K-Pop is hotter than ever and 2016 was a great year for South Korean K-Pop Entertainment Companies. Most had record highs in sales as many of these agencies are looking to go global, not only towards the west but just across the seas to the many Southeast Asian countries that are hungry for K-Pop. For the ranking, we here at SeoulSpace took into account the sales, as well as the artists involved within the companies and the potential for future growth. So here is our list of the Top 10 K-Pop Entertainment Companies in South Korea, enjoy!
1. SM Entertainment
Not a big shocker here. SM Entertainment has been #1 for a very long time but the gap is closing faster than many realize. It is amazing to see that SM is still at the top even with the ever changing trends of K-Pop. They were able to transition effortlessly from Super Junior to EXO and were the first to really tap into the Chinese market. Recently Alibaba invested $30 million into SM Entertainment to help China’s digital music industry. Also, SM Entertainment’s boot camp style K-Pop training centers have revolutionized the industry. This is why they are able to churn out very polished K-Pop groups from Girl’s Generation to f(x). SM started long ago with the success of boy band H.O.T. in 1996 followed by the first K-pop girl group S.E.S. As music started to become more digital, SM Entertainment was aggressive in sending their artists abroad. K-Pop stars were able to get endorsement contracts and roles in T.V. and Movies. The biggest hit for SM has been Red Velvet in 2016. They were a different kind of K-Pop group focusing more on a slower, R&B-based sound alongside a more catchy pop sound. However, SM Entertainment has not forgotten about what got them here. They will be looking to plan comebacks for TVXQ, S.E.S., and EXO for 2017. Also with the return of Eunhyuk, Donghae, and Siwon from military duties, Super Junior could have a big 2017.
Artists: BoA, TVXQ, Super Junior, Girls Generation, SHINee, f(x), Red Velvet, Kim Ryeowook, Taemin, Jonghyun, NCT, and EXO
Estimated Sales in 2016: $357 Million USD
Estimated Net Income in 2016: $16.1 Million USD
2. YG Entertainment
YG Entertainment might have the two biggest names in K-pop in regards to global mass market potential in G-Dragon and CL. Yes, they both have bigger potential moving forward than YG Entertainments biggest global star PSY. This is why YG has the potential to overtake SM Entertainment and become the #1 South Korean K-Pop Entertainment company. YG is gaining so much traction globally that China’s social media giant Tencent and its related online ticketing company Weiying Technology agreed to invest $85 million into YG Entertainment. This means that now Weiying owns 8.2% of YG and Tencent owns 4.5%. This shows just how much popularity Korean artists have in the Chinese market. There are some concerns regarding anti-Korean sentiment growing in China due to the THAAD issue but most business analysts are not worried.
We can’t talk about YG Entertainment without talking about CL who really hit it big in the States in 2016. 2NE1 one of the biggest K-pop groups in Korea disbanded in late 2016. That was inevitable because of how big CL was getting and the scandal of Park Bom in 2014 related to illegal importing of medication. YG quickly signed CL to a solo contract which was one of their smartest moves in 2016. As 2NE1 departs, BlackPink looks to take their place, however they will have some big shoes to fill. Sad really, because BlackPink has great potential but they will always be compared to 2NE1 no matter what they do.
YG made headlines in 2016 for not attending the 2016 Mnet Asian Music Awards for basically being “too busy”. They obtained their biggest-ever profit in the third quarter of 2016. As for 2017, look for BIGBANG to have a slow year as T.O.P. will be doing his required military service. Which means that G-Dragon will continue to do a lot more solo work and questions might arise as to whether Big Bang will ever be together again. A new look WINNER with their 4 band group will be interesting to see in 2017.
Artists: 2NE1, BIG BANG, CL, WINNER, 1TYM, DJ Tukutz, G-Dragon, Daesung, T.O.P., Taeyang, Kang Seung-Yoon, Minzy, Dara, Psy, Sandara Park, Seungri, Yang Hyun-Suk, Stony Skunk, Akdong Musician, Katie Kim, Lee Hi, Epik High, Tablo, Taebin, Teddy Park, iKon, MOBB, and Black Pink.
Estimated Sales in 2016: $295 Million
Estimated Net Income in 2016: $35.8 Million
3. JYP Entertainment
JYP Entertainment is still going strong but is not at the level of SM or YG. Those two are on another tier compared to JYP, however JYP has found a lot of success in 2016. JYP prefers a distinct style of singing and has had a good reputation allowing artists to freely connect with their fans. They also promote global auditions to find the next big talent. This is a great strategy that is different from the traditional training centers set up by YG and SM. Fans and singers can audition for JYP Entertainment not only in Korea and other Asian countries but also North America. Arguably their biggest star is Suzy who has not only hit it big as a singer but also an actress. She had an amazing run in 2016 and has been great for JYP both as a member of Miss A and as an actress. Her solo album was also a success. However, her contract will be up in March of 2017 and JYP’s #1 goal of 2017 needs to be resigning her to another contract. Many insiders feel she will stick with JYP and renew her contract.
