Asia Life | Society | East Asia

Is This the Next Baby Shark-Like Phenom?

South Korea has a new mega-hit cartoon character: Pengsoo the giant penguin.

Tae-jun Kang
Is This the Next Baby Shark-Like Phenom?
Credit: Instagram/ giantpengsoo

Pororo and Baby Shark might be the most successful cartoon characters ever created in South Korea in terms of their popularity and generated profits. But that might not be the case for long — newcomer Pengsoo, a human-sized, straight-talking penguin character has caught South Korean eyes.

Pengsoo is a cartoon character created by South Korea’s Educational Broadcasting System (EBS). EBS introduced Pengsoo via its YouTube channel mainly for elementary school students in South Korea, but the penguin now enjoys unexpected popularity with not only youngsters, but also adults across the country.

Subscribers to EBS’s YouTube channel that features Pengsoo, Giant Peng TV, are surging. The channel, which had about 10,000 subscribers in June this year, has seen a rapid rise in the number of followers over the past few months. It passed 100,000 in October before rocketing to 500,000 in early November. Peng TV currently has over a million subscribers.

Pengsoo emojis, launched by the country’s largest mobile messenger KakaoTalk, are currently the most popular emojis among the app’s users in their teens, 20s, and 30s.

Pengsoo is also the most popular “guest” for TV programs, talk shows, and movies. The character has been recently invited to appear in South Korean movie Paektu Mountain, starring A-list Korean actors such as Ha Jung-woo and Don Lee. The character also was invited to one of the most popular TV shows, “My Little Television V2,” as a guest.

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Pengsoo’s latest “celebrity moment” came when it visited South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to film a promotional video for the ASEAN-Korea Summit.

The market is also reacting to Pengsoo’s popularity. Uangel, a Seoul-based online content firm, saw its share price rising more than 50 percent this month after it signed a memorandum of understanding with EBS to promote the broadcaster’s contents through its platform.

Online bookseller Yes 24 also saw its share price jump last week after it decided to provide Pengsoo souvenirs to those who purchase books published by EBS.

Some analysts believe Pengsoo could create more added value than Pororo, a cartoon character created in South Korea in 2003. The latest estimation by Seoul Business Agency shows that Pororo’s brand value is about 380 billion South Korean won ($330 million) while its created added-value is worth more than 500 billion won.

Ha In-whan, an analyst at Seoul-based Meritz Securities, said Pengsoo has a potentially greater upside because the character is more popular among people who are in their 20s and 30s. Pororo, by contrast, is most well-known among children, who consume Pororo content under their parent’s guidance.

This means Pengsoo has a customer base with more purchasing power, which gives the character the potential to generate more profits in the long run, Ha noted. He added that not many relevant media or products have been launched yet, since Pengsoo only recently become popular.

Meanwhile, the Korea Institute for Industrial Economics and Trade noted the potential of Pengsoo-related content going global. The institute said in its latest report that many companies in South Korea are already producing character-related content that can be recognized and popular in different countries and culture.

Pororo-related content and products are widely consumed in Southeast Asia.

South Korean firms have built the knowhow to supply content through various local platforms that reflect the language and cultural elements of the target countries, selected based on basic data such as YouTube views and app stores in certain languages and the number of app downloads in Google Play, said the report.