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Big Hit Entertainment Global CEO Lenzo Yoon Talks New Role, 'Localizing' In the U.S. & Growing Artist Roster

Lenzo Yoon
Courtesy of Big Hit Entertainment

Lenzo Yoon, co-CEO of Big Hit Entertainment.

"Any new service that Big Hit will present all starts from our business philosophy of 'What content will fans enjoy the most?'"

A decade into his tenure at Big Hit Entertainment, Lenzo Yoon is gearing up for some big moves -- both in the company and in his personal life.

One of the biggest takeaways of last week's executive changeups at Big Hit Entertainment --  the South Korean label home to the record-breaking BTSTomorrow X Together and GFriend -- came in co-CEO Lenzo Yoon's expanding his role to Global CEO and soon leading from the United States. The move not only pointed to a more global outlook for the company (which had its biggest year ever with a record $500 million in revenue in 2019), but also that it was officially setting up shop in America.

Despite these changes on the way, the 42-year-old exec says the core principles that Big Hit was founded on will remain unchanged.

According to Yoon, who spoke exclusively to Billboard in his first interview since his expanded role was announced, Big Hit's growth comes as a natural next step.

"Big Hit Entertainment's globalization strategy has now reached a point where it needs to branch out from Korea and focus on localizing in the overseas market," he says on bringing the BHE's successful model in Asia to new markets. "In addition to the business innovation and expansion centered around the Korean market, we seek to maximize the business synergy between Korea, U.S. and Japan with the newly-founded Big Hit America. The company will lead the expansion of the global market by localizing Big Hit's success formula and leverage a streamlined decision-making process to actively work together with top-tier partners in each region. It is quite a responsibility to take the role as Global CEO at this important juncture, but I look forward to it."

The company operates with both a label sector (which includes Big Hit proper, recently acquired label Source Music and newly established Belift Lab) and a business sector (with Big Hit Three Sixty for media distribution and concerts, Big Hit IP for customer service, and beNX for digital innovation). That same, two-pronged strategy will take place via Big Hit America and the newly-established Big Hit America Solutions.

In their new corporate structure, Yoon's responsibilities will be business-oriented (looking for new deals, meaningful collaborators and "aggressive investments") while Big Hit's longtime CEO and newly-appointed chairman Bang Si-Hyuk, who Yoon acknowledges for his "outstanding sense of creativity," will focus on "creating content and top-level decision making." The recently-hired Jiwon Park, former CEO of NEXON Korea and global COO of NEXON Japan, has been appointed HQ CEO and will be based in Korea.

"Big Hit is definitely growing in the U.S. market, but it is difficult to operate each business sector independently as it does in Korea. By establishing Big Hit America, we expedite the decision-making process of the businesses within the U.S., and provide a framework that can compete with the local entertainment companies," he says of the expansion, before adding that "Big Hit's operations will be different from other existing labels: We are looking to develop and present new services to innovate the customer experience by collaborating with local corporations. We do not want to limit our partners to entertainment and music, but are looking to converge with other industries as well such as IT."

Other South Korean entertainment companies have attempted U.S.-based hubs, but notably have not seen top leadership make permanent moves stateside. This goes back to Yoon's larger focus on the local implementation of proven methods -- expanded with Yoon's vision for BHE in Japan. He says artists' activity in the country, which has the second-largest music industry after the U.S., will be boosted and that Big Hit will "strive to become a top tier label in Japan in the next three years."

Despite such active plans, current coronavirus concerns have forced many in the music business and beyond to adjust strategy. Yoon notes that his company was no exception, but the CEO highlights a key point in this time that comes from their core message.

"It is my responsibility to quickly respond to any changes in business during such a global crisis," he explains. "But I'd like to address something more important that will remain unchanged: any new service that Big Hit will present -- and that I will keep looking for -- all starts from our business philosophy of 'What content will fans enjoy the most?' and 'How should we deliver them to magnify fans' enjoyment?'"

Yoon points to one of the company's founding focuses in making technology feel comforting -- which connects to the tagline "Music & Artist for Healing" that appears at the beginning of every Big Hit Label video --  saying its existing technology was already well-suited for the current climate.

As an example, he points to BTS fans finding their ARMY Bombs (an official "light stick" that is must-have merchandise) could be linked via Big Hit and beNX's global fan-community platform WeVerse to change color and flash in-sync with thousands of viewers during BTS' virtual "Bang Bang Con" live stream. The Con garnered 50.6 million views, reaching up to 2.2 million concurrent viewers at its peak. Yoon says more than 500,000 ARMY Bombs were connected across 162 regions.

"What I'm focusing on right now is this: 'What are the things we should preserve in the face of many changes in terms of time, environment, and technology?' Numerous media outlets have reported that WeVerse and Bang Bang Con presented a new live performance culture, bringing together fans from all over the world. We will continue to do our best in developing the most optimized content and delivery service with a focus on fans' lifestyle."

Looking ahead, Yoon teases "huge projects" that are in the works. In addition to his upcoming move, Yoon is looking forward to one particular new project he's leading, to be announced in the coming weeks. "Just to give you a little hint, I am interested in the ways of delivering great content produced by our creative team to our fans," he says, also honoring the company's longtime love of cryptic teases. "Big Hit's service focuses on high-quality content, but also on the method of how these contents are delivered to magnify fans' enjoyment. I majored in engineering, but regardless of my background, I've always been interested in technology fusion and tech-based services. Our new project is related to this."

The fan-experience in sports -- which is "increasingly enhanced on live streaming technology and application" -- is personally interesting to him too.

No doubt Yoon and Big Hit Entertainment are aiming to shake up how a Korean record label can operate, but Yoon makes it clear that music comes first with business and service acting as natural follow ups. He adds, "As Big Hit lays the foundation and further expands for sustainable business, our artists will be able to continue their music career and the company hopes to continuously provide great content and great service to fans."

Read on for Lenzo Yoon's personal outlook and reflections on the current roster of artists and the new ones coming.

BTSAs Map of the Soul tour dates have been rescheduled, BTS began doing what they do best which is working on a new album as a way of restoring their daily lives to carry on. They're also staying connected with the fans through YouTube live streams as well as planning to meet fans from all over the world through various opportunities and deliver the message of BTS. Members are working on music day and night, hoping to meet their fans soon. I believe they will be able to bring great music and performances when they meet their fans again.

Tomorrow X Together:team that keeps growing and always brings results that exceed our expectations. Following the fantastic teaser from the last album, the teaser from the new album [The Dream Chapter: Eternity] also received worldwide attention. When I saw the first glimpse of their music video, I thought it was truly amazing. I absolutely love it! I'm personally looking forward to seeing the outcome from Tomorrow X Together's new album.

GFriendAmongst K-pop girl groups, GFriend is a team with a solid storyline and high-quality performance skills. The group has grown even more with the synergy between Source Music and Big Hit, and now more fans in the U.S., Japan and Southeast Asia will be able to see the charms of GFriend. 

Big Hit's new boy band: Big Hit's new boy band will give you the idea of an extended narrative that Big Hit has shown so far. Please keep an eye out for this amazing group.

Big Hit and Source Music's new girl group: Selected from 50,000 competitors across 16 cities worldwide, the members are working very hard each and every day. You can look out for Big Hit's new girl group.