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SM Entertainment Reports Strong Growth Amid HYBE Controversy

Concert revenue grew tenfold for the NCT Dream and Red Velvet label, while recorded music sales declined 3.7%.

SM Entertainment’s revenue in 2022 grew 18.7% to 848.3 billion won ($657 million at the average 2022 exchange rate) in 2022, the Korean music company announced Monday. Gross profits rose 15.4% to 297.5 billion won ($230 million), operating profit fell 3.7% to 93.9 billion won ($73 million) and operating margin dropped from 13.6% to 11.1%. 

The K-pop company’s roster includes NCT Dream, NCT 127, Aespa and Red Velvet. NCT Dream had the fourth most album sales of any artist in Korea in 2022 with 4.1 million units. Red Velvet was the No. 9 artist with 2.4 million units, NCT 127 was No. 11 with 2.2 million units and Aespa was No. 13 with 1.8 million units. 

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In the United States, NCT Dream reached No. 39 on Billboard’s Artist 100 chart in April 2022, while the group’s album Glitch Mode peaked at No. 50 on the Billboard 200 album chart. NCT 127’s latest album, 2 Baddies, peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 in October.   

Although SM Entertainment’s largest source of revenue, recorded music, declined 3.7% in 2022, gains in other parts of the business made up for the loss: Concerts jumped tenfold from a pandemic-led slowdown, licensing climbed 62.2% and appearances jumped 48.1%. 

In the fourth quarter, SM Entertainment’s revenue rose 7.7% to 256.4 billion won ($188.6 million at the quarter's average exchange rate). Operating profit rose 70.3% to 25.2 billion won ($18.5 million) and operating margin improved 9.8% from 6.8% in the prior-year period. Net profit fell 72.7% due in part to the sale of real estate in the fourth quarter of 2021 for 19.7 billion won ($14.5 million). The company also experienced 7.5 billion won ($5.5 million) of foreign-currency-related loss in the quarter. 

SM Entertainment’s earnings release arrived amidst a brewing controversy over an investment in the company by its largest competitor, HYBE. In a deal finalized on Feb. 22, SM Entertainment founder Lee Soo Man sold a majority of his shares to HYBE in what SM Entertainment CFO Jang Cheol-hkuk called a “hostile takeover” that will "undermin[e] the diversity of the K-pop market."

SM Entertainment's vision for the company includes Korean entertainment and tech company Kakao, which announced on Feb. 9 it would acquire a 9.1% stake in SM Entertainment. As SM Entertainment laid out in a presentation released Feb. 22, Kakao's technological capabilities could help SM Entertainment build a stronger line-up and upgrade online fan platforms. Kakao owns the music streaming service Melon.

In an open letter posted on social media on Tuesday, HYBE CEO Park Jiwon argued that together the companies have an opportunity to reach more fans and “stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the world’s major record labels.” HYBE believes it can help SM Entertainment artists in North America and prizes SM Entertainment's infrastructure in China and Southeast Asia, regions where HYBE currently does little business.