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'Baby Shark' driving you crazy? Creator warns penguins are next

Jihye Lee and Sohee Kim

Bloomberg

Seoul, South Korea  /  Wed, January 16, 2019  /  07:31 pm
'Baby Shark' driving you crazy? Creator warns penguins are next

Animated video of 'Baby Shark' by Pinkfong. (Pinkfong! Kids' Songs & Stories channel on YouTube/File)

"Baby Shark (Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo)" is the YouTube sensation that’s been viewed more than 2 billion times and made the Billboard Hot 100 chart last week as its top new entrant. The jingle has also become such an earworm that late-night-show host Jimmy Kimmel proposed throwing those responsible in jail for life.

Love or hate it, the South Korean company behind the one-and-a-half minute song about a family of sharks is now seeking to capitalize on the success by expanding its kid-oriented entertainment business. Seoul-based SmartStudy Co.’s Pinkfong is planning to release short videos via Netflix Inc., a cartoon series and a musical in North America this year, one of the company’s founders said in an interview this week. The startup, which has recently signed various merchandising deals, may also develop games that work with Amazon.com Inc.’s Alexa and Alphabet Inc.’s Google Home voice assistants, he said.

The popularity of the sing-along builds on Korea’s emergence as an entertainment powerhouse. Korean pop, or K-pop, has grown into a $5 billion industry thanks to the success of the likes of boy-band BTS, which has signed commercial deals with big companies from Hyundai Motor Co. to Barbie-maker Mattel Inc., and Psy, whose "Gangnam Style" is at more than 3 billion views and counting.

"We’ve added the ‘K-pop factor’ into our songs, such as very trendy beats and upbeat rhythms," said Seungkyu Lee, who’s also chief financial officer at SmartStudy. "If you’ve ever heard of ‘Baby Shark,’ you might feel the importance of community. In a group, we should walk or swim together."

Read also: 'Baby Shark' ranks No. 32 on Billboard Hot 100

Unlike BTS, SmartStudy has found its niche with kiddie pop, targeting children aged between one and four with addictive, dance-along videos. It was established in 2010 by three former online gaming employees. Lee, 44, who formerly worked at game-maker Nexon Co.’s marketing department, said the trio wanted to pursue opportunities in the growing market for educational content in smartphones by using their expertise in attracting and keeping users to make money.

Lee said the Korean educational app-to-video maker’s early days were tough but that its business grew fast after the "Baby Shark" video went viral. Revenue at closely held SmartStudy is expected to have increased to 37 billion won ($33 million) last year from 27.2 billion won and net income probably more than doubled to about 5 billion won, according to Lee. Digital sales account for about 70 percent of its total business, with the rest mainly coming from physical sales such as merchandising, he said.

For its next act, Lee says the company will be developing content for older children -- aged five to eight -- and that he’s looking beyond sharks by closely examining penguins.

“I really liked Madagascar,” Lee said, in reference to the DreamWorks Animation films that featured some penguins.

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