New Lighthouse: K-Musical Market Roundtable Review

Guest Producers: Katy Lipson(UK, Company Director&Producer of Aria Entertainment)

Jack M. Dagleish(US, President of JD Entertainment, Inc.

Sophy Jiwon Kim(KR, Vice President of EMK Musical Company)

Kozue Kiyoyama(JP, CEO of Amus Enterntainment Inc.)

Moderator:   Junyoung Kim (KR, Managing Director of ILOVESTAGE)

On November 26, when the event [K-Musical Market] was drawing to an end, Stephen Sondheim, the lighthouse of Western musicals and one of the most influential and revered composers and writers in the latter half of the 20th century, passed away. New York’s Broadway possesses the legacy of his beloved musicals such as West Side Story, Gypsy, Company, Sweeney Todd, and Into the Woods. Prior to Sondheim, there were Richard Rodgers (1902–1979) and Oscar Hammerstein (1895–1960), who produced a series of popular Broadway musicals that catalyzed the “golden age” of musical theater in the US. Among their works, the five musicals Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music achieved particularly big success. Across the ocean, in the West End in London, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh produced a series of successful works from Cats to Les Misérables, Phantom of the Opera, and Miss Saigon. What separates young producers of the US and UK from those of Korea is that huge “lighthouses” exist in the American and British fields, while Korean producers start out with “individual lanterns” in their hands.

Hence, Koreans started producing original musicals by watching and learning from the musicals of the West. Under these conditions, and in order for Korean musicals to move beyond Asia and advance to the international stage, the K-Musical Market was designed to establish a stable musical production and distribution environment by building a foundation for investment throughout the entire process from musical planning and development to overseas distribution. The market was held this year to great success.

As a part of an information session on the second day of the market, a roundtable was held in the Seoul Arts Center (SAC) Opera House fourth-floor conference hall. Musical producers from Korea, the US, the UK, and Japan discussed the theme of “New Forms and Content of Musicals: How to Utilize and Export the Elements of Musicals.” Participants from all over the world engaged in an unlimited conversation on the establishment of the musical industry’s virtuous circulation and the creation of new added value such as linked content and multiple uses of intellectual property through the expansion of investment within the musical industry. The following is a summary of the main points of the discussions.

Not long ago, I read an article based on an interview between a Korean musical production company and investment firm. The article basically said that the Korean musical market has a very low rate of return compared to the film market—so low that musical producers are compelled to start researching how to utilize a musical’s content even before they start working on the production of a show. What are your thoughts on this?

Jack M. Dagleish (US—CEO, JD Entertainment)
Speaking from the position of a producer who has produced plays and musicals in New York for about 25 years, recent cultural content created in Korea is making outstanding achievements in various fields, from K-pop to films and TV series. It seems like a very timely attempt [for Korea] to introduce original musicals and discuss additional products now. Personally, I also consider a number of sources of profit when producing a show. Hence, when I look at a new project in terms of theatrical production, I always look at it as a business. In addition to the traditional ticket sales revenue, I also explore every album, game, animation, film, audio drama, and merchandise possibility to figure out how we can maximize the utilization of additional products. Also, since musical productions have about a 20-percent success rate, it is only natural that, as a producer, I consider various sources of profit.

Among the representative phenomena, I would say that creating and streaming video recordings of musicals is something that will not go away. Various new platforms are popping up, and I also plan to invest in platform businesses in the future. However, I think traditional theater audiences will not disappear. Performances should be available everywhere—both online and on the actual stage.

One of the interesting things that I have happened to witness with the development of technology is the emergence of a type of cryptocurrency called the non-fungible token (NFT). It can be seen as an artwork stored in a digital format. As it is based on blockchain technology, it can be stored in virtual spaces, and since each token is individual, they are non-fungible. The sales of NFTs in the first quarter of 2021 reached one billion dollars. Hence, a new age has arrived in which people can own not only performances but also original posters, and digital merchandise is being traded with the NFT (as an asset for investment) being a genuine digital product certification based on scarcity value. It is a matter of course that performance production be approached from a business perspective.

Katy Lipson (UK—Company Director, Aria Entertainment)
I founded a production company in London in 2012 and have been working in the West End and Off West End for about a decade now. We have hosted a musical festival in the UK for seven years, though we recently experienced a loss of funds and the cancelation of performances due to the pandemic. Diverse profit models have become integral to our survival, so we have collected all the video recordings that we filmed during lockdown to create a new product; we have also produced an audio drama, which we fortunately included in a newly released online platform that brought in new investment. I feel like I have seen a unique niche market emerge between feature films and performances.

In the UK, creating profits by turning a performance into a video product is not easy. There is the case of a major production such as Les Misérables being transformed into filmed live recordings. The National Theatre has set a good precedent of high-quality recordings of live performances. However, while works of such scale can create enormous profit from movie copyrights, things are different for small-scale platforms. Relatively young producers have difficulty maintaining even the status quo with video production and distribution. I think livestreaming and video production can work as ways of showing other producers what we are doing. Also, they allow us to share our outstanding work with audiences from other countries. However, I believe that there are only a handful of performances that could create profit in this way.

As producers who have just gone through the time of live stage performances becoming impossible during the pandemic, discussions of diverse profit models naturally became focused on streaming services or filmed live productions. Some guest producers had some interesting projects in this field, which were shared accordingly. One was a “web musical” in Korea and the other a “live viewing” project in Japan.

