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CJ takes Korean culture as key to future

South Korean food and entertainment giant seeks to integrate Korean culture into global consumers’ daily lives

LOS ANGELES -- In the eyes of hallyu enthusiasts in the West Coast, hallyu or Korean wave is not a fading phenomenon.

“There’s always something new about K-pop,” said a 17-year-old who introduced herself as Star, a native of Los Angeles. 

A K-pop concert takes place Sunday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, as part of KCON 2016 hosted by the CJ Group. (CJ Group)
A K-pop concert takes place Sunday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, as part of KCON 2016 hosted by the CJ Group. (CJ Group)

“(The) concept (of performances), fashion and everything … is new and it is so energetic,” said the fan of K-pop band EXO who participated in the three-day event KCON hosted by CJ Group in downtown Los Angeles.

KCON is a combination of K-pop concerts, an exhibition and a marketplace, designed to appeal to the young generation which the South Korean food and entertainment giant views as potential buyers of an expansive range of Korean products in the future.

Since 2012, the project has been part of CJ’s global expansion. This year, the group has put extensive focus on the event by travelling to four countries including the U.S., France and the United Arab Emirates. Between March and June, the event drew around 100,000 visitors.

The KCON that ended Sunday in Los Angeles drew around 76,000 visitors, according to CJ Group. It was the fifth installment of the event and the second in the U.S. this year. By 2020, the group plans to hold KCON more than 10 times a year.

Citing the unrelenting popularity of the Korean wave worldwide, the CJ Group said that the country’s pop culture would be a major vehicle for the firm’s future growth. Its culture-related businesses currently account for 16 percent of its overseas revenue, but the group plans to expand this to 50 percent by 2020.

The group also aims to become one of the top 10 entertainment companies in the world.

In the same way that consumers around the globe know immediately that pizza originated from Italy and embrace the popular food, the CJ Group wants Korean food, fashion, cosmetics and other items to have such worldwide recognition. For instance, bibimbap, a Korean mixed rice dish, would be embraced globally. 

Locals try bibimbap, or Korean mixed rice, at a booth showcasing Korean cuisine at KCON 2016 in Los Angeles, California, from July 29-31. (CJ Group)
Locals try bibimbap, or Korean mixed rice, at a booth showcasing Korean cuisine at KCON 2016 in Los Angeles, California, from July 29-31. (CJ Group)

“CJ Group will play a pivotal role in driving the fourth-generation of the Korean wave in which Korean lifestyle is taken as a part of daily lives, not only by hallyu enthusiasts, but also by people around the world,” said Kim Hyun-joon, the vice president of CJ Corp., the parent company of the group at a news conference on the second day of KCON.

The Korean wave that started to take off 20 years ago is now in the third stage of its development, with products like cosmetics and TV dramas proliferating along with the popularity of K-pop, he added, quoting experts.

Spreading the Korean lifestyle across overseas markets will not be easy, but the mission will be carried out by exposing more people to the country’s culture first through the KCON festivals, he said.

This year’s KCON in Los Angeles focused on beauty products, but the event will eventually include more content such as those related to information technologies and cooking.

“KCON is a dimensional marketing tool that supports the overseas market entry of Korean companies and lures potential customers for K-culture related products,” said Lee Sang-il, the vice president of CJ E&M.

In partnership with the nation’s export promotion agency KOTRA and the Korea Small and Medium Businesses Administration, the event also housed around 90 Korean start-ups for its exhibition, the group said.

CJ is also seeking to diversify its overseas business portfolio by localizing Korean entertainment and integrating it with local talents, values and formats.

The group’s entertainment arm has signed partnerships with local firms in Asia and the U.S. to sell Korean hit TV content and movies, Lee said.

Its box office hit “Miss Granny (2014),” for example, was reproduced by local directors and screen writers in China, Vietnam and Japan, and filmed featuring actors from those countries.

The reproduction rights of another of CJ’s hit entertainment series “Grandpas Over Flowers” was also sold to the major TV channel NBC. The U.S. version features four American legends, including former professional boxer George Foreman and former professional footballer Terry Bradshaw, who make an unexpected journey to Asia, including South Korea. The program is scheduled to air later this year.

By Cho Chung-un (christory@heraldcorp.com) Korea Herald correspondent 
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