How BTS Harnessed The Power of Digital Content
The South Korean band has used video content to not only showcase their musicianship, but also connect with fans in a number of ways
Global superstars BTS are well known for connecting with their fans through not just their music and being active on social media, but also their endless catalogue of video content. The band has been filming their life even before debuting, to give fans a glimpse of who they really are and create a connection like no other. They’ve recorded daily activities, dance rehearsals, behind the scenes, vacations and more. This content is spread out over several platforms, ensuring it reaches fans across various demographics, building bonds that stretch beyond ordinary artist-fan interactions.
While it is nothing new for an artist to livestream or release documentaries, there are certain key aspects that set BTS apart from the rest. For starters, these video properties are all created keeping the band’s fanbase ARMY as the central target audience. This means that fans get to witness them not as they want to appear, but rather as they are. The group’s various video properties launched over their seven years in the industry—Run BTS!, ‘Bangtan Bombs’ and more—are all examples of this. One might argue that their shoulder content is almost as key a factor as BTS’s discography in contributing to their mass appeal and success. If their expansive discography is a record of BTS as artists and performers, their video content is a testament to their identity as entertainers and ultimately, people. It gives them that human touch that has drawn in millions of fans across all ages, from around the globe.
BTS’ video content is not only varied but massive, and can broadly be classified as paid or free. The latter is uploaded regularly and across multiple platforms for fans to view at their leisure, and this includes their behind the scenes sketches such as the ‘Bangtan Bombs’ on YouTube and the Run BTS! series on VLive and Weverse. Paid content like Bon Voyage is available on label Big Hit Entertainment’s own media platform Weverse, and often also on physical mediums such as Blu Ray/DVDs.
To begin with, let’s explore their longer format content that has been around for a while. VLive is a platform and app where K-pop stars live stream and post free as well as premium content for their fans. BTS’ channel on VLive itself has over four billion views and this includes the episodes of Run BTS!, livestreams, yearly commentary show BTS Festa and more. Run BTS! is the band’s own popular variety show, with over a hundred episodes offered for free, while the behind the scenes footage is premium content. The show follows the septet engaging in a myriad of activity-focused tasks, such as making their own music videos, playing games and just generally letting loose and being entertainers. The show has aired (nearly) every week on VLive (and more recently on Big Hit’s Weverse) for about five years now and has grown into one of the most powerful form of BTS content outside of their music.
Given the trend of the varied yet numerous earlier uploads on the platform, uploading regular video content of BTS’ non-musical life was an intentional move. The show is highly anticipated by fans, resulting in major views as well as a high volume of conversation on Twitter and other social media platforms. Run BTS! is directly tied with the meme culture surrounding the group, and memes–as we all know– are the key aspects of modern fan culture in the digital age. On the show, fans are witness to the band members’ personalities, sense of humor, non-musical talents and chemistry. It doesn’t matter which part of the world the band is touring or visiting, Run BTS! follows them where they go. Many of the episodes don’t feature elaborate setups and this is something that hasn’t changed even with the rise in the band’s popularity. Some may be filmed on elaborate sets or on-location, but there are just as many filmed from what seem to be their hotel rooms. Because of the band’s massive rise to stardom however, Run BTS! has begun to feature celebrity guests and a budget to rival any other variety show on television.
While Run BTS! is more of a weekly variety show, an organized chaos with a fixed set of activities, their travel show Bon Voyage is an even more intimate glimpse into BTS as people, taking fans along with them as they explore exotic locations across the world. The show is mobile in a way that’s different from Run BTS!, and is yet retains the same level of reality, humour and comedy as its weekly counterpart. Oftentimes the group aren’t put up in a luxurious palace as one might imagine with an artist of their status, rather fans can see them camping, arguing over rooms, cooking and being playful; it is a genuine portrayal of BTS while they go adventuring and traveling to interesting places and a reflection of how any group of friends might travel together. Bon Voyage is a successful four-season-long franchise, consistently airing every year as paid VOD content, with the exception of 2020. However, the pandemic was merely an obstacle and not a roadblock for Big Hit, who created a domestic travel program to mirror Bon Voyage, titled In The Soop. The show was filmed amidst the COVID-19 pandemic while strictly adhering to government requirements for safety. The result was a domestic, smaller scale, toned-down version of Bon Voyage, which was welcomed with much enthusiasm and appreciation from fans and saw the members relax and take the time to appreciate one another more in the middle of a shared global disaster.
