SM Entertainment seems to be on a mission to expand outside of just K-pop. They’re clearly well-established in the music industry as a company that produces popular artists with a high success rate. Using the resources they have–their idols and their star power–SME plans to expand into other areas, especially those involved with technology.

SME has been known for the power of their artists to bring the money rolling in. With large names like Super Junior, SNSD, and DBSK, among others, it’s no surprise that SME wants to capitalize upon idol stardom through different enterprises. Because these groups are popular both in Korea and overseas, these ventures have the potential to be successful both in Korea and outside the country. With ever-advancing technology, there are more and more ways for fans to successfully interact with their beloved idols, given that the entertainment company pursues avenues for such a relationship to stay healthy. And as most of these interactions can be facilitated through money, SME is right in the lead with the new ventures. Since the company brings in a considerable amount of money, they can take more risks business-wise to increase their overall capital. The groups under SME have eager fandoms willing to see their artists in new areas and support them, regardless of the cost. As a result, when they do choose to try a new line of business, SME can be assured that there will be a crowd to at least try it out.

Back in 2011, SME and Avex Taiwan joined to open up an exclusive SME store in Taiwan, with Super Junior M‘s Henry present to cut the ribbon. The store is the first one created outside of Korea, signifying the influence of K-pop and SME artists around Asia. From that store, visitors could purchase merchandise of SME artists without having to wait for their potential concerts in their country or any shipping waits if they wanted to buy straight from the source. And since the store is near the center of Taipei, it can be easily accessed by fans. Opening a store anywhere isn’t easy. There has to be enough demand for the products of that store in order for the store to stay afloat.

And as SME is one to only take advantage of opportunities, there must be enough demand for SME goods in Taiwan, allowing for the store to flourish. With items available from photobooks to stationery of all kinds, styled to incorporate your favorites, it’s no surprise that fans crowded the street opening day for this event. It’ll be interesting to see if SME decides to replicate this store in other countries as well, especially if the Hallyu phenomenon proves to remain strong for years to come. The establishment of a store in a country outside of Korea, though this may be an exaggeration, could potentially help the tourism rates for that country. If Taiwan is closer or more easily accessible for some fans rather than Korea, it could be easier to attend concerts and stores there rather than travel straight to South Korea. SME’s influence could help larger institutions of the country.

Speaking of fans, SMTown events certainly draw them in. Having them in several countries, including France and the United States, allows for fans around the world, not just in Asia, to see their idols up close and personal. For those fans who have to travel long distances, oh, what’s this? SM Town Travel, which Dana wrote about in more depth here. Earlier in 2012, SME bought the travel agency Happy Hawaii, which had specialized in travel to Hawaii, USA. With this agency, not only does SME arrange travel both in South Korea and internationally, but it offers special packages, such as this one, for fans attending concerts of their artists, making them an attractive option for booking, should someone need it. From the package linked, it seems to be just another way for SME to promote their own facilities while also manipulating the fans’ feelings of supporting their artist by buying tickets through their entertainment company. The fans gain reserved spaces at the concert, but the backstage tours are without any artists present. A potential draw is if the prices are lower than any other offer, but it’s doubtful. Once again, credit to SME for finding these ways to play their every supportive fans.

Recently, SME released statements introducing their ‘S.M.ART Exhibition,’ a digital exhibition that aims to provide an entirely new experience for fans. It will be held in Seoul in August, incorporating technology such as holographic recordings of performances, video calls to artists, a 3-D stereoscopic theater to “meet” artists, and experiences with SME’s infamous 360-degree camera. Expected to be held around the same time as ‘SMTown World Tour III,’ the exhibition is foreseeing the generation of many viewers. It’s also expected to travel around the world under the name of ‘S.M.ART Exhibition World Tour.’

It’s unknown as to whether this exhibition is free to fans or not, though most likely it will require some sort of entrance fee. For fans that wait to attend concerts only to see their idols from afar, seeing them closer with realistic technology might be something worth seeing. And if anything, the exhibition will play to fans technologically-inclined. If the exhibition allows for real experiences or uses of the technology, it would be interesting to actually interact with technology that not anyone can just see every day. Additionally, should the exhibition travel with SMTown and be priced less than the actual concert, it could be something that fans could enjoy even if going to the concert isn’t possible due to expenses or location issues (should the exhibition be at a different place than the concert).

