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Online comics IPO will test latest K-wave export



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The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.

By Sharon Lam

TORONTO, June 17 (Reuters Breakingviews) -It’s time to test how durable global appetite is for the South Korean cultural export boom. Digital comics firm Webtoon Entertainment is planning to go public in the U.S. on the back of rising international sales, but a decline in its home market and signs of a worldwide slowdown are dragging. The next chapter of this adventure: proving the company has staying power.

South Korea exported a record $13 billion worth of content, including in music, games, film and animation in 2022, surpassing exports of electric vehicles and certain batteries, according to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism. The webtoon industry, which consists of online comics and novels serialized in short-form, bite-sized episodes, has caught some of that growth. That’s a fillip for Webtoon Entertainment, which on Monday said it plans to raise as much as $315 million in its upcoming initial public offering. Unlike its parent company, Korean online conglomerate Naver 035420.KS, it is headquartered in Los Angeles. And it has licensed its content for a slew of international games, shows and movies. The comic purveyor says that Webtoon-based TV series “All of Us Are Dead” and “Hellbound” have topped Netflix’s charts.

With around 170 million monthly active users in over 150 countries, the attempt to capture a global audience is working. That’s offsetting a grimmer story in South Korea, though, where sales fell 6% in 2023. The slowdown dragged overall revenue growth to a mere 5% year-over-year in 2024’s first quarter.

Still, a valuation of up to $2.7 billion, based on the company’s targeted share price range, is only a slight premium to Korean peers. If valued on the same multiple of 1.6 times expected sales as companies like KidariStudio 020120.KS and Kakao 035720.KS, owner of competitor KakaoPage, Webtoon would be worth some $2 billion, assuming full-year revenue keeps up the pace of the first quarter. Of course, apply the nearly 7 times multiple won by technology firms, including Pinterest PINS.N, Meta Platforms META.O, and Snap SNAP.N — which Webtoon argues are its competitors — and the company would be worth over $8 billion.

That it didn’t push for an aggressive, tech-like multiple is reassuring. But the international market could be facing the same saturation point reached in South Korea: After wild expansion during the pandemic, broader transaction growth for webtoons globally crashed to single-digits in 2023, according to a Mirae Asset research report. Elsewhere, the K-pop industry is weathering its own slump. Webtoon’s market reception will test whether investors think the company can fight the tide.


Follow @sharonlam_ on X


CONTEXT NEWS

Online comics platform Webtoon Entertainment, owned by Korean company Naver, filed for a U.S. initial public offering on May 31. Revenue grew 5% year-over-year in the three months ended March to around $327 million, while the company posted a net income of $6.2 million, compared to a loss in the year-ago quarter.

According to an updated filing disclosed on June 17, the company is targeting a valuation of up to around $2.7 billion. Webtoon is offering 15 million shares at a price range of $18 to $21 each, and is aiming to raise as much as $315 million.


Webtoon Entertainment depends on global growth https://reut.rs/4c4BBCn


Editing by Jonathan Guilford and Pranav Kiran

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