US online love brokers eye China

Updated: 2007-02-15 09:00

SHANGHAI -- Top U.S. online matchmakers -- among them popular eHarmony and -- 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, owned by IAC/InterActiveCorp, has already secured, 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's headquarters in Dallas, Texas, already paid a formal visit to 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.

" representatives also expressed interest in taking a stake in when the situation becomes mature," said the U.S. private equity source.

Meanwhile, eHarmony,'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 said. and eHarmony compete with Yahoo's Yahoo Personals in the United States, and U.S. online matchmakers may already lag French rival Meetic in China.

In November,, 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, 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 Ventures.

"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, 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.

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