SHANGHAI -- Top U.S. online matchmakers -- among them popular eHarmony and
Match.com -- are hoping to hook up with Chinese partners to promote Web dating
services, in an effort to explore new profit streams in emerging markets.
Private equity and technology sources said on Wednesday that
Match.com, owned by IAC/InterActiveCorp, has already secured Love21CN.com, one
of China's biggest online dating service providers, as its main target for a
potential stake purchase or business partnership.
A group of senior executives from Match.com's headquarters in Dallas, Texas,
already paid a formal visit to Love21CN.com late last year and expressed
interest in cooperating with the Chinese Web site, the sources said.
"They discussed business models and exchanged views about the online dating
market in China, which is still small but growing faster everyday," said one
Silicon Valley-based source.
"Match.com representatives also expressed interest in taking a stake in
Love21CN.com when the situation becomes mature," said the U.S. private equity
Meanwhile, eHarmony, Match.com's top rival in the U.S. market, is also
looking at a number of potential partners in China, though eHarmony, which has
over 12 million users globally, has yet to secure a specific target, the sources
Match.com and eHarmony compete with Yahoo's Yahoo Personals in the United
States, and U.S. online matchmakers may already lag French rival Meetic in
In November, China.com, controlled by online software company CDC, said it
would team up with Meetic for business promotion. Meetic in July also launched a
localized Chinese site called "Mi Tang," or "Sweetie" in English.
A Meetic-led venture capital consortium is also expected to invest $20
million in a controlling stake in Beijing-based online dating Web site
Yeeyoo.com, the sources said.
Love and money
Foreign media giants are lining up to find partners in China to cash in on
the country's online service market -- increasingly popular among Chinese
teenagers -- which consultancy firm iResearch expects to grow by some 60 percent
by revenue annually to 653 million yuan ($84.21 million) by 2008.
Last month, sources said that media giant News Corp. was finalizing a
deal to launch its networking Web site MySpace in China within months, while
Microsoft already has similar functions on its Chinese MSN portal.
"Online dating services are still quite new in China, but the market has huge
potential," said Richard Lim, a managing director for China-focused GSR
"Many venture capital firms have shown interest [in the sector]," he
said on telephone.
GSR Ventures and U.S. fund Mayfield jointly invested $2 million in "Baihe" --
"Lily" in English -- in late 2005. Lim said his company so far has no intention
to sell its stake in Baihe.com, which had over 6.5 million users last July.
Most Chinese dating Web sites help users find partners for free.
But in December, Baihe began charging 1,980 yuan per person for its high-end
"Golden" service, with the promise of a "stable love relationship" within six
months for most users.
"The business model for online dating is still challenging in China, because
most Chinese Internet consumers are still unwilling to pay for the services,"
said the first U.S. source.