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[News Focus] Naver’s global ambitions taking shape

South Korean internet behemoth eyes entertainment platforms for global youth

Naver is more than just a South Korean version of Google. For many Koreans, it is the go-to site for searching, news, blogging, cloud services, shopping, fintech and many other things -- including killing time with cartoons.

And the behemoth isn’t stopping there.

Naver is aggressively investing in global platforms that cater to the social media generation throughout the world. For now, its main focus appears to be cartoons and K-pop. 

 
(Naver)
(Naver)


Webtoons

Web-based cartoons, or webtoons, have been one of Naver’s core strengths from very early on.

Its subsidiary Line Webtoon is home to a plethora of creator-owned content, ranging from romance to fantasy. Line Webtoon became available in English and Chinese in 2014, and the company has since added several more languages in an effort to tap deeper into the global market.

On Jan. 20 Naver announced the acquisition of Wattpad, a Toronto-based platform that allows amateur writers to publish stories, for 653.3 billion won ($593.6 million).

With the deal, the Korean firm has around 160 million monthly users -- 70 million from Line Webtoon and 90 million from Wattpad. Naver also expects to see synergies from the deal, with users of the foreign platform crossing over to its webcomic platform and vice versa.

The Wattpad buy also provides Naver with millions of stories that the company could choose to convert to cartoons or adapt for the screen.

Wattpad has about 90 film and TV projects in development. To date, around 1,500 of its stories have been published as books or adapted for TV or film, according to news reports.

Such adaptations may be what Naver was seeking in its recent stock swap deal with CJ Corp., CJ Group’s holding company. In that deal, announced in October, Naver acquired 600 billion won worth of shares in three CJ units, including entertainment giant CJ ENM and drama production company Studio Dragon. The three companies received the equivalent in Naver shares.

During an online conference call Thursday, Naver CEO Han Seong-sook mentioned that a screen adaptation of the webcomic series “Sweet Home” had brought an influx of users to its webcomic platform and increased consumption of its other content.

“Sweet Home,” a zombie action series produced by Studio Dragon based on a webcomic series of the same name, was published serially on Line Webtoon between 2017 and 2020.

“Sweet Home” has been translated into nine languages and has garnered 1.2 billion views on Netflix, which is watched by around 220 million households.


K-pop 

Naver is also making forays into K-pop.

Last week the company announced a 411.9 billion won stock swap deal with Big Hit Entertainment, the agency behind global superstar band BTS.

Through this transaction, Naver will transfer its streaming platform V Live to Big Hit Entertainment subsidiary beNX, which operates fan community platform Weverse. Naver will obtain 49 percent of shares in beNX, while Big Hit will keep the rest.

Throughout this year, Naver and Big Hit will take steps to combine V Live and Weverse with the aim of launching a brand-new streaming, community and online shopping platform for global K-pop fans.

V Live, launched in 2015, has over 30 million active users a month and offers fans a chance to connect with stars through livestreaming and live chats. Naver said nearly 85 percent of its users come from overseas.

The K-pop juggernaut BTS had frequently appeared on V Live since its early years and was one of the platform’s star attractions.

But with the launch of Weverse, Big Hit stars including BTS, Seventeen and NU’EST started to stream their videos there exclusively. Weverse has so far secured 4.5 million monthly active users.

The tie-up of the two companies and their platforms will allow the deployment of Naver’s e-commerce capabilities to market K-pop goods.

In the first half of last year, Big Hit Entertainment’s revenue from Weverse, which operates its own online shopping platform for K-pop goods, increased to 112.7 billion won from just 31.1 billion won a year earlier. Revenue from Weverse accounted for 38.3 percent of the entertainment company’s total revenue.

By Shim Woo-hyun (ws@heraldcorp.com)
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