The Korea Herald


Hybe’s global superfan platform Weverse at a crossroads

By Kim Jae-heun

Published : June 25, 2024 - 18:09

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Ariana Grande (Ariana Grande's Instagram account) Ariana Grande (Ariana Grande's Instagram account)

Weverse, Hybe's global superfan platform, stands at a crossroads as a key player in the K-pop powerhouse’s platform business plan, as it seeks to implement an extensive paid membership system in the third quarter of this year amid falling user numbers.

Weverse, launched in 2019, allows users to engage in various fan activities and purchase artists’ physical albums as well as related merchandise. It also provides K-pop artists' content on the platform including concert livestreams, live broadcasts, and chat boards for artists and fans.

Successful platform business is vital for Hybe in securing sustainability and profitability, which, at the moment, are primarily centered on K-pop bands’ physical album sales and concert revenue. The importance of platform business was one the reasons Hybe Chairman Bang Si-hyuk appeared at the Bloomberg Screentime event in Los Angeles last October to highlight Weverse business specifically. He has since declared Hybe a “half-tech company.”

However, despite increasing revenue, Weverse has shown an operating loss. According to Hybe’s annual report for 2023 released in March, the platform operator Weverse Company marked 8 billion won ($5.8 million) in operating loss last year, extending its losing streak for two consecutive years.

Weverse began monetizing its platform in May last year by introducing a subscription-based membership. It includes ad removal in the content, real-time subtitles in the video streaming, fan letter delivery to artists and more. The platform also adopted its digital currency “jelly” for fans to purchase exclusive fan services such as Weverse DM, a private one-on-one chat service with an artist.

Weverse plans to further expand its paid membership service sometime in the next three months to improve the company’s profitability.

Lee Jong-im, a professor at Seoul National University of Science & Technology, is skeptical about the move.

“Recently, local rock band Nell faced backlash when it introduced a paid membership service of 450,000 won ($324.6) for its fandom app service. Hybe has to focus on what fans truly want, not just increasing the number of Weverse platform users," Lee told the Korea Herald on Tuesday.

Jin of BTS's fan meeting in Seoul is live-streamed on the Weverse platform on June 13. (Big Hit Entertainment) Jin of BTS's fan meeting in Seoul is live-streamed on the Weverse platform on June 13. (Big Hit Entertainment)

Weverse's monthly active user numbers, a critical index for improving profit, declined to 9.2 million in the first quarter of this year, after peaking at 10.6 million in the third quarter of 2023 and falling to 10.1 million in the fourth quarter.

Hybe Chief Strategy Officer Lee Jae-sang, during the company’s Q1 earning call on June 6, said, “We are continuously updating the user interface of the Weverse platform and expanding the service model based on feedback from users and artists to onboard overseas musicians.”

Weverse Company CEO Joon Choi also revealed the company’s extensive plan to “expand its artist roaster, including both established superstars and promising rising talents across various regions and genres” in an interview with an overseas media outlet in March.

Internationally acclaimed musicians such as Gracie Abrams, Conan Gray, Jeremy Zucker and Alexander 23 are already on the Weverse platform through Hybe's partnership with Universal Music Group signed in 2020.

However, the company believes it needs bigger-name pop artists on Weverse to promote the platform in the US mainstream market and elsewhere. Getting superstar Ariana Grande to Weverse on June 12 is a result of such an effort.

Lee of Seoul National University of Science & Technology is unsure about global artists' participation in turning things around for Weverse.

“Weverse is still mainly enjoyed by K-pop fans who set high ethical and moral standards for their favorite artists. Ariana Grande, as an American musician, is relatively free when it comes to her private life." Lee said.

"I don’t know how much she understands about superfan service on Weverse or how much she is willing to commit to the platform, but K-pop artists on the platform, I can say, are almost ‘married to’ their fans,” Lee said.