Sophy Jiwon Kim (Korea—Vice President, EMK Musical Company)
I think EMK Musical Company, which is producing musicals in Korea, speaks from a position that is different from that of the Broadway and West End producers who spoke earlier. I believe Broadway and the West End viewed video production negatively in the pre-pandemic era. Original creators and staff were quite adamant about watching live shows in the theater, asserting that video recordings damage the essence of live performance; hence, someone who wanted to create a video would be met with opposition from most people. However, I am basically in charge of promotion and marketing [at EMK], and while shows with intellectual property bring in profits from the performance itself as well as from album sales, the toughest thing for Korean producers is licensing. The environment is well-established for producers from all over the world to purchase shows on Broadway and the West End, but they do not necessarily come to Korea for that purpose. Also, whereas Broadway and the West End work on an open-run system, Korean production companies put on one show only for two to three months, so it is quite difficult to invite buyers to watch a show in that given period of time. Working under these conditions, Korean producers such as myself are bound to start grappling to find ways to appeal to international buyers and sell the intellectual property of Korean shows. Therefore, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, creating videos of live performance was something that we took interest in to attract overseas audiences, particularly buyers.

We persuaded many buyers by saying, “Does watching an amazing video about a trip to Italy on TV mean you no longer need to go to Italy?” Just as one feels like going to a place after watching a wonderful video about the place, as well as how someone who has been to Italy still might watch a video about it, I believe the production of video recordings satisfies both needs. A good filmed live performance satisfies potential audiences who have not been to the show and those who have already seen it. Also, since 2014, I have been thinking that filmed performances could be a way to pioneer a potential market for overseas viewers who cannot come to Korea, but I have been unable to see this idea through due to negative reactions from other parties. Today, an opportunity has arisen due the COVID-19 pandemic, and now that it is no longer just a matter of option, but an essential part of the industry, I can persuade interested parties. What is important in filmed live performances is to produce at least one high-quality video so that the essence of a performance is not damaged, and the performance can expand to create continuity. We have started with online streaming and are now focusing on creating web and cinema versions of our productions.

Fundamentally, we producers are not the people who create videos—we create performances and shows. Hence, I do believe that creating video recordings is something that is left entirely to the choice of individual producers, taking into consideration the nature, environment, and investment opportunities of each production.

Kozue Kiyoyama (Japan—President and Representative Director, Amuse Entertainment)
Amuse Entertainment has served as the signal for Hallyu (the Korean Wave) since the Korean movie Shiri was released in Japan in January 2000. We have built a pipeline between Korea and Japan and worked in various fields including K-pop, TV dramas, and musicals. We are currently working on the development of about 10 Korean works, including Korean webcomics and musicals, through partnerships. Yet, faced with a major period of transition and the shifting direction of the entertainment business, we also feel the need for new development.

This is an era in which we think of online performances as a logical consequence. According to a survey in 2020, the size of the paid online performances market has reached JPY 44.8 billion, which is equivalent to KRW 448 billion. Another survey showed that 80.6 percent of respondents involved in online performances want to carry out online performances even after the resumption of live onstage shows. As a way to diversify the use of the intellectual property of Korean musicals, we have proposed “live viewing,” which is a way to watch musicals in cinemas in Korea, Japan, and other countries. It is a business that allows the screening and livestreaming of diverse performances and events such as plays, musicals, sports events, and concerts in high definition at event venues or cinemas. These performances and events would be screened for limited periods of time, and adding subtitles would also be possible. In the case of Japan, over 350 cinemas and a maximum of 3000 screens nationwide would be available for screening. We think that livestreaming through Korean online platforms and live events in different Asian countries could be a viable option, and the effects could be maximized through the synergy of live events and online streaming.

A study in the UK recently released interesting results: 56 percent of the 126 musical-related organizations that previously participated in online services decided to withdraw their digital production plans starting at the end of this year. According to additional interviews conducted with the staff of about 40 performance venues, the study found that “the financial motivation for investing in digital performances fell as social distancing measures were lifted, in addition to the high cost of creating filmed live performances.” Can video content, which producers in and outside of Korea focus on as an additional source of profit in producing shows, continue to be made in the future? Surely, investors may consider producers whose shows are already prepared with various profit models to be desirable, but for small productions or original musicals that cannot expect early stage investment, this may not be a readily accessible option.

According to what I have witnessed as I have traveled between the performance scenes of Korea and the UK for the last 20 years or so, I think the questions, “In which country was a producer born, and in which country are they creating a show?” decides half of a producer’s life. However, over the last 20 years, the scale of the Korean musical market has grown to be worth KRW 350 billion, and it is now being recognized as a field with large industrial growth potential. I hope that the K-Musical Market becomes a new lighthouse that takes original Korean musicals beyond the surrounding Asian markets to the international stage. On this note, I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to KAMS and the hosts who prepared this event.

Kim Junyoung
Kim Junyoung is the managing director and producer of ILOVESTAGE, a performance distribution company in London, UK. ILOVESTAGE is involved in cultural content development, licensing, scriptwriting, and touring investment and production, and was the first company to create and offer in Korea a real-time, Korean-language ticketing platform for the West End. Kim engages in the overseas distribution of Korean performances using a London-centered producer network, and does business consulting for Korean commercial performance organizations and public institutions. In addition, he writes in Korean performance webzines and monthly magazines to deliver news about the performing arts.
[email protected]

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