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Post IPO, WEBTOON Executives Talk Future Plans And Market Trends

WEBTOON Entertainment, the company has been changing the way the world reads comics while building a pipeline for turning popular IP into streaming media, films, animation, games and graphic novels, had its long-anticipated IPO today. The company, listed on NASDAQ under the ticker symbol WBTN, went live with an initial price of $21 per share. WBTN ended its first day of trading up 2 points to 23 (9.5%), near its high for the day, on a volume of 6.23 million shares.

In an exclusive one-on-one interview after the market closed, WEBTOON founder and CEO Junkoo Kim and Chief Strategy Officer Yongsoo Kim discussed the impact of the IPO on the company’s global growth strategy.

Webtoon Executives Junkoo Kim and Yongsoo Kim on the IPO, Market Growth, Creators and Content, and AI

Q: Did the market response to the IPO meet your expectations?

Junkoo Kim: Rather than having a target for the price on the first day, I really have a long-term perspective. Yes, there was a 10% increase in the stock price but it is most important as a part of our long journey ahead.

Q How will the proceeds of the IPO help expand WEBTOON operations?

Yongsoo Kim: Actually we have already achieved positive operating cash flow last year. We will use the IPO proceeds to accelerate areas of the business such as developing more advanced AI tools for our creators, increasing our content library, having more local creators, and increasing our advertising.

During the pandemic, we saw an upsurge in all kinds of content consumption including webtoons, but now there has been a retrenchment. How has this impacted your revenues?

JK: There are two important metrics in our business: number of users and engagement. We easily secured a high volume of users, but even if the user base has plateaued, if engagement increases, we also see revenue growth. With our platform, most content is free, but there is a Fast Pass that allows people early access to new episodes. As readers get more attached to a title, we see a higher conversion rate of paying users. All our content is serialized on a weekly basis, which is why users develop a habit of coming back to the platform every week. That’s why we can stably accumulate users, and even after COVID, we didn’t lose a lot of readers. The serialization feature really helped us.

YK: Some of our key indicators are average users duration time on our platform and average revenue per paying users, and both of those are steadily growing. We see about 30 minutes spent every day.

Has the slowdown in streaming media investment affected your licensing and outside media development plans?

JK: We have very diverse content. Last year, 50% of Korean Netflix Originals were based on Webtoon IPs. Even if the ratio of production changes, there is a flow that will continue. Will it be with TV broadcasters? Streamers? OTT? Who we are working with may change, but the portion of our IP being adapted will not, because demand for content and IPs continues to grow.

YK: One of the big advantages for our partners is that the IP on our platform is already tested. We have 55 million content episodes on the platform; every day, there are 100,000 new episodes. We have all the data in terms of demographics, regions, and the users tell us what is working. So we go to partners with IP packaged with data – that is the expression we use. Streamers enjoy working with us because of that.

WEBTOON depends on independent content creators for its success. How are you keeping creators satisfied with the relationship, especially in terms of later media and licensing developments.

JK: We partner with our creators for success. We don’t own the content; they have all the rights. We just help them succeed financially, at the same time listening to our user base. We try to provide an unmatched value proposition for our creators.

How does this model compare to, say, Disney, or other companies that own their IP outright?

JK: Our goal is probably the same as Disney – make good IP that people want — but Disney invests an enormous amount in a single IP. With 24 million creators, we have enormous diversity of content, and we have the data to prove and verify the content that we can execute through adaptation. We have the same goal but different approaches.

What kind of investments are you making in AI?

YK: We believe AI tools will support our creators in many ways. Our focus is helping them to create with higher productivity, in a shorter time. We are also looking into a recommendation engine, and AI protection for our creators. We don’t believe that AI can replace our creators. It can help them do better…

Read More: Post IPO, WEBTOON Executives Talk Future Plans And Market Trends

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