Even as the news about the Webtoon/DC team up rolled out yesterday, it was announced that Webtoon CEO and founder Jun Koo Kim would hold a press conference – his first public appearance in two years.
The timing was no coincidence, as Naver (Webtoon’s Korean parent company) is engaged in an arms race with rival Kakao (which owns the webcomic portal Tapas) to see who can get a billion dollar IPO in the US.
While the deal with DC was obviously part of this roll out, perhaps even more significant for global media was the announcement that Naver Webtoon was partnering with HYBE, a Korean entertainment company that manages a tiny band with a small following called BTS. HYBE is an upstart company that started out small and indie against the giants of Korean K-Pop, but with the global success of BTS they have ascended to become a media giant on their own.
Korean media and the BTS Army were quick to predict that this pact will lead to BTS webcomics, and that was absolutely part of the hinting behind the new “Super Players” initiative at Webtoon.
And it also highlights the importance of webcomics to both Kakao and Naver in their global plans. For some context, this would be as if AT&T was holding a global earnings call and called up Jim Lee to field questions for 90 minutes. Except Webtoon and Tapas’s parent companies see webcomics as a vital part of their move into global media, and not a quaint after thought in the streaming wars.
Anyway, there was a lot more information on all things Webtoon in the 90 minute event. Kim addressed press with a prepared slideshow covering the growth of the platform and future initiatives, including the recently-announced partnership with DC Comics, and to answer questions on a wide range of topics.
During the prepared portion of the meeting, Kim provided some impressive numbers:
- $10.6 Million: the annual earnings for the top Webtoon creator (who Kim declined to name when pressed during the Q&A portion)
- $238,000: the average annual earnings for a Webtoon creator, which has doubled Webtoon’s last reporting
- 6,000,000: the number of creators on Webtoon
- 167,000,000: the number of monthly active users for the platform, which is triple the population of Korea
- $850 Million: the “economic size” of the Webtoon PPS program, which the company implemented to “maximize [creators] revenue through advertisements, paid content, and other IP development”
Speaking of other IP development, Kim discussed NAVER’s “global content IP value chain,” which includes webnovels, webcomics, and video “transmedia,” and how IP developed in one link of the chain can be adapted into other media via the other links of the chain.
The presentation concluded with the introduction of “Super Casting,” a project that includes partnerships between Webtoon and HYBE, as well as the deal with DC Comics that Kim said would bring original content starring DC characters to the Webtoon platform. Kim stressed that Webtoon, as the #1 platform in webcomics, will be partnering with the #1 players in other markets, which he referred to as “super-players,” for expansion.
During the Q&A section of the call, Kim provided more detail about the DC partnership:
- Original content will come from both DC Comics creators and Webtoon creators
- With previous DC projects, they have converted existing material to the webcomics format; With this project, it will be entirely original content
- Creators and editors of webcomics will turn DC characters into webcomics
- Kim wouldn’t say who approached whom about the partnership, but did note that they had already been interested in working with DC prior to the team-up being initiated
Kim also elaborated on the description of Webtoon as a “Global StoryTech Platform,” a part of which includes developing tools to turn amateur creators into professionals and connect them with fans. One of those tools that’s in development is an auto-drawing AI tool, which will also include auto-coloring and auto-retouch capabilities. “The technology part that’s related to creation is the most difficult,” Kim said, but that the ultimate goal of the StoryTech tools is to provide content to users as quickly as possible. These tools will be tested by creators and feedback will be implemented before they’re rolled out widely, with Kim saying the first piece likely to come will be the auto-coloring.
Overall, the theme of the call was Webtoon’s growth, both in terms of revenue and IP diversity and development. Asked about the possibility of an IPO, Kim said they were exploring their options.
(Additional reporting by Heidi MacDonald)