The town of New Providence, N.J. may seem like an unlikely home for a company that’s just inked a new deal with Big Hit Entertainment (the label behind the global K-pop supergroup BTS) and raised tens of millions of dollars from some of the largest venture capital firms in the United States, but Kiswe Mobile is proof that valuable startups can come from anywhere.
Founded in 2013 and led by chief executive Mike Schabel, Kiswe Mobile is now extending its relationship with Big Hit from a one-time show in early December to an agreement that will extend well beyond the next BTS gig in what the two companies described as a “global partnership.”
Schabel declined to disclose any terms of the partnership agreement, but said that it was more than a simple business contract between the two entities.
For the past seven years Kiswe has worked on streaming live events with some of the biggest sports and entertainment leagues in the U.S., including the National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer and the Professional Golf Association. In recent years the company has added esports to its roster — and live events, including that December BTS show.
Founded by former president of Bell Labs, Jeong Kim, along with Wim Sweldens and Jimmy Lynn back in 2013, Kiswe Mobile offers a streaming service that has four components that live entertainment needs to get back on track in the post-COVID era of social distancing.
The company’s technology offers a central production system for concert producers to process video and audio, multi-camera and interactive viewing options for fans watching the show to communicate with the live performers and each other, and presenting it exclusively by either geo-location or through ticketing.
“This MOU opens the possibility for diversified innovation in the global market by combining Big Hit’s content planning know-how and Kiswe’s technology, said Big Hit chief executive Lenzo Yoon, in a statement.
Behind all of this technology are a number of high-profile investors, including New Enterprise Associates, the multi-billion-dollar venture capital firm based outside of Baltimore. Other investors include Revolution, the Washington, DC-based investment firm founded by Steve Case; Ted Leonsis, a co-founder of Revolution and the founder of Monumental Sports Group; and company founder Jeong Kim.
The company has raised well over $20 million in financing since its launch in 2013, but Schabel declined to disclose the total amount the company raised.
The Big Hit deal is meant to serve a precursor to the launch of a new BTS Concert and convention called “BANG BANG CON The Live” later this month.
That show is, itself, a prelude to more interactive events from Big Hit’s roster of talent powered by Kiswe Mobile.
Technologies like Kiswe’s are arriving at a time when live events need them the most. The recent Travis Scott Fortnite experience and Marshmello’s earlier turn behind the virtual wheels of steel in Epic Games’ breakout hit are among a number of new technologies that are looking to bring at least some of the magic of shared experiences and entertainment to fans that are hungry for it.
Several startups are taking this moment to push interactive live experiences for audiences. They include the virtual concert design and distribution platform, WaveXR; the interactive streaming service, Caffeine; and development firms like Zoan, which created a virtual concert experience for Helsinki’s May Day celebrations that brought a crowd of 1 million.
Kiswe’s deal with Big Hit arguably taps into the biggest, and most rabid of the music industry’s fan bases by reaching the members of the BTS Army.
As Schabel acknowledged in a statement, “Kiswe’s relationship with Big Hit Entertainment expands our huge global sports and media footprint into the music sector and allows Kiswe and Big Hit to explore new ventures in the industry.”