtitled Korean dramas to fans in North America. DramaFever was launched in 2009 and now has more than 2 million monthly users. According to Oh (2012), DramaFever is preparing to start streaming videos in South America, Europe, South Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Australia very soon.

Indeed, the Internet is an indispensible tool in the proliferation of the Hallyu phenomenon. Without it, the movement would not have spread as fast as it has. In the Philippines, the people’s Internet habits will only serve to support and solidify the further growth of the Korean wave.

References

Sang-Hun, C. & Russell, M. (2012, Mar 06). Bringing K-pop to the west.

International Herald Tribune. 19.

Dale, G. (2012). State of the Global and Local Internet: Lessons learned from the digital measurement trenches of online advertising. comScore. Available online from the adTech Singapore website: http://www.adtech.com/singapore/presentations/index.aspx

Maqsudul, H.N. & Billah, M. (2012, Jan 12). Rising soft power of South Korea. Pakistan Observer.

Oh, J. (2012, Jan 11). Field guide to post-‘Winter Sonata’ hallyu. McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

Yang, J. (2012). The Korean Wave (Hallyu) in East Asia: A comparison of Chinese, Japanese, and Taiwanese audiences who watch Korean TV dramas. Development and Society, 41(1). 103-147.

About the author

Catherine Deen is the resident K-Pop blogger of Yahoo! Southeast Asia. Her blog called “oK Pop” may be viewed on the Yahoo! OMG! Philippines’ Korean Wave section.

Catherine Deen blogs about her views on K-Pop subculture, K-Pop stars, Korean fashion and food. She is on Twitter as @cathsdeen and on Facebook as catherine.deen.writer. Yahoo! OMG! oK Pop may be accessed at http://ph.omg.yahoo.com/blogs/okpop.

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