SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Washington, D.C. 20549
REGISTRATION STATEMENT PURSUANT TO SECTION 12(b) OR 12(g) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
For the fiscal year ended December 31, 2020
TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
For the transition period from to
SHELL COMPANY REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
Date of event requiring this shell company report . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Commission file number:
(Exact Name of Registrant as Specified in Its Charter)
(Translation of Registrant’s Name Into English)
(Jurisdiction of Incorporation or Organization)
(Address of Principal Executive Offices)
(Name, Telephone, E-mail and/or Facsimile number and Address of Company Contact Person)
Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
Title of Each Class
Name of Each Exchange On Which Registered
*Not for trading, but only in connection with the listing on the Nasdaq Global Market of American depositary shares.
(Title of Class)
(Title of Class)
Indicate the number of outstanding shares of each of the issuer’s classes of capital or common stock as of the close of the period covered by the annual report:
As of December 31, 2020, there were
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act.
☐ Yes ☒
If this report is an annual or transition report, indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.
☐ Yes ☒
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant: (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to submit such files).
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, or an emerging growth company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.
Large accelerated filer ☐
Accelerated filer ☐
Emerging growth company
If an emerging growth company that prepares its financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards† provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act.
†The term “new or revised financial accounting standard” refers to any update issued by the Financial Accounting Standards Board to its Accounting Standards Codification after April 5, 2012.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed a report on and attestation to its management’s assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting under Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (15 U.S.C. 7262(b)) by the registered public accounting firm that prepared or issued its audit report.
Indicate by check mark which basis of accounting the registrant has used to prepare the financial statements included in this filing:
International Financial Reporting Standards as issued
If “Other” has been checked in response to the previous question, indicate by check mark which financial statement item the registrant has elected to follow.
☐ Item 17 ☐ Item 18
If this is an annual report, indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act).
(APPLICABLE ONLY TO ISSUERS INVOLVED IN BANKRUPTCY PROCEEDINGS DURING THE PAST FIVE YEARS)
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed all documents and reports required to be filed by Sections 12, 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 subsequent to the distribution of securities under a plan confirmed by a court.
☐ Yes ☐ No
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Unless otherwise indicated and except where the context otherwise requires, and for the purpose of this annual report on Form 20-F to:
|●||“ADRs” refer to the American depositary receipts that evidence our ADSs;|
|●||“ADSs” refer to our American depositary shares, each two (2) ADSs represent one (1) Class A ordinary share;|
|●||“ARPPU” refers to average revenue per paying user in a given period;|
|●||“average daily sessions per active user” for any period is calculated by dividing (i) the sum of number of times of opening our Blued mobile app per DAU for each day of such period, by (ii) the number of days in such period;|
|●||“average daily time spent per active user” for any period is calculated by dividing (i) the sum of time spent on our Blued mobile app per DAU for each day of such period, by (ii) the number of days in such period;|
|●||“average DAUs” for any period is calculated by dividing (i) the sum of DAUs (as defined below) for each day of such period, by (ii) the number of days in such period;|
|●||“average MAUs” for any period is calculated by dividing (i) the sum of MAUs (as defined below) for each month of such period, by (ii) the number of months in such period;|
|●||“China” or “the PRC” refers to the People’s Republic of China, excluding, for the purposes of this annual report only, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, and “Greater China” includes Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan;|
|●||“Class A ordinary shares” are to our Class A ordinary shares of par value US$0.0001 per share;|
|●||“Class B ordinary shares” are to our Class B ordinary shares of par value US$0.0001 per share;|
|●||“BlueCity,” “we,” “us,” “our company” and “our” refer to BlueCity Holdings Limited, our Cayman Islands holding company, and its subsidiaries, its consolidated variable interest entity and the subsidiaries of the consolidated variable interest entity;|
|●||“our portfolio apps,” “our portfolio mobile apps,” or “our mobile apps” refer to Blued, LESDO and Finka;|
|●||“DAUs” or “Daily Active Users” refers to the number of users, including both paying and non-paying users, that logged in to any of our portfolio mobile apps in a given day at least once. We treat each account as a distinct user when calculating DAUs. We count DAUs of LESDO and Finka into our DAUs, starting from September 2020 and December 2020, respectively , without eliminating duplicates among our portfolio apps;|
