Naver Corp’s $600 million takeover of Canadian online storytelling platform Wattpad, announced on January 20, could be the first of many large acquisitions made by the South Korean internet company as it continues to diversify its content business.
Naver has been active in the mergers and acquisitions (M&A) market, especially during the past year, but this is easily its biggest deal. According to its financial statements, the firm spent over 700 billion won on 37 deals in the nine months through September, with the total for the whole year expected to exceed 1 trillion won.
Most of the previous deals were smaller and they largely focused on startups and minority equity investments. In November, Naver participated in a $70 million series C financing for Bucketplace, which operates home interior platform O-House, along with other investors, and also bought 10.3% of Insung Data, the owner of food delivery services app Logiall, for about 35 billion won ($31.8 million).
The company announced a partnership last summer with SM Entertainment, a leading entertainment firm that represents many K-pop stars, and then invested 12 billion won and 41.5 billion won each in SM’s affiliates Mystic Story and SMEJ Plus.
However, industry watchers believe the latest deal could signal that Naver plans to become more aggressive in the M&A market in coming years.
Naver said the acquisition of Wattpad, the world’s largest storytelling platform, was intended to diversify its content business and build a stronger position in the North American market. The company is expected to adopt a bolder approach than before if it finds suitable targets that fit with its long-term strategy.
Naver did not hire advisory firms for the transaction, which is not typical for local companies looking for cross-border acquisitions. This coincides with recent efforts by the company to enhance its M&A team, with specialists recruited from fields such as private equity and accounting since the second half of last year.
“Many observers already expected Naver to shift its M&A away from smaller deals and become more aggressive as its hiring of M&A talent continued last year,” an industry insider said. “The Wattpad acquisition showed they were right about that.” (Reporting by Hee-yeon)