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Monday, July 01, 2024 

A Korean web animation company's plans for the market

Forbes interviewed the managers of Webtoon from Korea, on what their aims are for the market as they enter the stock exchange:
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.
That's what this is all about? Because if it's more about commoditizing creations they publish, then it becomes more about profit than creativity. Is that the best way to go?
RS: 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.
And the talk of AI is additionally eyebrow raising. Isn't that awfully cheap and unchallenging when it comes to both art and writing? And what'll be when editing is suddenly done with AI? All this does is encourage people to produce potentially less quality art and writing, and makes a joke of the whole literary industry.
RS: 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.

RS: 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.
They're honestly making a big mistake working with Netflix in any capacity. Such a pretentious network doesn't deserve their items. And even if this is web-produced content, serialization is getting awfully old-fashioned today, as it definitely is in the USA.
RS: 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.

RS: 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.
Disney, in the past several years, has been deteriorating with shiploads of woke content, and Webtoon won't be taking a good path if they mimic Disney's in that regard. If anything, marketing LGBT content to children instead of adults as Disney's been doing is what'll be considered a terrible mistake in how to sell.
RS: 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 financially.
It's absurd to be encouraging the use of AI regardless, because only so many AI programs already in use are otherwise awkward, and for all we know, limitations may have been put on them despite suggestions to the contrary. Near the article's end:
Nine hundred IPs that started as webtoons have been developed into films, streaming series, games, books and consumer products, including the Netflix series Sweet Home, the Disney series Vigilante, and the New York Times best selling graphic novel Lore Olympus.
I don't know about a manga that's on the NYT bestseller list, but something that's prepared specially for Netflix and Disney is not a good idea to bother about. Or, it's just not worth subscribing to their services, based on how woke they continue to be.

Here's an extra report from BBC on the subject that reveals, interestingly enough:
Webtoons are cheap to produce - a single artist can create one using a tablet - which can make popular comics very profitable.
Presumably because they're short, but, if you're trying to develop one with voice acting, how can it be done? Again, with AI? Honestly, even that's awfully cheap and doesn't add up to an authentic experience. I'd like to think webtoons have potential as a cottage industry for starters, but even they can be undermined by political correctness, and in the end, it'd be far better if people would just stick with making comics (or, in Korean, manhwa).

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