|●||“MAUs” or “Monthly Active Users” refers to the number of users, including both paying and non-paying users, that logged in to any of our portfolio mobile apps in a given month at least once. We treat each account as a distinct user when calculating MAUs. We count MAUs of LESDO and Finka into our MAUs, starting from September 2020 and December 2020, respectively , without eliminating duplicates among our portfolio apps;|
|●||“our VIE” refers to Beijing BlueCity Culture and Media Co., Ltd.;|
|●||“paying users” on our platform are to users who make payments for products and services on our Blued, LESDO and Finka, including payments for live streaming services and membership. We count paying users of LESDO and Finka into our total paying users, starting from September 2020 and December 2020, respectively, without eliminating duplicates among our portfolio apps;|
|●||“our WFOE” refers to Beijing BlueCity Information& Technology Co., Ltd.;|
|●||“next-month retention rate,” as applied to the number of unique MAUs of Blued mobile app in a calendar month, is the percentage of these unique MAUs in the next calendar month;|
|●||“registered user” means a user that has registered by providing required information and logged in to our portfolio mobile apps at least once since registration. We calculate the number of registered users as the cumulative number of valid user accounts at the end of the relevant period, and consequently, the number of registered users may not be equal to the number of active user accounts during the relevant period. Each individual user may have more than one registered user account for our portfolio mobile app, and consequently, the number of registered users we present in this annual report may not be equal to the number of distinct individuals who are represented by the registered users;|
|●||“RMB” and “Renminbi” refers to the legal currency of China;|
|●||“ordinary shares” refer to our ordinary shares, par value US$0.0001 per share; and|
|●||“US$,” “U.S. dollars,” “$,” and “dollars” refer to the legal currency of the United States.|
Our reporting currency is RMB. This annual report also contains translations of certain foreign currency amounts into U.S. dollars for the convenience of the reader. Unless otherwise stated, all translations from Renminbi to U.S. dollars were made at a rate of RMB6.5250 to US$1.00, the exchange rate in effect as of December 31, 2020 as set forth in the H.10 statistical release of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. We make no representation that any Renminbi or U.S. dollar amounts referred to in this annual report could have been or could be converted into U.S. dollars or Renminbi, as the case may be, at any particular rate, or at all. The PRC government imposes control over its foreign currency reserves in part through direct regulation of the conversion of Renminbi into foreign exchange and through restrictions on foreign trade.
This annual report on Form 20-F contains forward-looking statements that reflect our current expectations and views of future events. The forward looking statements are contained principally in the sections entitled “Item 3. Key Information — D. Risk Factors,” “Item 6. Directors, Senior Management and Employees” and “Item 4. Information on the Company.” Known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors, including those listed under “Item 3. Key Information — D. Risk Factors,” may cause our actual results, performance or achievements to be materially different from those expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements.
You can identify some of these forward-looking statements by words or phrases such as “may,” “will,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “aim,” “estimate,” “intend,” “plan,” “believe,” “is/are likely to,” “potential,” “continue” or other similar expressions. We have based these forward-looking statements largely on our current expectations and projections about future events and financial trends that we believe may affect our financial condition, results of operations, business strategy and financial needs. These forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, statements relating to:
|●||our goals and strategies;|
|●||our ability to retain and increase the number of users, paying members and advertisers, and expand our product and service offerings;|
|●||our future business development, financial condition and results of operations;|
|●||expected changes in our revenues, costs or expenditures;|
|●||competition in our industry and our popularity within the LGBTQ population; and|
|●||relevant government policies and regulations relating to our industry.|
These forward-looking statements involve various risks and uncertainties. Although we believe that our expectations expressed in these forward-looking statements are reasonable, our expectations may later be found to be incorrect. Our actual results could be materially different from our expectations. Important risks and factors that could cause our actual results to be materially different from our expectations are generally set forth in “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors,” “Item 6. Directors, Senior Management and Employees,” “Item 4. Information on the Company,” “Item 4. Information on the Company— B. Business Overview—Regulation” and other sections in this annual report. You should read thoroughly this annual report and the documents that we refer to with the understanding that our actual future results may be materially different from and worse than what we expect. We qualify all of our forward-looking statements by these cautionary statements.
