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IPOs

Naver Webtoon targets US listing by year-end

Feb 17, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Fans gather to meet their favorite Naver Webtoon artists at the Los Angeles Comic Con.
Fans gather to meet their favorite Naver Webtoon artists at the Los Angeles Comic Con.


Naver Webtoon Ltd. has begun preparations to make its trading debut in the US by year-end, according to the investment banking industry on Feb. 17.

South Korea-based portal giant Naver Corp., the parent company of Naver Webtoon, has tapped multiple global brokerage firms since the end of last year to consult on the requirements, method and potential timeline of its webtoon arm listing.

“Naver is determined to list its webtoon unit in the US given the high portion of overseas operations,” said an industry official. “The webtoon business is expected to see its earnings soar this year, prompting the company to speed up the IPO process,” the official added.

Naver Webtoon plans to hire an IPO manager within the year.

Industry watchers say that the prospective US listing of e-commerce platform Coupang Corp. may have had an effect on the webtoon platform's IPO plans. Initially, market watchers thought it would be difficult for Coupang to go public in the US due to its accumulated losses. But recently, Coupang's enterprise value was estimated to reach 55 trillion won ($50 billion), due to its improved earnings.

Coupang's rosy outlook has added weight to the possibility of Naver Webtoon also having a successful trading debut in the US.

Similar to Coupang, Naver Webtoon’s operations are run by its US office. Last June, Naver reshuffled its business and put the US-based subsidiary Webtoon Entertainment Inc. in charge of global webtoon operations and content platform businesses.

Naver and Line hold 66.6% and 33.4% stakes, respectively, in Webtoon Entertainment.

Netflix Original drama series Sweet Home (Courtesy of Netflix)
Netflix Original drama series Sweet Home (Courtesy of Netflix)


Last year, brokerage firms estimated Naver Webtoon's enterprise value to reach between 7 trillion won and 8 trillion won, based on a transaction value of around 1 trillion won and a price-sales ratio of eight times.

But things took a turn when the Naver webtoon Sweet Home was adapted into a drama series on Netflix, becoming one of the most-viewed shows globally. The successful adaptation of Naver's webtoon prompted market watchers to anticipate a higher enterprise value.

Also, Naver's acquisition of Wattpad, the world's largest web novel platform based in Toronto, is also expected to have a positive impact on the webtoon platform's valuation given that it will secure around 200 million users and put it ahead of industry peers, Kakao Page, Daum Webtoon and Lezhin Comics.

The webtoon platform's revenue is expected to touch 340 billion won ($307 million) this year, almost tenfold from 2017 when it reported 34 billion won in sales.

"Naver's webtoon business is centered on expansion rather than profitability, meaning it may post operating losses for some time," said an industry official. "But the market is paying close attention to the company given its promising ventures, such as directly setting up an overseas platform and pioneering the global webtoon market," the official added.

Naver Webtoon recently launched a webtoon studio to utilize its intellectual property portfolio in the US. The studio plans to enter partnerships with overseas production studios to adapt webtoons into dramas and/or movies. The studio is currently in talks with a major Hollywood studio over potential collaboration.

Write to Ye-jin Jun at ace@hankyung.com

Danbee Lee edited this article.

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