More of SME with technology comes in the form of their collaboration with ‘Genie,’ an app that allows you to purchase music and keep it in a cloud service, so that you can access it through different forms of media. Yes, they are the company whose anger-inducing advertisements popped up in the middle of EXO‘s “MAMA” music videos and could not be removed, much like SME’s ‘Everysing’ ads in SHINee‘s “Sherlock.” What is unique about SME with ‘Genie’ is EXO-K‘s work through their Augmented Reality (AR) shows. Fans stand on a certain mat and can see themselves on a screen. According to what they choose–dancing along to one of EXO-K’s songs or a personal lesson from the members–prerecorded figures show up on the screen, but with the fan(s) inserted in as well. They can receive lessons or dance with the members and receive a photo or video at the end of the experience. The set traveled to multiple locations throughout South Korea. Below is an example of a dance lesson that took place at one of the locations.

While incredibly awkward, it does allow fans to experience something new as even though the idols aren’t actually there, the fans are seeing themselves with the idols and most likely will receive some sort of memento from the event. The experience does seem rather realistic on the screen, though it does require proper placement of the fans involved in some of the cases.The downside is that this promotes a false sense of closeness with the idols, especially when what they choose is a dance in which all the members dance towards the fan. For most fans, that isn’t a problem, but there are always those fans that go above and beyond with their perceived relationship with their favorite idol.

Not long ago, SME created a new subsidiary company, SM Culture & Contents (SM C&C), which is responsible for the future SBS drama, To the Beautiful You. A revival of the much-loved manga Hana-Kimi, SHINee’s Minho and f(x)‘s Sulli are the main stars with director Jeon Ki-sang of Boys Over Flowers fame and writer Lee Young-chul of the sitcom High Kick. With other actors and actresses such as Gi Tae-young and Lee Hyun-woo lined up, SM C&C is clearly taking this endeavor seriously.

Entertainment companies known for their music groups involving themselves with dramas isn’t new: JYP Entertainment was all over Dream High and Dream High 2. But since this is SME, a leader in the music industry now branching out into dramas, many will be watching closely, waiting for a misstep. I, like many others, initially thought that SME might try to throw as many of their idols into the mix as possible, regardless of how developed their acting skills were. But so far, it seems that only the two leading parts are from SME, which indicates that SM C&C is a subsidiary that SME wants to stick around.

Recruiting other idols, such as ZE:A‘s Kwanghee and maybe Infinite‘s L, is unavoidable as the drama does take place in a school among an adolescent population. But by also including experienced actors and older ones that can put on a good performance, the drama is shaping up to be a serious endeavor that could turn out to be a hit. Should SM C&C work well this time around and continue with high performance, the company could be a desirable force within the drama industry. Not only would SME recruit potential idols, but also more potential actors, widening their influence over much of Korean media.

Though it sounds like SME is growing to be a giant that will just take everything over, it would also serve as motivation for other companies to inject creativity into their artists or line-up within the company and step it up, however, hopefully not to the extent of overworking them.

When looking at the Big Three companies, SME is the one that has the most subsidiaries devoted to endeavors outside of the music industry, indicating the company’s desire to not just be known for their musical talents or charismatic idols. For the artists, this means that once they debut, they have a wide array of ventures they could expand into because of the ability of their company to train them or get them there. They could receive training for acting or composing, travel to several countries, and be known better to their fans and as a global icon. There’s even the possibility of having their own television shows for hobbies, such as Kangta‘s Pasta e Basta.

However, as time is limited and the amount of work large, there is always that high chance of artists being overworked and not having time to properly enjoy themselves as they are rushed from schedule to schedule with little time for sleep. Though SME has often been demonized for their treatment of music groups under their label and for playing favorites from time to time, it must be recognized that SME is smart and developing themselves as a company to be reckoned with. Their idols are some of the most popular, and in one light, it’s good that they are busy. If SME continues to expand themselves while hopefully keeping close eye on the welfare of their idols, it could grow to be a label well known around the world, not just to K-pop fans.

What are your views on SME’s expansion plans? Excited about any of their upcoming projects? Leave a comment telling us what you think!

(Daum, Naver: 1, 2, 3, CNN Global Experiences, Yahoo! Taiwan, SM Town Travel Package, SMTown Facebook, TV Report: 1, 2, Newsen, SMTOWN Youtube, Sports Donga, Joy News)

Ambika

Lover of science and language, coffee addict, and K-pop patron. Not actually a towel elephant.

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