The forward-looking statements made in this annual report relate only to events or information as of the date on which the statements are made in this annual report. Except as required by law, we undertake no obligation to update or revise publicly any forward-looking statements, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise, after the date on which the statements are made or to reflect the occurrence of unanticipated events. You should read this annual report and the documents that we refer to in this annual report and have filed as exhibits to the registration statement, of which this annual report is a part, completely and with the understanding that our actual future results may be materially different from what we expect.
ITEM 1. IDENTITY OF DIRECTORS, SENIOR MANAGEMENT AND ADVISERS
ITEM 2. OFFER STATISTICS AND EXPECTED TIMETABLE
ITEM 3. KEY INFORMATION
A.Selected Financial Data
B.Capitalization and Indebtedness
C.Reasons for the Offer and Use of Proceeds
Risks Related to Our Business and Industry
If we fail to retain our existing users or acquire new users, or if user engagement declines, our business, results of operations and prospects may be materially and adversely affected.
Our ability to maintain and grow our user base while keeping our users highly engaged is critical to the continued success and growth of our business. Since our inception in 2011, we have strived to create a trusted community and deliver more diversified products and services to attract new users and keep our existing users engaged. To maintain and improve the level of engagement of our users and expand our user base, we must continue to innovate our products and services, respond promptly to evolving user preferences and lifetime needs, implement new technologies and strategies, curate interesting content created by popular broadcasters and stimulate interactions in our community, all of which will require us to incur substantial costs and expenses. If such costs and expenses fail to effectively translate into larger user base and improved user engagement, we may not be able to achieve all these goals and our results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
If we are not successful in our efforts to retain or grow our user base, the engagement level of our users may decrease, which may in turn reduce our monetization opportunities and have a material and adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations. If we fail to convert users into paying users, or if the number of our paying users declines, our revenues may decline and our results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
In particular, there is no assurance that our platform will be able to remain popular within the LGBTQ community. A number of factors could negatively affect user retention, growth and engagement, such as:
|●||failure to provide new products and services that are attractive to users;|
|●||failure to adapt our products, services or business model to the needs of the LGBTQ community, new industry standards or emerging technologies;|
|●||changes of service patterns or protocols that are required by, or that we elect to make to stay compliant with, legislation, regulations or government policies;|
|●||failure to combat spam on or inappropriate or abusive use of our platform, which may lead to declined user trust in us, negative publicity about us and our brand or even cause us to incur legal liabilities;|
|●||failure to protect our brand reputation;|
|●||failure of our abilities to attract new and maintain existing broadcasters who could keep our users engaged;|
|●||failure to address user concerns related to privacy and communication, safety, security or other factors; and|
|●||failure to successfully compete with existing competitors or new market entrants.|
We have a limited operating history and we may not be able to sustain our rapid growth, effectively manage our growth or implement our business strategies.
We have experienced rapid growth since our inception in 2011. As we grow our user base, increase the level of user engagement, broaden our mix of products and services and expand overseas, we may incur increasing costs related to our expansion domestically and internationally. If such expansion is not properly managed, it may adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.
