Wattpad, a top user-contributed fiction app, is combining its TV, film and books division with the studio operations of digital comics platform Webtoon. The combo comes a month after South Korea-based Naver, Webtoon’s owner, closed the $600 million acquisition of Wattpad.
Naver said it will fund the newly merged Wattpad Webtoon Studios with a commitment of $100 million for development and production financing — aiming to produce a broad new slate of fan-driven entertainment on a global basis.
Wattpad Webtoon Studios will be led by president Aron Levitz (pictured above), who has overseen Wattpad Studios since it was formed in 2016. The new division has more than 100 TV and film projects in development or production with partners around the world, as well as a slate of books and international imprints. It will mine stories from among Webtoon and Wattpad’s combined audience of more than 166 million users.
“We’re bringing a new era of diverse voices and incredible IP to audiences and an industry looking for both,” Levitz said in a statement. “Businesses are spending billions of dollars to capture the last 100 years of IP. We’re looking to the future, with hundreds of millions of new stories to power the next 100 years of hits on screens and bookshelves.”
Reporting to Levitz are Taylor Grant, who leads the Webtoon entertainment portfolio; Eric Lehrman, overseeing the Wattpad entertainment portfolio; Ashleigh Gardner, who will continue to lead all aspects of publishing; Dexter Ong, who will lead international business.
TV and movie projects from the companies include Netflix’s Webtoon-originated “Sweet Home”; “Noblesse,” an anime co-production between Webtoon and Crunchyroll, and the upcoming Netflix original film “A Través de Mi Ventana” from Nostromo Pictures, based on the global Wattpad hit of the same name.
In addition, Netflix and Komixx Entertainment’s “The Kissing Booth” movies, based on the story Beth Reekles first wrote on Wattpad, have scored as among the streamer’s most popular originals. “After,” a story by Anna Todd, accumulated more than 1.5 billion reads on Wattpad before becoming a best-selling novel from Simon & Schuster and film from Voltage Pictures and Wattpad Studios in 2019.
Publishing will remain a “key component” of the Wattpad Webtoon Studios strategy, the companies said. Books in the queue include the first volume of Rachel Smythe’s Webtoon graphic novel series, “Lore Olympus,” to be published by Penguin Random House in October 2021. Wattpad has published hundreds of books with partners worldwide and 30 titles from the Wattpad Books imprint since launching in 2019.
“Wattpad Webtoon Studios is here to knock down every remaining border in entertainment,” Webtoon founder and CEO Jun Koo Kim said in a statement. “The team at Wattpad Webtoon Studios is developing IP across formats, building franchises, and nurturing the fandoms that power them.”
Under the terms of the Naver acquisition, Wattpad remains based in Toronto. The company plans to grow its teams by 50% in 2021, expecting to hire nearly 100 staff in engineering, marketing, content and other areas. Allen Lau and Ivan Yuen will continue to lead Wattpad, with Lau reporting to Webtoon’s Kim.
“YA and comic adaptations are some of the biggest hits in publishing and entertainment,” Lau commented. “And Wattpad Webtoon Studios has one of the biggest libraries of both on the planet.”
Naver, founded in 1999, operates Korea’s leading search engine and largest e-commerce platform. The conglomerate owns other services and brands including Webtoon, Japan’s Line messaging app and the Snow video app.