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Evolution and Globalisation of K-Webtoon

Q1. To describe the Korean waves, we used to talk about the global success of traditional and preserved Korean content such as the past MBC drama "Dae Jang Geum". How did such distinctions of tradition and culture become meaningless these days?

A: To give you an example, a Korean webtoon called “Under the Oak Tree” is based on an imaginary kingdom of the middle age and it successfully gained 7.2M global views. In other words, in terms of content and production of webtoons, there is no barrier of borders, nationality, historical background, space and time. Typically for the webtoons, it can be distributed rapidly with minimal production cost, and there are limited barriers. Hence, the content is versatile and flexible for variations.

Q2. Is webtoon content leading the remake industry like the films and TV series which can easily adjust the background setting and cast members based on the region?

A: Yes. Regardless of the viewers’ cultural background, it works if the content is good enough. For instance, the successful webtoon based TV series “Itaewon Class” is being remade in Japan. The successful webtoon based TV series “Kingdom” has the background setting of Joseon Dynasty, and western mythological creatures, zombies. Additionally, the webtoon “Space Sweepers” was remade as a film by Netflix, and it topped the chart as soon as it was released to the public.

Photo Source: SEOULSPACE

Q3. On the other way around, can other types of content be remade as webtoons?

A: Remaking successful films or TV series as webtoons is called webtoonising, and it is attracting industry’s attention. For instance, recreating and modernising the MBC's TV show "M" will be costly. However, producing and distributing in forms of a webtoon can be done at a much lower cost. Further variations are also possible, such as applying the story of "Dae Jang Geum" to the background setting of European kingdoms. Therefore, fierce competition for securing intellectual property (IP) rights is taking place within the industry.

Q4. Is Korea compatible within the global webtoon market?

A: Fortunately, Korean companies are well respected in the market. Initial webtoon service was launched in Korea around 2003-2004 whereas Japanese largest publishing company Kodansha joined the market in 2014. It's more than 10 years behind us. The top three webtoon platforms in Japan are subsidiaries of Korean companies, while the Japanese cartoon market takes up around half of the entire market.

Q5. How is the revenue stream formulated in the market?

The revenue model is rather stable. Uniquely, the majority of the major webtoons are provided without charges if the viewers wait for the free released episodes. However, many people are paying 20-30 cents per episode to gain access to the next episodes that are not released to the public for free just yet. As distributors, if such transactions are accumulated, it can add up to a huge sum of money. Such revenues generated by Naver and Kakao is over 2B USD.

Q6. Can the same revenue stream be applied to foreign markets as well?

A: The webtoon platforms are based on fast-growing IT companies. Therefore, their charging methods can flexibly adapt to the regional standards. For example, Manta is based on monthly subscriptions like Netflix, as North American consumers are familiar with such payment plans. It became the most downloaded app in North America within 4 months of initial release.

Q7. K-webtoon is expected to become Korean version of Disney. How far can it grow?

A: According to the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA), the value of the global webtoon industry is far less compared to the film or gaming industry. However, unlike the film and gaming sector, it contains both content and platform. Therefore, it is hard to estimate the potential synergy in terms of growth. Recently, Naver took over American web novel platform Wattpad for around 580M USD, whereas Kakao invested over 900M USD to take over the webtoon platforms Tapas and Radish. Such bold investments are analysed to be based on the anticipated growth potential.

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