How a Chinese anime site won over 500 million fans and lured USD 60 million in financing

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Anime Comic Fun (Acfun), a once amateur “bullet-screen” video site with scrolling user comments overlaid over video, now rises thanks to buckets of investment and support by enthusiastic fans.

Acfun announced on Thursday that it has secured USD 60 million in Series A+ funding from SoftBank China Venture Capital.

Tencent Tech reported its new round of funding would be used for brand promotion and product improvements. Without disclosing details, the company claims it will be valued at a few hundred million dollars after the financing round.

Acfun mostly targets Chinese millennials. The estimated 500 million Chinese millennials have fed from a subculture which was first created in Japan and is widely known as Er Ci Yuan, or “two dimensional” in English. The subculture refers to animation, comics, games and novels (ACGN) and has become an important source of entertainment for young Chinese.

Founded in 2007, the website firstly mimicked Japan’s NICONICO video site and had been a dynamic community for Chinese animation enthusiasts. Prior to 2014, the website was voluntarily managed by fans and only became a company with a CEO comparatively recently..

In August 2015, the company received USD 50 million in a Series A funding led by leading Chinese online video provider, Youku Tudou. After Alibaba bought Youku Tudou in November, Acfun became associated with Alibaba. This round of financing boosted daily active users for Acfun more than four times over.

In the latest financing round, primary investor SoftBank, is also the largest shareholder of Alibaba. This round of financing brings Acfun even closer together with Alibaba.

On Thursday Acfun announced a new CEO, Mo Ran. Mo, who previously co-founded a company in America associated with Marvel Comics, led the negotiations in the latest round of funding. Mo will preside over the company’s overall planning and strategy, and former CEO Sun – now serving as company President – will take charge of the business of commercialization.

Mo told Tencent Tech that the main reason he decided to join the company is that as young Chinese are becoming more and more influential on the internet, their beloved animation-focused subculture will emerge as mainstream culture.

Raising two rounds of funding in half a year, Acfun is becoming wealthy and more importantly, is able to access more strategic resources, said Mo. He also said that they have made plans for a Series B financing.

Liu Tianmin, Managing Partner at Softbank China Venture Capital said the culture and entertainment industry targeting young people has been growing fast. Bullet-screen video sharing sites have attracted tons of young people, this is why Softbank invested in Acfun and why SoftBank might make further investments in it.

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Before Acfun was reinforced by the latest round of financing, its primary rival Bilibili, also a bullet-screen site with a slightly younger user base, was overtaking the competition. Bilibili was founded in 2009 by a former senior member of Acfun. Rumor has it that in November 2015 Tencent valued Bilibili at RMB 1.5 billion (USD 236 million) and was slated to invest RMB 200 million into it. This has yet to be confirmed.

2015 was the year of animation in China, as tech giants scrambled for market share in the ACGN industry. Other players in the industry include Baidu’s streaming video platform iQiyi, Tencent Comics and Guangzhou-based animation company Alpha involved in domestic animation productions.

(Top photo from Baidu Images.)

AllTechAsia Staff

AllTechAsia is a startup media platform dedicated to providing the hottest news, data service and analysis on the tech and startup scene of Asian markets in English.

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