BTS is known for the striking visual imagery and concepts, and this is not limited to their music videos and albums. It extends to other video properties which may be purchased, such as the yearly ‘Summer Package’ series, which are on-location photo and video shoots. In 2019, the band released ‘Winter Package’ instead, following their trip to Helsinki. These are presumably high-cost projects, with the main purpose being Blu-Ray/DVD sales that fans buy for the photographs, as well as the video content. Their ‘Season’s Greetings’ series, dropped around the end-of-the-year holidays, can be thought of as a similar property, and also as a means for the band to wish their fans, well, season’s greetings! Concert and tour content is another major video property. Pre-2020, the band was known to tour extensively and strenuously. These performances as well as their behind-the-scenes are meticulously filmed and released for fans to look back on if they were present, or to experience these concerts on their screens.
However, apart from these concert films, Big Hit also released documentary movies that follow the band on these shows which is much more personal and intimate. This began with an eight-episode series on YouTube Red which was then released worldwide as Burn the Stage: The Movie, much to the excitement of global fans, many of whom have very limited access to the band in their country. According to Forbes, the movie raked in $14 million in ticket sales worldwide. Following the success, more documentary movies have been released, and the content also includes the band’s commentary which is an added incentive for fan demand for the films. With the online concert held in October in partnership with Kiswe Mobile, Big Hit managed to meet two fan demands—video content and a live concert experience, with ‘Map of The Soul ON:E’; the concert officially saw 993,000 paid viewers across its two-day run.
When it comes to BTS, it seems that the cameras are always rolling. Due to this, it can be assumed that there is a large surplus of footage, which can be cut and purposed into content that can be posted at any time, without the deadlines and pressures of monetized properties like the movies or Bon Voyage as mentioned above. Whatever has been left out of these, we get to see them via short snippets uploaded on the BangtanTV Youtube channel. This is especially a boon for fans, as well as the artist one could assume, during the pandemic. There seems to be no dearth of video content, in fact, there might even be a backlog of unseen footage that can be shared with fans to keep them entertained. BangtanTV’s content may be free to view, but from a company perspective it is also a fantastic opportunity for monetization. With each video upload garnering millions of views, the ad revenues may not contribute to a major jump in overall profits, but it is definitely a key platform for fan engagement. The most essential aspect of Big Hit and BTS video IPs, branding and content lies not only in fan involvement but also the availability of foreign language subtitles, specifically English subtitles (after fan demands,) which helps effectively cross the language barrier. The magnitude and variety of the video properties is directly linked with the extremely high levels of fan engagement with BTS.
There is never a dry spell when you’re a fan of BTS, the band keeps the music and the entertainment coming without a break and given how this content is spread out across platforms and mediums, one is free to view either at leisure or binge-watch it all. For every season, occasion, holiday and milestone, they are present and actively engaging with their fans. In fact, being in this fandom spoils you and there are very few other artists out there who are so present in a fan’s everyday life, supporting them, and entertaining them. The members often livestream too, on platforms such as VLive or, more recently, YouTube; they celebrate special occasions like birthdays with their fans, share their favorite music, interests, recently acquired talents, hobbies, production process and more, sometimes dropping by just to chat with the fandom and feel closer to them (especially this past year.)
While the fan base comprises millions upon millions of people, the band still feels accessible. This feat is due to the artist’s as well as the company’s dedication to providing near-unlimited content, readily available for consumption, whether paid or for free. BTS video content follows the band 24×7, 365—from their tours, performances, daily lives—it’s hard not to be updated on what they’re up to. One could spend hours and even days, and barely scratch the surface of everything BTS has to offer, thus it will also be nearly impossible to do a deep dive of each property in this article. However, it would be remiss not to give a special mention to one of the key video properties that put BTS on the map in the first place: 2014’s American Hustle Life. This series documents the band, quite young at the time of filming, and the events from the show not only drew in their initial fanbase but also transformed the members themselves.
All in all, BTS is a band that has attracted fans through being many things: hard working, talented, genuine, authentic and always reaching out in whatever way they possibly can. It is very interesting that no matter how busy they are owing to their astronomical rise across the globe, they make it a point to show their fans not only BTS the artists, but also BTS the people.
Madhu Gudi is a Tokyo-based writer and media professional with a range of marketing experience in music and web content. She has been a K-pop stan since 2013 and is known by the community for promoting BTS through fan events and YouTube videos.
A version of this story originally appeared in the Rolling Stone Collectors Edition: The Ultimate Guide To BTS in November 2020.