Naver Webtoon signs deals with DC Comics and HYBE
Naver Webtoon is joining forces with HYBE and DC Comics to develop “super-scale” stories, CEO Kim Jun-koo said during an online press conference held Wednesday. It was his first press appearance in two years.
In the deal, Naver Webtoon acquired an exclusive license to use characters owned or managed by the companies in original webtoons. Significantly, the company is not bound to existing story lines and will be able to create new plots around the intellectual property (IP).
The move comes as Korean companies scramble to develop their own internationally marketable IP so they can expand globally and lower their royalty costs.
DC owns such well-known characters as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman, while HYBE is the management company that created BTS, though it is not clear whether there will ever be a Superman meets BTS webtoon.
“We’ve called this project Super Casting, because we believe that only the top company in the industry can cast another top-tier company from a different industry,” Kim said. “I believe that ‘super’ IP is a result, though not a goal. You can’t try to create a super IP; you can only know it’s a super IP if it becomes super successful. But we can cast the holders of super IPs, which is why we cast the global No. 1 companies as our partners.”
Naver Webtoon has 167 million active users and 6 million creators under its umbrella after acquiring global web novel platform Wattpad in May, a number “undefeatable,” according to Kim.
“We are confident that we are the No. 1 webtoon platform in Korea,” said Kim. “We have the biggest volume of users that no other platform can outnumber. Different platforms can seek to attract new readers with promotions or other events, but the scale of the daily users who come to us to enjoy our content cannot be imitated in a short amount of time.”
The fact that Naver Webtoon will be collaborating with HYBE, Korea’s biggest entertainment company, and DC Comics, one of the most popular comic franchises in the world, is proof that the company is the No. 1 platform in Korea, according to Kim.
DC Comics is a part of Burbank, California’s DC Entertainment, which is itself owned by Warner Bros. HYBE, formerly Big Hit Entertainment, went public in Korea late last year.
The year, Naver Webtoon, known overseas simply by its trademarked Webtoon name, recorded 1.07 trillion won ($915 million) of Page Profit Shares (PPS), the company’s way of measuring revenue generated by a story, including payments from readers, advertising revenue and profit from films, dramas and other uses from the company’s IP.
The highest-earning author made 12.4 billion won in total PPS from July 2020 to June 2021. During the same period, the average annual income of all creators was 280 million, and 150 million won for newly-debuted creators.
“The reason we use PPS to explain our revenue is because the way that different creators make profit is different from each other,” said Kim.
A work could be viewed by 100,000 people with 90 percent of them paying for episodes in advance, while another could have 1 million viewers with only a tenth of them paying for new episodes. The former would make more from reader payments and the latter could maximize profit with advertisements or other methods.
“The PSS allows us to take both the YouTube-style business model and the Netflix-style business model,” he said. “In the YouTube model, creators make money from the scale of the audience that watches the advertisements. In the Netflix model, creators profit from people paying for original content.”
Other than HYBE and DC Comis, Naver Webtoon will also be teaming up with Naver Z’s metaverse platform Zepeto to expand into the virtual realm. Naver Webtoon owns 3 percent of Naver Z. The company is also developing its own cutting-edge technology to help creators, such automated drawing tools.
“Naver Webtoon is a Global StoryTech Platform,” Kim said, explaining that Naver Webtoon goes beyond simply distributing webtoons or web novels.
“We provide creators an analysis of user pattern data — what users like and don’t like, what happens when creators try something new and so on. We also have our own technology for IP protection and other production tools, which makes us a tech storytelling platform company.”
Kim refused to say whether Naver Webtoon will be going public in the United States or introduce its products in China.
When asked how Naver Webtoon plans to take back the lead in Japan, Kim said that he will wait for Kakao “to make a mistake.” Kakao Japan’s Piccoma is currently the No. 1 webtoon app in that country, and Naver’s Line Manga is No. 2.
“It’s important that the smaller players try their best, but it’s important that the No. 1 player makes a mistake,” Kim said. “Line Manga took time to transition to the digital original content format, and that was an advantage to competitors. But we rolled out a new version of Line Manga in July, and Naver Webtoon has the most competitive content in the world. We expect a more exciting situation to take place in the Japanese market.”
Kakao is seen as Naver’s biggest web content rival both locally and globally. But “the competition between Naver and Kakao is not getting fiercer,” Kim said.
“We have a duty as a leading company, which is to pave the way for other companies — not just Kakao but other smaller competitors also — to follow in our footsteps,” he said. “Rather than competing with others, we aim to grow this industry as the No. 1 business in webtoons.”
BY YOON SO-YEON [email@example.com]