The breakout in 2016 for JYP has been TWICE, who have performed far better than anyone expected. Most of TWICE’s success goes to their song composer Black Eyed Pilseung. TWICE ranked 4th in sales next to big hitters who have been around for a while in 2PM, Suzy, and GOT7. The potential for TWICE is off the charts and expect TWICE to be the top sales earner in 2017. JYP has found much success in Japan thanks largely in part to 2PM’s popularity there. Moving forward into 2017, JYP will look to continue to push TWICE and DAY6 in Korea while at the same time push 2PM and GOT7 in Japan and China.
Artists: TWICE, G. Soul, DAY 6, Wonder Girls, 2AM, 2PM, g.o.d., GOT7, Miss A, Suzy, Baek A Yeon, Min, Park Ji Min, Baek Yerin, Hye-lim, J J Project, Jo Kwon, Kim Tae Woo, Min, Sunye, Kichkhun, Park Jin-Young, Joon Park, Sunmi, Wang Fei Fei, Yubin, Jang Wooyoung, 15&, and Bernard Park
Estimated Sales in 2016: $69 Million
Estimated Net Income in 2016: $9.7 Million
4. FNC Entertainment
FNC Entertainment had a forgettable 2016. There were scandals and suspicions all year which gave FNC a bad name in the entertainment industry. First F.T. Island complained about FNC in regards to the company not thanking them for the candles they received from F.T. Island fans. Hongki, a member of F.T. Island even went as far as saying that he hated FNC and how they needed to leave FNC. These statements by Hongki were edited out after the broadcast which is also a bad sign of the relationship between F.T. Island and FNC Entertainment. Then there was the investigation into FNC Entertainment regarding suspicions of unfair profits made from stock manipulation. Apparently, an insider was able to make $175,000 from buying stock after having insider information regarding FNC’s recruitment of potential celebrities. That insider could have been Jonghyun of CNBLUE who had to later pay a fine. FNC Entertainment has denied all allegations, however again the damage was done. Their stock value dropped to an all time low.
Even AOA was not immune to scandals. What was suppose to be a great comeback year for AOA, fell a bit flat. They were criticized for not knowing their Korean history figures. Then their music video “Good Luck” was removed from Youtube then later uploaded with the Toyota logo blurred out. AOA members later had to apologize.
Artists: CNBLUE, FT Island, N. Flying, AOA, AOA Cream, Hong-gi, Yonghwa, Jimin, Choa, Jong-hyun, InnoVator, SF9, and Juniel.
Estimated Sales in 2016: $88 Million
Estimated Net Income in 2016: $ 1.2 Million
5. Cube Entertainment
Cube Entertainment came into 2016 looking to push their male idol group PENTAGON. PENTAGON looked to take the place of BEAST who left Cube Entertainment. This was an attempt to revive Cube Entertainment who has not had a great 2016 and has seen their stocks suffer continual losses. Cube’s success depended on PENTAGON‘s and CLC‘s debut and HyunA‘s comeback. With the loss of 4 minute and Beast, it was crucial for PENTAGON and CLC to pick up the slack which they were unable to do. Losing BEAST was a crushing blow to Cube Entertainment. Add that to their failure to sign SISTAR and resign 4 Minute and many are wondering if Cube Entertainment can ever recover. Many questioned whether Cube Entertainment can take girl groups to the next level. It was not wise to launch HyunA‘s solo career so closely with 4 Minutes debut. As all the attention went to HyunA, 4 Minute just got left behind. In fact looking back on Cube Entertainment’s history you can say their only A list hit was BEAST. Maybe they should think about restructuring their business model in regards to managing their artists.
On the bright side, Cube entertainment was signed by AdShare, a monetization service for music, film, television, and sports rights holders. This could be a sign of new direction as Cube Entertainment recently hired ex-chairman of Yedang Entertainment Shin Dae Nam. His knowledge in the media and entertainment fields could be a way for Cube to turn things around.
Artists: PENTAGON, BTOB, CLC, Yook Sungjae, Yoon Doojoon, HyunA, Ga Yoon, G. NA, Jang Hyun Seung, and Lee Gikwang.
Estimated Sales in 2016: $22 Million.
Estimated Net Income in 2016: $1.3 Million
6. Starship Entertainment
Starship Entertainment has found their next potential big hit with their new 12-member girl group Cosmic Girls. Starship will look to enter the Chinese market and Cosmic Girls which consists of both Koreans and Chinese members could be their way in. With SISTAR resigned and on board, Starship will look to nurture their individual abilities for potential solo careers. Male group MONSTA X partnered with Cosmic Girls to form a new unit called Y TEEN. Y TEEN consists of 7 MONSTA X members and 7 Cosmic Girls members for a total of 14 members. This is Starships plan to appeal more to young girls.
