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Viki Buys Korean Fan Community Soompi from Peter Chernin’s Crunchyroll

Global TV streaming service Viki has acquired the Korean fan community and news site Soompi from Crunchyroll, the anime-focused video subscription service that is part of Peter Chernin’s and AT&T’s Ellation video venture in a deal valued at less than $10 million.

Viki wants to use Soompi as a first step toward building out its own news and forum sections, explained the company’s CEO Tammy H. Nam during an interview this week. “Soompi is all about community, and Viki is too,” she said, adding that all 10 Soompi employees joined Viki, and that the site will keep their own brand and domain for the time being.

Soompi was founded in 1998 as a fan forum and online magazine for Korean pop culture, giving fans of K-Pop and Korean dramas a space to obsess about their favorite stars and shows. Nam said that the site has long been complementary to Viki, with little overlap between their respective communities.

Viki has been offering its users ad-supported and subscription-based TV shows from around the world for some time. The company, which is owned by Japan’s Rakuten, has traditionally focused on content from Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and Japan, with the occasional breakout hit coming from unlikely places like Turkey.

Nam said that it will add more content from other destinations soon. Viki, she added, wants to be a “global Hulu,” catering to a new generation of viewers that was raised on YouTube, has traveled the world, and is now looking for content from other sources than the traditional cable channels. Viewers that prefer Korean dramas over Hollywood remakes. “The next Hollywood is going to come from Asia,” she said.

That kind of thinking unites her with her competition over at Crunchyroll as well as DramaFever, another startup focusing on Korean dramas. But while all these companies have been tapping into similar sources of content, they also all have different approaches toward bringing this content to audiences in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Crunchyroll has been focusing primarily on paid subscriptions, a model that has worked well for the site’s core constituency of Anime fans. But when Crunchyroll tried to use the same model for its Korean content offshoot Kdrama.com, it struggled to compete with DramaFever and Viki.

The company then tried to tap into an existing audience by acquiring Soompi in 2014, but now it looks like that bet didn’t work out either — or it may just not be core to what Chernin’s team now aims to do with the service. Crunchyroll was acquired by Otter Media, the online video venture jointly owned by AT&T and Peter Chernin, at the end of 2013.

The company has since quietly built a corporate umbrella dubbed Ellation around Crunchyroll, which aims to build “premium video experiences for passionate fans,” according to a newly launched corporate website — a bet that doesn’t include Soompi anymore. A spokesperson for Otter Media declined to comment on the sale of Soompi.

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