Conscious coupling

Two dating apps merge


Momo and Tantan: now getting married

When a survey in 2015 revealed that more than half of Guangzhou’s female commuters had experienced some form of sexual harassment (“inappropriate touching”) on public transport, a handful of Chinese cities began reserving subway cars for female commuters. But the designated carriages, which were sometimes labelled in pink Chinese characters with floral adornments, did little to deter men from squeezing aboard.

“When everyone is rushing to work, no one cares whether it is a female-only car or not,” one commuter complained on weibo.

Indeed, many men have either blatantly ignored the restrictions or were oblivious to women-only subway carriages. Enforcement has lacked teeth – in part because the metro system is so overcrowded. Each day there are roughly eight million passenger trips on the Guangzhou subway alone.

Of course, it’s not only on transport that women suffer harassment. Many women also complain about the explicit sexual approaches that they experience on online dating apps.

Enter Tantan, an app that many describe as China’s Tinder-equivalent, which allows users to see profile pictures of people near their location (swipe right to like and left to skip).

To protect female users, it has added new features to discourage abuse. If a male user sends suspicious content or makes overtly sexual contact, a notification is sent to the female user asking if she has been harassed (answer yes and the man’s account will promptly be deleted).

China’s dating apps are a boom business, fuelled by the country’s worsening male to female ratio, and the pressure from parents for young people to marry.

In the past young people also lived closer to their parents, bringing a social network that generated a pool of potential marriage partners. But as children move further from home to find work, the network is thinning out, forcing people to look online.

Last winter Tantan said its app had about 6-7 million active customers every day and that it had matched at least 3 billion pairs of users. It was launching paid memberships in a bid to monetise more of its audience.

Tantan has also tried hard to woo female customers by offering tailored matchmaking services and female-centric games. It reckons that the measures have kept its male to female ratio to around 6:4, a better balance than many of the other dating services on the market.

“These days there are always women coming up to thank me for providing the platform where they find their better half,” Wang Yu, Tantan’s chief executive, told Asia Times. “And that’s our goal. To help people fall in love.”

In January more than 20 dating apps were forced to shut down after revelations that hundreds of thousands of customers had been chatting to computers powered by artificial intelligence, New Express reported.

But Tantan has proven so successful that it has become a target for competitors. In late February, its biggest rival Momo announced that it would acquire the dating app for a combination of cash and shares worth around $790 million. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter.

Industry observers say the acquisition make sense. The merger will help secure Momo’s position as China’s largest dating platform. And given that the customer base of NASDAQ-listed Momo is predominantly male, the two apps complement each other. As one tech blogger wrote, “It is a match made in dating heaven.”

Momo has progressed a long way from an app for hooking up (see WiC145 for our first mention of the company). Evolving from a simple location-based service that helped strangers look for one-night-stands, it is now a live-streaming and social media platform. In fact, it derives nearly 80% of its revenue from live streaming (it also makes money from e-commerce and online games). However, after a period of explosive growth, it is now under threat from government measures intended to intensify supervision on the live-streaming industry. The authorities have already cracked down on platforms that host pornographic and other vulgar content (see WiC373). Industry analysts believe that acquiring Tantan, which makes money via membership services (like Tinder Plus), will reduce some of Momo’s reliance on live streaming.

“Even though Momo is fundamentally a social networking platform, most of its income now comes from live-streaming, which is very savvy of the company,” Zheng Gang, the founder of venture capital firm PurpleSky Capital, told China Enterprise News. “But after a while it needs to look for new revenue streams. So to go back to its roots – social networking – is not a bad idea. I believe investors will be supportive of the deal.” According to market research firm Analysys, the online dating market in China was worth around Rmb5 billion ($787 million) last year.

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Brought to you by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.