The Money-Go-Round of KPop


How to find which votes are counted… KPopper style.

All KPoppers at some point have wondered, “Why in the world is voting for stages and awards so complicated?!”

The answer is sadly simple- money. As in, which network is making money for or from which other company. And which company is now suddenly rivals with another.

If we were to try to draw a relationship chart it would look like a bad KDrama… or at least a seriously deep conspiracy theorist.


So in this post, we have tried to do all that crafty CSI work for you.


But before we get to who owns whom and which competitors are really frenemies… a brief history lesson….

Not So Boring History Stuff (AKA: Drama, Drama, Drama)

The How, When, and Why Major Networks Don’t Get Along (the short version)

In the 1980’s, KBS, a publicly owned TV network (read: owned by the government) was failing. National propaganda and state run surveillance was at an all time high. So the government demanded (by citing the National Security Act) that all other private companies were required to give a portion of their shares to KBS. The largest public company at the time (and the one with the most to lose) was MBC.

SBS was not launched until 9 October 1991; so they weren’t born at the time of the KBS state takeover. But MBC ended up needing to severely downsize with the full round of pink slips and severance packages. And the chaebol owners lost a ton of money.  In order to salvage something of their status as a top network, they sold their souls and became widely recognized as “KBS’s mouthpiece”… namely- the mouthpiece of the Korean Government.  Anytime competition became a threat, KBS would throw their wave, their stock slips, and their magic Blue House bestie status, and MBC would bow politely and do what was asked. MBC did manage to survive, but holy hanboks were they bitter.

The South Korean people were frustrated that their only real options for programming was government run. After all, this was South Korea. Not North Korea. There was no real thing as competition. And when there’s no real rival to dethrone you, kings tend to get lazy.

Enter SBS.

SBS actually launched on MBC’s 30th Anniversary and designated the day to “The Day of Birth of SBS”. If you know anything about Korean culture- you’ll understand what a huge slap in the face that is. [If you’re intending to be the rival of the biggest guy on the block, outshining his birthday party just to say “nanny nanny boo boo your programming is poo poo” is a pretty bold entrance. Gauntlet thrown.]

To this day, KBS still has portions of MBC shares, and at times they still like dress up and play boss and remind MBC that government = control.

So basically, they all hate each other.

MBC hates KBS because they’re still resentful of the the hostile government take over, and they despise SBS for being both their rival and unencumbered by government sanctions.

KBS just likes to bully MBC and pretend that they’re still the boss. KBS sees SBS as it’s rival, and the two often get into sparring matches over who will have rights to dramas and ratings wars.

SBS hates both MBC and KBS for being government shills.

But even thought they hate each other… half of their board members have their hands in their competition’s cookie jar. And unfortunately, this doesn’t just apply to the television networks. It’s infested the music industry as well.

This is why when it comes to music award shows and the like, not all streams are equal. Depending on what flavor cookie each network is currently chomping on, changes which download streams are the most important.

How does that all work?

Well, take a deep breath. We’re about to dive in.

The Carousel of KPop (AKA: Boring Stuff for Nerds That Everyone Should Know)

(aka AKA: The REAL Big Three… Kakao, CJ e&m, KT )

End of year award shows and comeback stage requirements are constantly changing. To the outsider it may seem odd and unfair. But this is more due to the Mergers and Acquisitions that make Gordon Gekko look like a philanthropist. [Also, apparently transparency, antitrust laws, and full disclosure are merely “suggestions” in the Korean business world.]

If you’ve ever thought those KDramaLand board room fights of “He Who Shall Be Heir” seemed way over the  top… the more we at KpG dig, the more we realize they may be actually based on a shred of truth.

And even more KDramaesque are the epic grudges and moblike corporate takeovers of entire conglomerates when one chaebol slighted another at the last Merry Music Mingle Christmas party. [Hoffa would be proud.] 


[Hahahaha. *Laughing hard enough to make the dog look worried.* We can all thank Kell for this beautiful piece of art.} 

So how to piece together the spider web of company politics of our beloved KPop?

So that you didn’t have to… we here at KpG pulled out our blackboards and our piles of string…


(Kell already had a stockpile of push pins) and got to work figuring out who partners with whom so that you didn’t have to.

KpG and Simon trying to figure out the music industry of Korea.



∼ Daum Kakao Corp. ∼

1theK and MelOn are both owned by LOEN Entertainment (Live On Entertainment Networks). As of 2013, LOEN also owns 70% of Starship Entertainment.

LOEN was bought by Kakao Corp on 11 January 2016.

Kakao merged with Daum in of September 2014. kakao

Daum Kakao Partners:

  • Tapjoy (as in the app voting point program with ads for awards like Asian Artist Awards)
  • Bugs! music streaming (formerly owned by Neowiz Bugs, now Neowiz Internet)
  • SM Entertainment which owns:
    • Woollim Entertainment is owned by SM C&C (SM Culture & Contents Co.) a subsidiary of SM Entertainment.
    • AM Entertainment
    • Hoon Media
    • Tour Express (as BT&I Co. Ltd.)

