CBS unit expands online reach in China

08:46, January 28, 2011      

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&$The CBS Corp Television City building in Los Angeles, California. CBS has gained ownership of more than 20 Chinese Internet companies after it acquired CNET in 2008 for $1.8 billion, through its subsidiary CBS Interactive. Jonathan Alcorn / Bloomberg

The company, with 23 Chinese websites, is already a top brand

BEIJING - CBS Corporation, the media giant who owns the most-watched US broadcasting network, has found a right way to realize its business ambition in China - by establishing the biggest vertical interactive media empire in the country.

Despite Chinese restrictions on allowing foreign players to launch television broadcasting services, CBS Corp, through its entertainment subsidiary CBS Interactive (CBSi), gained ownership of 20-plus Chinese Internet companies after it acquired CNET in 2008 for $1.8 billion.

CBSi launched a new round of acquisition bids for three Chinese websites focused on women's interests last week. The websites are Haibao.cn, Kimiss.com and 51jiemeng.com. The company declined to reveal the financial terms of the acquisitions.

It has been the first purchase worldwide for CBSi since global financial crisis hit the company and sent CBS Corp's stock to as low as $3.06 a share in the early 2009. The NYSE-listed CBS Corp closed at $20.58 on Wednesday.

"Our websites mainly fall into three categories - IT, cars and women's fashion, because in those areas, customers are most likely to rely on the Internet to get their information," Wang Lu, president of CBSi (China), told China Daily.

He added the US-based company, with 23 Chinese websites in hand, is already the top vertical Internet brand in China. But it continues to pursue the top place in every separate field in terms of traffic and revenue, since it already leads in the IT segment.

"In the car segment, we are still competing for first place with Bitauto.com, which was listed on the NYSE last November. We are relatively weak in the women's interests segment, so we bought another three websites," Wang said.

The company plans to redesign the newly acquired 51jiemeng.com. The website provides dream interpretation and attracts good traffic, but achieved little profit. Wang said the website may bring in horoscopes - a service loved by many Chinese women.

China, with 450 million Internet users, has surpassed Britain and become the biggest overseas market for CBSi, according to Wang. In 2009, revenue of CBSi China reached 400 million yuan ($60.78 million). It contributed 10 percent of the company's total revenue, and has a growth rate of 40 percent annually - far exceeding CBSi's average global growth rate.

CBSi owns more than 60 websites worldwide, with 425 million unique visitors each month, according to company statistics in 2010.

"China may not be a cash cow for CBS Corp now, but the US high-level management has great hopes for the market," Wang said.

Leslie Moonves, chief executive officer of CBS Corp, said in a corporate internal document that CBS Corp wants to expand its international footprint. To have a profitable business in China is a pretty amazing thing to expand from, he said. And China is a market "that's going to be exploding in the next few years".

In addition to the present three categories, CBSi China looks forward to expanding in new segments. The next two targeted fields are sports and health.

"We operate differently at CBSi in the United States, where threshold is high if the company wants to enter a new category. The US websites are mainly in the IT category," Wang said. New websites sprout every day in China and every player has its own advantages and room to grow, he added.

But the Chinese Internet industry has been getting too hot recently. The ample money influx resulted in unreasonable company valuation, which makes future acquisition difficult.

"At first, I only looked for the top 5 websites in a certain category, but now I have to look down to see the top 10, or top 20," Wang said.

The star Internet websites of CBSi China include ZOL.com.cn, PChome.net, Xcar.com.cn and 55bbs.com.

According to figures from the Internet traffic tracker Alexa.com on Tuesday, the leading IT portal ZOL.com.cn ranks 32nd among all Chinese websites. Xcar.com.cn, which runs China's biggest car-user community, is listed as 85th, and the consumer information sharing website 55bbs.com, ranks 151th.

Two-thirds of CBSi's US acquisitions were not successful, but in China, almost all the purchases have made good returns, according to Wang.

For example, before it was acquired, ZOL.com.cn ranked fifth among Chinese IT websites in 2004, but it is the biggest professional IT site now.

"We are a content provider. I hope to integrate the resources of all these websites to create various services for Chinese people," Wang said.

Liu Xiaodong, senior vice-president of CBSi (China), expressed a similar view that in the future CBSi China will strive to present everything of interest to Internet users in their daily lives.

Mark Natkin, managing director of Marbridge Consulting, said in China, since foreign media companies are restricted to providing broadcasting services, they have to turn to other areas where they are not restricted, like CBSi's move in China. "And the Chinese online market is full of opportunities," he said.

"We see CBS Interactive bought some relatively small Internet companies in China. When compared with Baidu or Dangdang, the revenue is not significant," said Duncan Clark, chairman of the research firm BDA. But the company can achieve a good profit from the stock market if the websites go for a listing, he said.

CBSi China said there is no listing plan for any website, but conceded the biggest reward from its Chinese business may come from stock exchanges, whether that's in Shanghai, Hong Kong or New York.

Though CBS Corp is a content provider and produced popular TV series in the US, Wang said he saw little chance to introduce US TV drama to Chinese television stations or video websites.

"The major reason is that they offered copyright fees which were too low, perhaps up to $2,000 per episode, far lower than what we get from countries like Australia and Britain," he said.

But cooperation with Xinhua News Agency is under discussion, as the Chinese media wants to utilize CBS's network to land in its products in the US. CBS Corp also suggests collaborations in areas such as outdoor advertisement and photo sales.



Source: China Daily
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