K-pop idols are helping VR gain popularity in South Korea. By combining K-pop and VR korean content producers are spreading their immersive gospel to the masses.
These days you don’t have to walk far in Hongdae, Seouls epicenter of youth culture, to come across a VR arcade.
– Two or three years ago nobody was talking about VR. Now you can find multiple VR arcades on every entertainment street in Seoul, says Kim Min Su, VR producer at korean company Tomato Production.
From the fashion stores of Hongdae K-pop is blasting on full volume. Up above the idols can be seen dancing on jumbo screens. It is this obsession with K-pop that korean VR producers think will help them make VR mainstream.
– Through K-pop we can target two types of people – those interested in high tech and entertainment that find VR interesting and another type that is into K-pop, says Kim Min Su.
Kim Min Su is one of the attendants at this years Korea VR Festival – an exhibition and networking event for Korean VR companies and foreign buyers and investors.
It’s not a coincident that the festival kicked off with a giant K-pop gala. Below the skyscrapers of Seouls tech district Digital Media City an impressive list of Korean idols got up on stage and strutted their stuff. Meanwhile the teenage girls in the crowd (many who had paid the equivalent of $200 for their tickets) were growing increasingly hysterical, getting into skirmishes with the guards as they tried to rush the stage to get closer to their favourite boy band member. It’s easy to see how VR could benefit these hormonal fans.
– It’s hard for fans to see their idols up close, but we can help them, says Soyoung Lee from Venta VR, a korean company producing high quality 3D 360 video that has produced several K-pop experiences.
Kim Min Su from Tomato Production agrees:
– As an example we worked with boy band B.I.G. One of the members did an exercise video where fans could feel like they were working out with him. Another member played a private tutor. We also created a date experinec with one of the guys where he serenades the viewer while eating ice cream. The guys we showed it to were disgusted but the girls loved it and started to scream and cry and tried to grab their idol. We call it K-pop VR and it’s really becoming an established genre of its own, he says.
VR in Korea is still something you do out of the house in an arcade style setting. But the studios we talked to at the Korea VR Festival are optimistic that we are on the verge of personal VR mass adoption. And once VR becomes a masss consumer phenomenon it will help the producers to sell their content directly to the consumers, as opposed to relying on jobs comissioned by corporate clients. And Korean VR producers create high quality content. That is why they are routinely hired by brands in China and Japan.
– We can’t compete with China on hardware. If we come up with something in South Korea there is a cheaper copy of it in China a couple of months later. What we can compete with is content. Compared to Cina and Japan we are frontrunners there, says Cho Joungsik, CEO of production company Vee Korea.
– VR is just a technology. What matters is content, he adds.