As K-pop spread around the world and caused the Korean Wave, it expanded more globally over the domestic fandom. Also, the market where fandom becomes an economic entity has grown. However, due to COVID-19, the K-pop industry has faced difficulties as performances for K-pop singers to communicate and interact with the fandom are increasingly limited. As these difficulties continued, the role and importance of the “fandom platform” emerged significantly.
The fandom platform is a communication space that connects artists and their fans based on new and diverse contents such as photos, videos, real-time chatting and more on. Fan communities, commonly referred to as fan cafes, which used to be operated in the form of official portals in the past, have changed their form to artists' personal SNS and Naver V Live, and by now, they have developed into a mobile fandom platform. From the standpoint of entertainment agencies, such fandom platforms cited "smooth global fan gathering," "flexible communication channels," and "convenience". One official of the entertainment business field said, "Fandom platform has the advantage of being able to manage fandom more systematically. It is convenient because people can see the trend of inflow and increase of fans at a glance through technical sources.
The fandom platform is contributing greatly to the growth of entertainment companies beyond just a space where K-pop singers and their fandom communicate. In particular, as the COVID-19 prolonged the non-face-to-face situation, various entertainment industries felt the need to steadily supply content to maintain fandom cohesion. Consequently, the fandom platform has become a central role in the K-pop industry by moving the “performance industry”, which played a central role in fandom activities, to various platforms based on “video”. Culture critic Park Song-ah said, "Recently, COVID-19 has led to a surge in demand for live content and platforms around the world, and at the same time, entertainment agencies are growing together."
The most representative platforms are Weverse, Bubble, and Universe. Weverse is a fan community platform developed and operated by Weverse Company, a subsidiary of HYBE entertainment. On Weverse, fans can respond to what the artist left directly and by the function of automatic translation of 10 languages, Weverse was able to secure scalability. The cumulative number of app downloads on Weverse exceeded 2,500. It can be seen as the largest fan platform in Korea. Unlike Weverse, Bubble, the platform of SM entertainment, and Universe, the platform of the game company, NCsoft, has the characteristics of allowing singers and fans to send and receive messages privately in the form of “1:1 chat”. Universe was also growing into a huge platform with 3.3 million monthly users. Bubble also recorded 8.9 billion won in sales, and SM's deficit subsidiary Dear U succeeded in turning into a surplus.
As these fandom platforms have grown in love with K-pop fans, merger cases among fandom platforms have also become more frequent to have more functions and competitiveness. Weverse has begun to expand its platform in partnership with leading global companies this year. Naver transferred its community service "V Live" to Weverse company and integrated it’s service. On the same day, HYBE announced that they had partnered with YG Plus, Universal Music Group (UMG), the world No. 1 record label, and Ithaca Holdings, a large the U.S. label. As a result of partnerships with various labels, global pop stars such a BTS from HYBE, Blackpink form YG, Gracie Abrams from UMG, Ariana Grande, and Justin Bieber from Ithaca subsidiaries, were placed on Weverse. In this way, Weverse platform could overcome the limitations of fandom platforms restricted to only K-pop.
If HYBE expanded Weverse through an alliance between Naver and YG, Bubble has recently joined hands with JYP to increase the size of the platform. Universe, also joined hands with Kakao, igniting competition between Naver and HYBE over its alliance and leadership in the fan community market. NCsoft provides technology and Kakao provides artists for Universe to create good synergy. An official from Melon (paid music service app run by Kakao) said, "We have provided platform linkage to deliver abundant information about music and artists to K-pop fans and support various fandom activities," adding, "Melon will continue to actively present ways to enjoy music and communicate with music."
There are growing standpoints that the rise of such fandom platforms can transform the existing voluntary fan culture, which anyone can freely participate in, into a profitable fandom culture that can only be enjoyed by investing a large amount of money. Mi-myo, editor-in-chief of the webzine said, "The central control fan culture of agencies in the 90s was decentralized into Internet cafes in the 2000s, but the central control of the agency is growing again.” Although many negative views and criticisms continue, there are other views that predicts such collaboration among fandom platforms will accelerate further to realize economies of scale in the K-pop industry. The representative platform Bubble, recorded 8.9 billion won in sales in the first quarter of this year alone, earning more than half of last year's total sales (13 billion won) in just one quarter, proving its potential and effectiveness in expanding the K-pop platform market.
In the COVID-19 situation and the K-POP craze, the fandom platform plays an important role in the K-pop industry and is growing and settling down rapidly. Unlike fan cafe, which was voluntarily led by fans in the past, today's fandom platform has changed to a more business-model format due to the COVID-19 situation, so “democracy” and “horizontality” with consumers are considered important. Critic Kim said, "Now fans tend to speak out immediately when there is something unreasonable, so it is necessary to operate a fan platform from a democratic and horizontal perspective because fandom departures such as boycotts may occur." As it is a competitive industry, The CUF hope that various types of fandom platforms with democracy and horizontality will continue to contribute to the fandom culture by being developed and grown in a well-equipped state to satisfy fans.