LOEN’s lables:

  • Cre.Ker Entertainment (formerly Viewga Entertainment) – an in-house label
  • Starship Entertainment
  • Plan A Entertainment (formerly part of Cube Entertainment. Was absorbed by LOEN in 2015.)
  • WS Entertainment
  • FNC  Entertainment
  • DSP Media (an independent label distributed under LOEN)
  • C-Jes Entertainment (an independent label distributed under LOEN)
  • Amoeba Culture (an independent label co-0wned with CJ E&M Music)
  • Brand New Music (an independent label co-owned with Neowiz Internet)

∼ CJ E&M  (AKA: International Concert Promotor)∼

MNet is cjemgrouplogoowned by CJ E&M (a division of CJ Group). MWave is the  current company website and affiliates (prior to 2013 it was MNet Global).

 As of 2016, CJ E&M owns 22.53% stake in MBC Plus Media.

CJ E&M is also the owner and producer of KCon (CJ E&M, CJ E&M America).

CJ E&M also owns:

  • Hi-Lite Records
  • AOMG
  • OCN television network
  • tvN television network

FNC was owned by CJ E&M  from (2007-2015). FNC is now owned by LOEN Entertainment.

CJ E&M Partners:

∼ KT Music (AKA: the biggest company you’ve never heard of) ∼

KT Music is a joint ownership with KT Corporation (Korean Telecom), the major wireless provider of Korea. KT Corp owns 49.89%. KT  Music is a convertible bond partnership (formerly called KMP Holdings) of 7 major companies: SM Entertainment, YG Entertainment, JYP Entertainment, Star Empire Entertainment, CAN Entertainment, Media Line, & Music Factory Entertainment.


KT Music functions as the major distribution hub, merchandising market, and concert promotion for each of the seven companies.

KT Music owns Genie and Olleh Music online digital music services.

KT Corporation owned Sidus FNH (parent of Cube Ent.) from 2005- 2014.

KT Corporation (Korean Telecom) is also the major wireless provider of Korea.

So to sum up- these 7 major music labels (including what is commonly referred to as “the big three”) all have their hands in the same cookie jar and make money off each other’s record sales, merchandising, concerts, and so on. They also jointly own the digital music streaming services they encourage you to listen through for “competition”… across a wireless network they currently partnership with.

Independent companies that are actually Independent

Cube Entertainment- (owned by Sidus HQ). As of 2o14, Sidus FNH was released from KT Corporation and became independent under the name change Sidus HQ.  (Note: Sidus HQ owns the korean digital music streaming service, Monkey3.)

Pledis Entertainment – Founded in 2007 by Han Sung Soo.

DSP Media – (formerly DSP Entertainment). Established in 1991 by Lee Ho Yeon.

Antenna Music – founded by Yoo Hee Yeol in 1997. Partners with CJ E&M and KT Music for distribution only.

Mystic89 – Founded in 2001 by singer and songwriter Yoon Jong Shin.

Honorable Mentions:

Big Hit Entertainment – founded in 2005 by former JYP composer Bang  Si-hyuk started as completely independent company. They were acquired in 2015 by Signal Entertainment (formerly Signal Information and Communication Corp).

Signal was the major investor and distributor of Motorola and 3Com in Korea (both now defunct). In an effort to invest in something other than a dying telecom market; Signal completely revamped in 2015 and began investing in the entertainment industry. Signal also acquired Jungle Entertainment (the former label of Tiger JK) in 2015, and NH Media in May 2016.

Imagine Asia Co. Ltd. (formerly Wellmade Yedang, formerly Wellmade StarM and Yedang Entertainment) – Imagine Asia has gone through many changes, byouts, and acquisitions to get to where they are today from 1976. They are partially owned by Chungho Comnet Co. (a company that manufactures and sercices ATMs), but they have yet to connect, partner, or be absorbed by any of the major music industry companies. For that reason they maintain “independent status” although they are more like an independent co-op as of 2017. Subsidiary labels owned by Imagine Asia are:

  • Cashmere Records
  • Duble Kick
  • YMC Entertainment
  • Blue Star Entertainment
  • Dream Tea Entertainment

China’s role in KPop (AKA: Why your idols make Chinese Albums)

YG – has significant investments from Tencent (China’s social media giant) and Beijing Weiying Technology.  In fact, Tencent QQ has been investing in YG for a while. YG is also partners with China’s Youku.

Note: YG owns the “independent” labels:

  • HIGHGRND (run by Tablo)
  • PSYG (Psy’s new label as of 1 September 2016)
  • The Black Label (run by Teddy Park & Kush. Houses ZionT)

SM – Chinese companies AlibabaMedia Asia, and Fosun all own investment capital shares of SM Entertainment.

JYP – is partners with China Music Corp.

So In Conclusion…

Every network show has their own… let’s call them “preferences”.

And they have their own rivals.

Same with every entertainment company and streaming service.

And it all boils down to whether or not their competition is going to make them money.

And a ton of “independent” labels are really just subsidiaries and spin-offs. Not really independent like they market themselves to be.

But none of that will stop us from loving KPop and our faves. It just helps us understand what is truly going on when you idol suddenly drops one product and CVs for a rival one… or why award show requirements never seem to stay the same.


4 thoughts on “The Money-Go-Round of KPop

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