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[Hallyu Power] Korean YouTube stars draw global viewership

What started out as a hobby for Kim Seung-min in 2015 has grown into a YouTube channel with 1.6 million subscribers and total views of 1 billion for more than 600 videos.

Kim’s channel Toy Monster focuses on children aged between 3 and 10. It introduces colorful toys and materials as well as how to play with them in videos that range from five to eight minutes.

It ranks 21st on a list of top 30 most-viewed YouTube channels for kids’ education globally, according to Socialblade, a YouTube statistics tracking website.

Ninety percent of the channel’s views come from outside Korea

“I didn’t have international audiences in mind at first, but I noticed a 5 percent increase in viewership from Portugal a month after I started this,” Kim said. 

A scene from kids’ education channel Toy Monster (YouTube)
A scene from kids’ education channel Toy Monster (YouTube)

His viewers hail from all around the world, including the U.S., Portugal, Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, India and countries in Africa.

Kim is one of the top YouTube content creators in Korea, with more than a million subscribers and more international viewers than local ones. Among the top 10 YouTube channels in Korea, 80 percent of their total views are from overseas, according to Google Korea.

“Korean creators face good opportunities ahead. We have seen a great surge in the interest in Korean cultural content as Korean pop culture draws huge popularity in Southeast Asia, South America and Europe where Korean entertainment shows and TV dramas like ‘Running Man’ and ‘Descendants of the Sun’ are huge hits,” said Park Tae-won who is in charge of YouTube online partnership at Google Korea.

Global views on the top 100 Korean YouTube channels increased threefold in May this year compared to the same month last year. The number of foreign subscribers of the top 100 channels also increased by 1.7 times during the same period, according to Google Korea.

“We have definitely seen a growing number of foreign viewers who like Korean YouTube content creators,” Park said.

Reaching out to global viewers

One Korean YouTube video that has seen explosive global popularity is by Korean beauty blogger Pony. Her video showing her transformation into Taylor Swift through makeup had 9.6 million views as of Aug. 1. 

YouTube stars bid farewell during a curtain call at the YouTube FanFest Korea on Aug. 28, 2015 in Seoul. (YouTube)
YouTube stars bid farewell during a curtain call at the YouTube FanFest Korea on Aug. 28, 2015 in Seoul. (YouTube)

Another video that has seen high viewership in just a few months is violinist Jenny Yun’s cover performance of girl group Twice’s song “Cheer Up.” It has amassed more than 700,000 views since it was posted on May 30.

YouTube channels that ranked top in the list of most viewed independent channels, according to Socialblade, are mostly those related to games, children and beauty.

These days, Korean YouTubers are adding English captions and subtitles to make their videos more accessible to global viewers.

Beauty YouTuber Park Su-hye, known as Ssin, whose channel has more than a million subscribers, started doing so after she noticed increased international viewership for her makeup tutorials.

Some of her most popular videos are those that feature the makeup styles of K-pop male idols such as Baekhyun and Kai of EXO, Jimin of BTS and Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen.”

“International viewers are curious about Korean beauty trend and products,” Ssin said.

Now she gets help from an English-speaking beauty blogger to translate her Korean script into English.

Ssin has also been learning English so that she will be able to communicate with international fans when she attends events abroad.

“I try to make my videos comical with humor, and I am willing to pay to make my previous posts and future videos all in English,” said Ssin.

Na Hae-bin, a partner technology manager of Google Korea said that subtitles in another language can increase views from the countries that speak the language by 300 percent. 

A scene from the Taylor Swift transformation makeup tutorial by beauty YouTuber Pony (YouTube)
A scene from the Taylor Swift transformation makeup tutorial by beauty YouTuber Pony (YouTube)

Some YouTubers who cannot afford translators ask fans to produce subtitles for their channels. Cho Sub, who runs a comedy channel with more than 600,000 subscribers, added subtitles in 14 languages, including Japanese, Spanish and Arabic, to some of his most popular episodes, with the help of fans.

“Fan-donated subtitles is another way that YouTubers can facilitate communication with their fans,” said Na.

YouTube stars and business opportunities

Some top YouTubers enjoy the same status as celebrities.

At YouTube FanFest Korea 2015, thousands of fans gathered to meet some of the top 10 YouTube content creators and teams, including buzzbean 11, known as the Great Library in Korean, Yangtting (Yang Ji-young) and Ddotty TV (Na Hee-seon) who stream online game play live, Korean Englishman (Josh Carrott) and Ssin (Park Su-hye).

Tickets to the second annual YouTube FanFest were sold out way before the event on Aug. 28 at Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul.

Fans help YouTube stars generate revenue through advertisement, sponsorships and merchandise such as Ssin’s cosmetic products made in collaboration with a local brand.

“I have more profits from the collaborations with beauty brands than from advertisements on my channel,” said Ssin.

YouTubers and YouTube Korea declined to reveal how much YouTube stars earn and the share of revenue they take from advertisements that appear on YouTube videos. 

Beauty YouTuber Ssin speaks during YouTube FanFest Korea 2015. (YouTube)
Beauty YouTuber Ssin speaks during YouTube FanFest Korea 2015. (YouTube)

However, for some top YouTube stars, it seems that videos can generate thousands of dollars per month, enough to pay for rent and staff.

“Ssin has six staff members who work for her and she pays them a monthly salary. She just expanded her office, which grew fast to match the scale of a company,” said Hugh Kim, a content partnership manager of Google Korea.

According to Socialblade, Ssin’s estimated monthly earning ranges from $1,900 to $299,000.

“When you have more than 100,000 subscribers on your channel, you can devote yourself entirely to creating content without having other jobs. A YouTuber, who worked at a construction company for a decade, now earns more than he made in those 10 years by running a movie review channel with more than 160,000 subscribers,” said Hugh Kim.

By Lee Woo-young (

This is the 19th article in a series that explores the driving forces behind hallyu and the global rise of Korean pop culture. -- Ed.
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