China’s online youth entertainment platform Bilibili said it has agreed to buy major assets from the comics arm of gaming giant NetEase, which helped introduce Marvel’s first batch of Chinese superheroes in May.
The deal announced on Wednesday will see Bilibili acquire the copyrights of a large number of popular storylines from NetEase to beef up its content offering for a community of anime, comics and gaming users — or collectively known as ACG fans.
Nine-year-old Bilibili raised $483 million from a U.S. initial public offering in March.
“The addition of [NetEase Comics’] extensive library of well-known content deeply enriches our online comic offerings. It not only complements our core users’ growing appetite for premium licensed ACG content, but also solidifies our leading position in China’s ACG industry,” said Carly Lee, chief operating officer of Bilibili, in a statement.
Update: A NetEase spokesperson provided the following comment:
“We are positive about the deal between Bilibili and NetEase Comics. NetEase will continue its exploration in the ACG industry and operation of Marvel and other works from our licensing partners. In the future, we will further launch deep partnerships with Bilibili in the ACG field,” a NetEase spokesperson told TechCrunch.
The move comes as China’s game publishers struggle with a title approval freeze starting in March that has hammered the stock prices of the market’s leader Tencent and second fiddle NetEase.
Like Tencent and NetEase, Bilibili generates a bulk of its income from games, which accounted for 69 percent of its total revenues during the third quarter.
Until recently, Bilibili’s services to its mainly young user base centered around videos, live streaming and mobile games. In November, the company launched a comics-specific mobile app that would demand heavy content investment to net new users. A lineup of rivals await Bilibili as it plugs itself into the online comics market. Leading the race is Kuaikan Manhua, with smaller players, including Tencent Comics and NetEase Comics, trailing behind, according to an app ranking by market research firm Analysys.
Tencent’s comics app topped 120 million monthly active users last December, said Zou Zhengyu, general manager of Tencent Comics and Animation, at a company event.
Update: NetEase, in comparison, has nearly 40 million registered mobile users.
Bilibili has also leaned on partnerships to grow its reservoir of gaming titles. In October, it struck a deal that would allow it to run more Tencent games on its own platform. The tie-up followed a $318 million investment in Bilibili from Tencent that lifted Tencent’s ownership to around 12 percent of Bilibili’s total issued shares.