Line’s overseas revenue blossoms from apps and webtoons

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Line’s overseas revenue blossoms from apps and webtoons

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Korea’s No. 1 internet portal, Naver, is expanding its presence abroad with popular mobile applications and profitable social media services.

Camera application B612, developed by its Japanese subsidiary Line, has had 300 million downloads globally, according to Naver on Thursday.

The app was released 29 months ago and downloads picked up in the last two months when the number surged by 50 million. This is the first time a mobile app from a Korean company was downloaded more than 100 million times globally.

By comparison, the mega hit Pokemon Go has been downloaded 600 million times.

“B612’s monthly active users are over 100 million and the number of photos taken is an average of 150 million a day,” said a Naver spokesman.

The evolution of the app is described as the reason for its success. Naver Line released B612 in 2014 when the selfie trend was getting big. Since then, Line developers made various upgrades to it, adding new functions.

The new functions include face-recognition animated add-ons that place features like bunny ears on a user’s face after recognizing his or her eyes or nose; an automatic plastic surgery function that enlarges eyes and slims the jaw; an augmented reality function that adds hearts around a figure in the photo or foreign landmarks like the Eiffel Tower. The app’s role as a communication tool was recently reinforced after a function that made sharing videos with stickers easier was introduced.

B612 is popular in Asian countries such as China, Indonesia and Vietnam, and in Latin America as well, including Mexico, Argentina and Peru. According to Naver, the functions that are most popular differ per country. Whereas South Americans frequently use color filters for photos, Chinese really like the plastic surgery function. In Indonesia, functions that make the skin look brighter and hair darker are favored.

“Users increased rapidly after we started recognizing preferences of users in different countries and applied them to the app,” said Jung Chang-young, a member of the B612 team at Line Plus.

The profitability of its messenger app Line is increasing as well and users around the world now surpass one billion. The selfie messenger “Snow” has received over 100 million downloads.

Naver’s Webtoon service, which was launched globally in 2014, currently offers over 520 continuing series in English, Chinese, Thai and other languages. The total number of views has surpassed five billion and the number of monthly users outside Korea is 18 million, compared to 17 million in Korea. Video streaming service V, which started in Aug. 2015, has over 200,000 users that pay to watch content.

Such popularity led to an increase in earnings. Naver’s consolidated operating profit in 2015, which combined the results of Naver and overseas subsidiaries, was 762.2 billion won ($666 million).

When losses from overseas were excluded, the profit was higher at 826.5 billion won. But as international operations went into the black, operating profit surged 17.2 percent year on year to 968.3 billion won last year, largely thanks to overseas markets.

Naver plans to expand investment in technology development to maintain its growth in the global market.

“We will pour in 500 billion won to pull up the level of technology and attract workers competitive in artificial intelligence, robotics and self-driving cars, etc.,” said Naver CFO Park Sang-jin in a recent results announcement.

“This demonstrates Naver’s intention to expand as a global technology platform instead of being satisfied with being a local internet portal,” said an unnamed industry source. “Whether such plans are realized or not will decide Naver’s position in the global IT market.”


BY PARK TAE-HEE, KIM KYUNG-MI [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]

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