As we have a limited operating history, it is difficult to assess our future prospects or forecast our future results of operations. You should consider our business and prospects in light of the risks and challenges we encounter or may encounter in this developing and rapidly evolving market, some of which are beyond our control. These risks and challenges include, among other things:
|●||the emergence of alternative business models, changes in rules, regulations, government policies or general economic conditions;|
|●||our ability to develop and deploy diversified and unique features, products and services for our users;|
|●||our ability to hire, retain and motivate talented employees and attract management talents that are compatible with our business expansion both domestically and internationally;|
|●||decreasing user spending, decreasing user engagement, increasing competition, and declining growth of our overall market or industries;|
|●||our ability to increase the number of users;|
|●||our ability to expand into new geographic markets that are amenable to our business model;|
|●||our ability to develop a reliable, scalable, secure, high-performance technology infrastructure that can efficiently handle increased usage and enlarged user base;|
|●||the ability of our broadcasters to deliver engaging content on our platform;|
|●||our ability to develop or implement strategic initiatives to monetize our platform;|
|●||our ability to successfully compete with other companies, some of which have substantially greater resources and market power than us, that are currently in, or may in the future enter, our industries, or duplicate the features of our services; and|
|●||our ability to defend ourselves against litigation and/or claims relating to regulatory compliance, intellectual property, privacy or other matters.|
Many aspects of our business are unique, evolving and relatively unproven. Our business and prospects depend on the continuing development of the industries in which we operate, in each case, especially among the LGBTQ community. The market for our products and services is relatively new and rapidly developing and is subject to significant challenges. Our business relies upon our ability to create a vibrant and interactive platform addressing the full life cycle needs of the LGBTQ population and to successfully monetize our user base, so as to increase revenues from various sources, including live streaming, membership, advertising, merchandise sales and health-related services. In addition, our rapid growth and expansion has placed, and will continue to place, significant strain on our management and resources. This level of significant growth may not be sustainable or achievable at all in the future. We believe that our continued growth will depend on many factors, including our ability to develop new sources of revenues, diversify monetization methods, continue developing innovative technologies in response to user demand, increase brand awareness, expand into new market segments, and adjust to the rapidly changing regulatory environment globally. There can be no assurance that we will achieve any of the above, and our failure to do so may materially and adversely affect our business and results of operations.
We cannot guarantee that our monetization strategies will be successfully implemented or generate sustainable revenues and profit.
We are in the early stage of our business and our monetization model is new and evolving. We began monetizing our business in 2016. Currently, we generate a significant majority of our revenues from live streaming services. In 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively, we generated RMB457.8 million, RMB671.4 million and RMB868.9 million (US$133.2 million) of revenues from live streaming, representing 91.3%, 88.5% and 84.3% of our total revenues for the same period, respectively. The remaining revenues are generated from membership services, advertising services, merchandise sales and others. As we continue to develop our business and expand overseas, we are making efforts to adjust our revenue mix by continuing to convert our non-paying users into paying users, grow our health-related businesses and explore various new and innovative revenue streams. As a result, our revenue is affected by our ability to expand into new markets, increase user engagement and convert non-paying users to paying users, which in turn depends on our ability to offer high-quality products and services. If we fail to generate revenues from users in our new markets, monetize our existing or new services or develop new approaches to monetization, we may not be able to maintain or increase our revenues and profits or recover any associated costs. We monitor market developments and may adjust our monetization strategies accordingly from time to time, which may result in decreases of our overall revenue or revenue contributions from some monetization channels. In addition, we may have limited or no experience with the new revenue streams that we may introduce in the future. If these new revenue streams fail to engage our users, customers or business partners, we may fail to retain or attract users or generate sufficient revenues to justify our investment, and our business and results of operations may suffer as a result.
