Naver merges Wattpad, Webtoon studio divisions, invests $100 million USD

Following its acquisition of Wattpad earlier this year, South Korea’s Naver has merged Wattpad Studios and its own Webtoon Studios, investing $100 million USD in the newly merged company to finance its growth, project development, and production efforts.

“We’re not trying to capture titles that have been in circulation for 100 years. We’re finding the new stories that will fill screens for the next 100.”

Wattpad Studios is Wattpad’s film and television production arm, while Los Angeles-based Webtoon Studios, which is owned by Naver, operates a digital comics-focused production studio. Each brings its own large, built-in audience and global portfolio of fan-driven intellectual property (IP) to the table. Together, the studios have a combined audience of 166 million users from around the world who create new content on their platforms.

The combined entity, Wattpad Webtoon Studios, is being run by Wattpad Studios general manager Aron Levitz and aims to continue to adapt IP into formats like movies, TV series, and books. Levitz said these IP catalogues and the company’s focus on developing new, fan-driven IP is what differentiates the new studio from its competitors.

“When we were talking … we found that we talked about our creators and our content or IP in basically the exact same fashion,” Levitz told BetaKit, who referred to IP as “so incredibly important in the [production] industry.”

Founded in 2006 by Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen, Wattpad provides online self-publishing platforms that serve as a community for readers and writers. In recent years, Wattpad began focusing on converting fan-written stories from its platform into books, movies, podcasts, and TV series through Wattpad Studios, which it launched in 2016.

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Wattpad, which touts itself as “the world’s leading social storytelling platform,” has over 90 million monthly users, who spend more than 23 billion minutes engaged in original stories. These original stories function as a strong source of IP in an entertainment industry that is looking for new, but proven, content.

Naver acquired Wattpad earlier this year for $754 million CAD. Part of the stated rationale for the deal was to connect Wattpad with Webtoon, and facilitate collaboration between the two studios. At the time, Wattpad CEO Lau said the deal allows Wattpad to expand into new entertainment formats and turn Wattpad stories into comics and animated films.

Traditionally, studios have focused on either reworking old IP, building new IP from scratch, or buying IP to adapt, like with Amazon reaching a deal to acquire MGM in May for nearly $8.5 billion USD, or AT&T’s merger of WarnerMedia with Discovery in May.

“If you look at some of the big news and entertainment, whether it’s Amazon buying MGM, or the Warner Brothers Discovery spinout, it’s all about capturing the last 100 years of IP,” said Levitz.

According to Levitz, Wattpad Webtoon Studios is looking for the next generation of IP, with a particular focus on stories from diverse creators, including global stories in different languages.

“We’re not trying to capture titles that have been in circulation for 100 years,” said Levitz. “We’re finding the new stories that will fill screens for the next 100.”

Levitz argued that, compared to completely original productions, adaptations of existing stories offer an advantage because they bring a built-in audience “that increases your chance of success” with new productions, and lowers marketing costs. He pointed to this being especially important in today’s media production environment, amid a glut of content and a plethora of streaming platforms to choose from.

RELATED: Following Wattpad acquisition, CEO Allen Lau says “I’m not done yet”

“YA [Young adult] and comic adaptations are some of the biggest hits in publishing and entertainment,” said Lau. “And Wattpad WEBTOON Studios has one of the biggest libraries of both on the planet.”

According to Webtoon founder and CEO Jun Koo Kim, the data and local market expertise Wattpad and Webtoon have is also an important asset the new studio can leverage to develop more targeted productions.

Levitz said the new studio will aim to focus on an even mix of TV and film adaptation productions, as well as some publishing, in various formats. According to the Wattpad Webtoon Studios president, the right medium for a given story will be evaluated on a “project-to-project” basis.

Wattpad Webtoon Studios plans to use the $100 million to finance these productions and grow its teams in Toronto, LA, and across the world. The studio said it currently has over 100 TV and film projects in development, in addition to a growing slate of books.

The two companies will begin with a combined headcount of 40 employees. Wattpad and Webtoon’s teams are set to remain in Toronto and LA, respectively.

Photo courtesy of Wattpad

Josh Scott

Josh Scott

Josh Scott is a BetaKit staff writer who loves to tell Canadian business and tech stories. His coverage is more complete than his moustache.