This week’s Meituan-Dianping merger may mean the end of another Alibaba-Tencent rivalry, but Baidu is feeling the pressure with stock falling just over 8% since the announcement on Wednesday.
The new Ali-Tencent-backed company will form a formidable force in the O2O market, competing directly with Baidu’s biggest platform investment, Nuomi. Before the latest merger, Nuomi had a 13.6% market share, trailing Tencent-backed Dianping who accounted for almost 30%.
This year has seen Baidu become an aggressive O2O investor, shoveling funds into their affiliated platforms, including $3.2 billion USD in Nuomi, hoping to lock down consumers before the market saturates.
Subsidizing platforms to attract users is a consistent tactic across many of the large O2O providers in China. It’s a cost Dianping and Meituan could potentially stem with their latest merger.
“We have to invest aggressively to make sure we will be successful,” said Baidu CFO Xi Linzhe following lower-than-expected Q2 earnings in July. The company reported a quarterly earnings growth of just 3.3%, though it was their ‘double down’ on O2O investment that has cut into profits.
Baidu management hasn’t been shy when it comes to their O2O commitment. “It’s kind of difficult for a typical U.S. public market investor to really understand why Baidu is losing so much money on those unproven businesses,” said CEO Robin Li in an interview with Bloomberg last month, noting that the Chinese tech giant’s future would be in services, not search.
In the wake of the Dianping-Meituan merger, Baidu’s urgency makes a surprising amount of sense. China’s O2O market is attracting record-breaking investments from the public and private sectors as well as international investors. The country is cashing in on a growing population of mobile-enabled users willing to pay for services in China’s overcrowded megacities.
So what does the Meituan Dianping merger mean for Baidu? In the cutthroat game of attrition playing out among China’s O2O providers there is now one less competitor, and a new behemoth. While Dianping and Meituan have distinct differences, there’s certainly elements of their business which will see a significant boost as they pool resources.
Tencent is notoriously petty when it comes to using their messaging app, WeChat, for business outside of the Tencent family. In the past they’ve been unaccommodating of advertisements from Ali-backed Taobao as well as other e-retail platforms. At the same time, Alibaba has been restrictive with their payment system, Alipay, on non-Ali platforms.
Unfortunately for Baidu, the match-up of Alibaba-backed and Tencent-backed platform giants is becoming a trend. The Meituan-Dianping merger is the market’s biggest since the merger of Alibaba and Tencent’s respective ride-hailing apps Kuiadi and Didi, in February this year.
Baidu has also staked its claim to the ride-hailing market, making a substantial strategic and financial investment in Uber. However the Ali-Tencent coalition has recently extended its investment power to India’s Ola and Singapore’s GrabTaxi, forming a formidable competitor within the Asian region.
It’s a challenge that Baidu is looking to overcome through renewed direction and management. The company has opened up some of its wholly-owned companies to outside investment, while pumping up investment in core projects. They’ve also recently added former Uber CFO Brent Callinicos to their board, along with Yang Yuanqing, Chairman of Lenovo.
At this point, it’s hard to predict what the future of China’s tech powerhouses, colloquially known as the collective ‘BAT’ (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent) could look like. Though following the latest series of mergers, the possibilities include B versus AT .