Qihoo added digi-music search, music.so.com, to its search portfolio, video, news and Q&A content. A results page shows three sources: KuwoXiami and Yiting. All the content on its homepage, music charts, classifications and recommendations, is from Kuwo. What’s interesting is Kugou, a music service Qihoo CEO Zhou Hongyi invested in, doesn’t appear in the results.

It’s not a surprise as digital music is strong demand and a proven business for a search engine. In the early days of Baidu, its MP3 music search which started offering free music download destinations from 2002, boosted usage and helped build Baidu name. In the next several years, Baidu had been accused of offering pirated digital music by the music industry.

Google China tried offering a legitimate music search service, partnering with top100.cn who managed to convince most music labels in China to offer free music downloads and share advertising revenues. Four years later, Google shut down the service in October 2012, saying its performance wasn’t so good as expected. But Gary Chen, CEO of top100.cn, didn’t agree. With 6 bn downloads, 15 bn PV, 400 mn Yuan worth of ad inventory on top100.cn as of June 2012, Google music search, he addressed, is “the best and most influential local product Google China ever built”. We cannot conclude anything from the Google case as Google had issues that were much more troublesome than the performance of the music search service.

Anyway, times have changed. Even Baidu rolled out legitimate digi-music service, Baidu Music earlier this year. Big names, Tencent, Sina and the like, and independent music services are paying royalties to music labels, though not all of the music they provide with are legitimate.

The three music services Qihoo partners with are among the independent services mentioned above. Kuwo and Xiami reportedly will join in an effort, initiated by the music industry, to charge for digi-music downloads that will possilbly start from the beginning of 2013.

Qihoo can take CPA/CPC-based revenue shares then. Zhou Hongyi, Qihoo CEO, had made it clear that they’d cooperate with well-recognized vertical websites, offering quality content on travel, medical information, user reviews or recommendations, and so on. That’s also its strategy to differentiate its search service from Baidu, who has been accused of, by Qihoo or CCTV, prioritizing paid, inferior search results.

Tracey Xiang is Beijing, China-based tech writer. Reach her at traceyxiang@gmail.com

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