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Tencent Profits Growth at Standstill After Regulatory Change Dents Games Sector

Fortnite China
Tencent

Tencent, China’s games, video and social media giant, saw its quarterly profits growth grind to a halt in the three months to September as it adjusted to a series of regulatory crackdowns that particularly crimp its mainland Chinese games business.

Revenues in the period grew 13% to RMB142 billion ($22 billion) with net profits attributable to shareholders down 2% to RMB31.8 billion ($4.9 billion), the company said Wednesday in a regulatory filing.

Over the first nine months of the year, revenues were up 19% to RMB415 billion, and profits attributable were up 29% to RMB130 billion.

“During the third quarter, the internet industry, including the [Chinese] games industry, and certain advertiser categories, adapted to new regulatory and macroeconomic developments. We are proactively embracing the new regulatory environment which we believe should contribute to a more sustainable development path for the industry,” the company said.

China’s anti-trust and internet regulators have operated a year-long crackdown that has upended established business practices in collection and usage of user data, mergers and acquisitions and overseas share listings, and as a result sent Chinese tech shares tumbling. Additionally, Tencent Music Entertainment was ordered to cease its dominance of content supply deals with major music labels. In financial services, regulators also want interoperability between the payment systems of rival companies.

Entertainment sector regulators have periodically delayed permits for commercialization of certain titles and, in August, they moved against game addiction among young users, limiting play to just three hours per week for minors.

Tencent and other corporations have had to adjust their business operations, accept more competition and reduce sharing of consumer data between their different subsidiaries.

Following the industry upheaval, Tencent divides its games sector commentary into domestic (i.e. mainland China) and overseas (including Hong Kong and Macau).

Time spent by minors under the age of 18 on Tencent’s games dropped from 6.4% of total usage a year ago to 0.7% in the July to September 2021 quarter. Revenue from minors dropped from 4.8% to 1.1%.

Earlier this month, and after Tencent’s reporting period, Tencent and Epic Games announced that they would cease operating the popular “Fortnite” title in the Chinese market, due to regulatory hurdles. Tencent is both a major investor in Epic and was the local partner in China for “Fortnite.”

Overseas, where Tencent has previously acquired games firms and where it licenses its Chinese-made content, the picture is different. “We are increasing our investments in global game development capabilities through scaling up our China-based studios and established multi-hit international studios,” the company said Wednesday. “We are strengthening our global IP portfolio through in-house IP development as well as partnerships with renowned IP owners.”

Domestic (Chinese) games revenues grew by 5% to RMB33.6 billion, driven by games including “Honour of Kings,” “Call of Duty Mobile” and “Moonlight Blade Mobile.” International games revenues grew by 20% to RMB11.3 billion, or 28% in constant currency terms.

Recurring subscriptions across music, video and games grew by 10% year-on-year to 235 million. Tencent Music, which has a separate share listing reported on Tuesday a 38% increase in subscriptions to 71 million at the end of September.

Video subscriptions increased 8% year-on-year to 129 million, making Tencent Video China’s SVOD market leader by a substantial margin. It attributed this to content such as “Crime Crackdown” and “You Are My Glory,” which it says were the first- and second-most watched drama series by video views across all online platforms in China for the third quarter.

Tencent’s mighty Weixin / WeChat social media unit grew user numbers by 4% year on year to 1.26 billion.

During the quarter, Tencent completed its takeover of the New York-listed Sougu search engine business in which it was previously a substantial minority investor. There was no impact on profits. Tencent said that had it been operating Sogou as a wholly-owned business 2021 group revenues would have been by 5%.

Tencent’s Hong Kong-traded shares were up by more than 4% on Wednesday, prior to the announcement of the results. At HK$483.60 per share, the group has a market capitalization of HK$4.64 trillion or $595 billion.