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Hybe chairman meets UAE president to discuss possible K-pop business in Middle East

By Kim Jae-heun, Hong Yoo

Published : May 29, 2024 - 18:31

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Hybe Chairman Bang Si-hyuk enters a hotel in Seoul for a tea meeting with United Arab Emirates President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Tuesday. (Yonhap) Hybe Chairman Bang Si-hyuk enters a hotel in Seoul for a tea meeting with United Arab Emirates President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Tuesday. (Yonhap)

Hybe Chairman Bang Si-hyuk on Tuesday met with United Arab Emirates President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, in South Korea on a two-day state visit, to discuss possible cooperation in K-pop ventures.

While the details of the discussion have not been disclosed, Bang has reportedly shared his ideas of expanding K-pop's presence in the UAE, particularly by holding the entertainment company’s “The City” project in the country. "The City" project is a citywide festival that turns an entire city into an expansive and immersive playground for visitors attending Hybe’s K-pop concerts. So far, it has been held in 12 cities in four countries including South Korea, the US, Japan, and Thailand.

Until now, the UAE has not been considered a major market for Hybe due to low profitability. Only Enhypen of Belift Lab, a subsidiary of Hybe, performed in Abu Dhabi at the Hyperound K-Fest last year.

“The Middle East is still a small market for the K-pop industry and a company such as Hybe is currently focused on expanding business in the US, Japan and Latin America. Still, because there are many K-pop fans in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, Bang probably wants to create a chance for possible projects there in the future,” an industry source said Wednesday.

The UAE ranked third among the 26 countries surveyed regarding favorable reception of Korean content, behind Indonesia and India and tied with Thailand, according to a study by the Korean Foundation for International Cultural Exchange, released last month.

From left: SM Entertainment CAO Lee Sung-soo, SM Entertainment founder and former chief producer Lee Soo-man and Sultan Albazie, CEO of the Theater and Performing Arts Commission, pose for a photograph at a signing ceremony for a memorandum of understanding on Nov. 29, 2022. (SM Entertainment) From left: SM Entertainment CAO Lee Sung-soo, SM Entertainment founder and former chief producer Lee Soo-man and Sultan Albazie, CEO of the Theater and Performing Arts Commission, pose for a photograph at a signing ceremony for a memorandum of understanding on Nov. 29, 2022. (SM Entertainment)

Meanwhile, SM Entertainment has been at the forefront of expansion into the Middle East via Saudi Arabia.

With founder and former chief producer of SM Entertainment Lee Soo-man in the lead, the K-pop powerhouse inked a memorandum of understanding with the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Culture on Nov. 29, 2022.

The two sides agreed to cooperate in producing “S-pop,” nurture local talents by hosting an S-pop audition and creating a training system, establish a studio for content creation and host a large-scale K-pop concert in Saudi Arabia.

In August 2022, SM also signed an MOU with the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Investment to share its know-how in producing artists and use its IP to create and sell merchandise in Saudi Arabia.

SM Entertainment’s relationship-building effort with Saudi Arabia could give them an upper hand in enlarging its piece of the pie in the Middle East market over other K-pop agencies.

According to the Korean Foundation for International Cultural Exchange’s report on foreign consumption of Korean cultural content in 2023, in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia spent the largest amount per person on Korean cultural content after the UAE.

SM’s K-pop boy group Super Junior was named the ambassador of the Saudi Arabian Authority in May 2023, becoming the first artist in the world to take the role.

Kakao and Kakao Entertainment, which acquired a combined 39.87 percent stake in SM Entertainment, are also contributing to the increased potential for Kakao Entertainment and SM to enhance their market power.

Kakao Entertainment met with the officials from the Saudi Arabia Tourism Authority on May 23, 2023, to discuss ways to use Kakao Entertainment’s IP to enhance cultural exchange.