Riding high in global TV, music and film, the Korean entertainment industry is poised for another hefty injection of capital.
Kakao Entertainment, which stretches across K-pop, webtoons and online story-telling, announced Thursday that it has raised $966 million (KRW1.2 trillion) through a bond issue that was subscribed for by sovereign wealth funds, Public Investment Fund (PIF) from Saudi Arabia and GIC from Singapore.
The move follows the 2021 listing of Hybe Corp. (previously Big Hit), cash infusions for CJ ENM’s Tving streaming platform from Naver, the launch of large new production hubs CJ ENM Studios and SLL (JTBC and J Contentree) and multiple moves to build out international distribution by Korea’s webtoon platforms.
Kakao Entertainment, an unlisted subsidiary of Korean tech giant Kakao Corp., was formed in 2021 through the merger of webtoon publisher Kakao Page and Kakao M, a cluster of music and TV production shingles. These include Baram Pictures and BH Entertainment, Starship Entertainment, one of Korea’s largest talent management firms, and film producer Zip Cinema. Kakao Entertainment also operates Melon, Korea’s leading music streamer.
With the latest funding, Kakao Entertainment says it plans to further push ahead with its international expansion and make more investments and acquisitions. In a statement announcing the new investment, Kakao Entertainment said that it intends to use the proceeds to build its storytelling capacity and intellectual property in North America, in particular.
“This is a testament to the global competitiveness and future growth of potential of Kakao Entertainment’s unique intellectual property (IP) value chain, which spans multiple categories in the entertainment industry,” said Kakao’s chief investment officer Bae Jae-hyun. Bae also applauded the company for being able to raise finance on this scale at a time when the world is teetering on the verge of global economic recession.
Bae said that he expects half of the proceeds to be applied to growth of the company’s existing global businesses in stories, IP and music, with the other half used for mergers and acquisitions.
Webtoons, which emerged some 20 years ago with the widespread adoption of smart phones, have become the basis for dozens of hit Korean and international TV series. Examples include Netflix’s “All of Us Are Dead” and “Itaewon Class” and AppleTV+’s “Dr. Brain” and Disney+’s upcoming “Moving.”
Kakao Entertainment already owns Tapas, a webtoon platform in the U.S., Radish, a serial fiction app, and Wuxiaworld, a fantasy fiction platform.
Online fiction platforms such as Radish and Wattpad (bought by Korean tech rival Naver in 2021) have also generated IP with established fanbases that have gone on to be adapted as films and series including Netflix original “A Través de Mi Ventana” from Nostromo Pictures, “The Kissing Booth” and “After.”
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