According to reports in the Wall Street Journal, quoting unnamed sources close to the company, Baidu would aim to list the shares on a foreign share market, most likely in Hong Kong or the U.S. It said that that the flotation could raise up to $1 billion, and value iQIYI at some $5 billion.
Contacted by Variety, iQIYI said that it had no comment.
The share listing would be a new route to monetizing and refinancing operations in the hugely popular and influential video streaming sector. The report said that Baidu could issue a convertible bond or similar financial instrument to raise capital for iQIYI before the flotation.
China’s leading video companies continue to lose vast amounts of money as they compete for new content, expand their own production operations and attempt to switch users from advertising-supported segments to paid-for subscriptions. iQIYI has claimed 20 million paying subscribers. It also recently quoted April statistics from iResearch showing that 295 million people access the platform via its mobile app, and 360 million people use iQIYI via personal computers.
In July this year Baidu’s founder Robin Li Yanhong and iQIYI founder Gong Yu proposed to take the unit private in a deal worth $2.8 billion. That deal collapsed as a result of shareholder pressure. U.S. hedge fund Acacia lobbied the board to rethink the deal, arguing that iQIYI was worth more than the price being proposed. After a letter was widely circulated to the investment community, Li and Gong quickly withdrew their plan.
At the time of the buyout proposal investors compared iQIYI to Youku Tudou. Both companies claim to be the sector leader. At the beginning of the year Alibaba paid $4.8 billion for the 80% of Youku Tudou that it did not already own.
Baidu put on a brave face after the collapsed deal. “Online video is an important vertical for Baidu, in which iQiyi remains a key strategic partner. Baidu will continue to support iQiyi in its continued growth and leadership in the industry,” the company said in a statement at the time.
“The short-term improvement to Baidu’s earnings produced by iQiyi’s (proposed) sale (would have been) trivial compared to the potential long-term value created for Baidu shareholders by owning iQiyi within Baidu,” it said.