Shunya International Brand Consulting (宣亚国际), an A-share listed communications agency, has announced that they are purchasing at least 50% of Inke (映客), China’s leading live streaming service.

Shunya’s announcement said that the deal would involve transactions of shares held by the founding team, staff and investment institutions. The firm added that deal will be conducted in cash and deal will be concluded within a month. No further details on the shares involved in this deal were revealed. They have also told local media that “. . . Inke’s model is facing great challenges and it needs a capable partner to push its enterprise-facing businesses.”

Shunya offers various communication solutions, including digital power compartment, brand-wide communication, public relations, advertising, experiential marketing, data marketing, and other business solutions.

TechNode has reached out to Inke for comment and will update when they respond.

As an early entrant to the sector, Inke has grown quickly during China’s live streaming frenzy over the past two years. The combined forces of the market and the team has turned Inke into one of the most invested-in upstarts in the country. Here’s a breakdown of its fundraising path:

  • July 2015: RMB 10 million angel round from A8.com
  • Nov 2015: Eight-digit RMB A round from SAIF Partners China, GSR Ventures, Buttonwood Capital
  • Jan 2016: RMB 80 million A+ round led by online gaming firm Kunlun
  • Sept 2016: RMB 210 million Pre-B round led by GX Capital

In a later deal, Inke’s investor Kunlun sold a 3% stake in September 2016 for  RMB 210 million, meaning the valuation of Inke surged more than 17 times to RMB 7 billion in nine months. That’s almost as much as Shunya’s valuation of RMB 7.2 billion when they went public earlier this year.

Despite the surge in valuation, Kunlun’s sale hinted that the company was having profit problems. In 2015, their revenue was only RMB 30.48 million with RMB 1.67 million in net profit.

Like other hot verticals in China, live streaming is one more battlefront in the proxy war between China’s tech giants. Compared with other competitors backed by larger companies, Inke was all by itself and its skyrocketing market valuation made it even harder for the company to find more backing.

Inke

China’s star swimmer Fu Yuanhui live streaming on Inke

2016 has been called “Year One” for China’s live streaming industry. There were more than 200 live streaming services back then and over half of them had capital injections. However, as the live streaming craze cools off and the implementation of regulations tightens, China’s live streaming game is entering a knockout round marked by the death of smaller platforms.

Even for top players like Inke, an app that claimed over 25 million daily active users at its peak, it is difficult to maintain growth based on a capital-driven model. Inke’s monthly operation cost hit around RMB 100 million, founder Feng Yousheng told local media September last year.

The company also encountered roadblocks earlier this month when its app was removed from Apple’s App Store. This was actually the third time was removed by Apple, the previous two being in January and February of 2016.

Inke seems to have few options left outside of Shunya, who just went public on February 15th this year at a valuation of RMB 7.2 billion.

Rumors about a tie-up between the two companies have been circulating since the beginning of April, although Inke denied the news at the time. The two companies created a joint venture in March to explore ad-based business models for live streaming platforms and to connect potential ad clients.

Inke’s founder Feng said to local media this March that “. . . live streaming is compatible with all kinds of business models such as ad, e-commerce, membership and value-added service, but ads are still the one that achieves the best performance.”