Their Christmas release of “Who Said That” was a great success and comprised of popular artists such as JungGiGo, Boyfriend’s Hyunseong, Mad Clown, MONSTA X’s Kihyun, Brother Su, and Yoo Seung Woo. Recently Starship Entertainment and King Kong Entertainment officially registered their merger. Look for more synergy between the two companies and artists moving forward in 2017. Starship Entertainment has SISTAR, K.Will, Boyfriend, Junggigo, Mad Clown, Yoo Seung Woo, MONSTA X, and Cosmic Girls among others, while King Kong Entertainment has Lee Kwang Soo, Lee Dong Wook, Kim Bum, Kim Ji Won, Yoo Yeon Seok, Jo Yoon Hee, and many more. We can’t wait to see the content generated from this partnership.
Artists: Cosmic Girls, Monsta X, Yoo Seung Woo, Hyorin, Soyou, K. Will, Mad Clown, Brother Su, Boyfriend, WJSN, JungGiGo, Lee Kwang Soo, Lee Dong Wook, Kim Bum, Kim Ji Won, Yoo Yeon Seok, Jo Yoon Hee, and SISTAR
Estimated Sales in 2016: $20 Million
Estimated Net Income in 2016: $2 Million
7. Big Hit Entertainment
When you think of Big Hit Entertainment, you only really think of one group…BTS (Bangtan Boys). BTS had an amazing 2016 and really single-handedly put Bit Hit Entertainment on the map. Despite being a small company, Big Hit Entertainment has created one of the most popular K-Pop groups of all time. Many fans can’t wait to see Big Hit Entertainment’s next idol group. So why was BTS such a success? BTS at first glance just looks like any other K-Pop boy group. What separates BTS from the rest is their love for music. Fans can tell when members are there because they HAVE to be…compared to because they WANT to be. Their social media posts and fan interaction seem genuine and from the heart.
What Big Hit Entertainment has done is very smart. They decided to only focus on a few bands and make them great. Fewer bands will mean a lot more attention they will be able to give to them. Therefore Big Hit is turning the table on how industries treat their stars. SM, YG, and JYP have dominated the music label industry. However with Big Hit’s launch of BTS, there is a new player in town. Big Hit will gain even more attention if their next project succeeds. Whether their next project is a female group or male group, the key will be having BTS grow more before they launch their next group. Big Hit took years to debut BTS.
Artists: BTS and Homme
Estimated Sales in 2016: $19 Million
Estimated Net Income in 2016: $4 Million
8. Pledis Entertainment
Pledis Entertainment is best known for their successful girl group After School. However, many fans see After School as a one hit wonder because they have not made a lot of noise ever since “Because of You”. This is in spite of the fact that After School has a strong following in China and Japan and still ranks in the mid of Korean song charts. 2016 was supposed to be After School‘s comeback year but Pledis never really pushed for it. This is a clear sign that Pledis Entertainment is tight on cash. Their new group Nu’est was a flop but Orange Caramel and UEE has been a success. The key loss is with Seventeen which has been a success with over 300,00 copies sold, but is very expensive to maintain because they are a 13 member band. So After School is in a wait and see mode heading into 2017.
Pledis Girlz should debut sometime in 2017 and there is a lot of potential with this group. Their Pre-debut single “We” looks pretty good. They have already a large social media following as they continue to interact with their fans by uploading their individual performances to showcase their talent. They are considered by many to be one of the most anticipated girl groups for 2017.
Artists: NU’EST, SEVENTEEN, Orange Caramel, UEE, Han Don Geun, Pledis Girlz, Pristin, and After School.
Estimated Sales in 2016: $15 Million
Estimated Net Income in 2016: $1.1 Million
9. Woollim Entertainment
Woollim Entertainment merged with SM Entertainment through SM C&C in 2013. By June of 2016, the two companies officially separated. Woollim Entertainment now operates independently and their main artists are INFINITE and Lovelyz. 2016 was all about the comeback of INFINITE and has been a success up to this point. However, where is Woollim Entertainment’s future? They need to debut a new male group soon. For now, Woollim will piggy back on INFINITE and Lovelyz popularity to push their junior groups moving forward.
Artists: INFINITE, Lovelyz, JOO, and Nell
Estimated Sales in 2016: $14 Million
Estimated Net Income in 2016: $1 Million
10. Star Empire Entertainment
Star Empire Entertainment‘s CEO got in a bit of a mess in 2016. It all started with 9 MUSES‘s Kyungri appearance on a recent broadcast. Kyungri revealed that the CEO of Star Empire ignored her many times when she greeted him and expressed that the CEO showed favoritism to certain members. This did not go over well with K-pop fans.
The biggest news however, was the loss of ZE:A, one of the biggest artists. This was the most likely outcome since members Taeheon and Minwoo are doing their military service. The key question heading into 2017 will be whether the individual members will sign with Star Empire to launch their solo careers.
Artists: 9 MUSES and IMFACT
Estimated Sales in 2016: $13 Million
Estimated Net Income in 2016: $1 Million