We have substantial overseas operations and we plan to continue expanding our operations abroad. If we fail to meet the challenges presented by our increasing international operations, our business, financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
We began to expand our business operations overseas in 2017 and we currently have Blued users in approximately 170 countries and regions. As we continue to expand our business internationally, we will face risks associated with expanding into markets where we have limited or no experience and where we may be less well-known or have fewer local resources. If we fail to execute our global expansion strategy, we may be subject to a variety of risks inherent in doing business internationally, including:
|●||political, social and economic instability of each foreign jurisdiction where we operate;|
|●||bias and negative social sentiment towards the LGBTQ community;|
|●||fluctuations in currency exchange rates;|
|●||compliance challenges due to different laws and regulatory environments, particularly in the case of privacy and data security;|
|●||potential non-compliance with tax regulations in multiple tax jurisdictions;|
|●||risks related to the overall legal and regulatory environment in foreign jurisdictions, including with respect to cybersecurity, privacy and personal information, difficulties understanding and ensuring compliance with multiple, conflicting and changing laws, rules and regulations by both our employees and our business partners, over whom we exert no control, and unexpected changes in law, regulatory requirements and enforcement;|
|●||potential damage to our brand and reputation due to compliance with local laws, including potential censorship and/or requirements to provide user information to local authorities;|
|●||difficulties in staffing and managing global operations and the increased travel, infrastructure and compliance costs associated with multiple international locations; and|
|●||differing levels of technology development in different countries, including third party payment platforms.|
As we expand further into new and existing countries, regions and markets, these risks could intensify, and efforts we make to expand our businesses and operations internationally may not be successful. Failure to expand internationally and manage the complexity of our global operations successfully could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
In December 2020, users in countries and regions outside of China represented over 41.5% of our total MAUs. “MAUs” refers to the number of users, including both paying and non-paying users, that logged in to any of our portfolio mobile apps in a given month at least once. We treat each account as a distinct user when calculating MAUs. We count MAUs of LESDO and Finka into our MAUs, starting from September 2020 and December 2020, respectively, without eliminating duplicates. We treat each account as a distinct user when calculating MAUs. We are still in the early stage of generating revenue from our users outside of China. Despite our global footprint, approximately 3.4%, 6.6% and 10.0% of our total revenues for 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively, were contributed by users outside China. There can be no assurance we will be as effective or efficient in generating revenue from our users outside China as we were in generating revenue from our users in China. We have devoted, and will need to continue to devote, substantial managerial, financial and human resources to devise and implement monetization strategies and product and service offerings that are suitable for diverse overseas markets with different user needs, competitive landscapes and operational requirements. If we fail to generate revenue from our users outside of China in an effective and efficient manner, our business, financial condition, and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
Our business is subject to complex and evolving laws and regulations in various countries and regions where we have business. Many of these laws and regulations are subject to change and uncertain interpretation, and could result in claims, changes to our business practices, monetary penalties, increased cost of operations, or declines in user growth or engagement, or otherwise harm our business.
We are subject to a variety of laws and regulations that involve matters important to or may otherwise impact our business, including, among others, provision of internet information, sales of internet advertising, providing live streaming and short video broadcasting services, online sale of pharmaceutical products, providing health-related services, cybersecurity, user privacy, data protection, protection of minors, foreign exchange and taxation. See also “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation.” The introduction of new products and services, expansion of our activities in certain jurisdictions, past and future acquisitions, partnerships or alliance or other actions that we may take may subject us to additional laws, regulations, other government scrutiny or additional compliance costs. In addition, foreign laws and regulations can impose different obligations or be more restrictive than those in the PRC.
These laws and regulations are continuously evolving and can be subject to significant change. As a result, the application, interpretation, and enforcement of these laws and regulations are often uncertain, particularly in the rapidly evolving industries in which we operate and any new jurisdiction into which we enter. In addition, these laws and regulations may be interpreted and applied inconsistently by different agencies or authorities and in different jurisdictions, and inconsistently with our current policies and practices. These laws and regulations may be costly to comply with, and such compliance or any associated inquiries or investigations or any other government actions may delay or impede our development of new products and services, result in negative publicity, increase our operating costs, require significant management time and attention, and subject us to remedies, administrative penalties and even criminal liabilities that may harm our business, including fines assessed for our current or historical business operations, or demands or orders that we modify or cease existing business practices.
The promulgation of new laws or regulations, or the new interpretation of existing laws and regulations, in each case that restrict or otherwise unfavorably impact the ability or manner in which we provide our products and services could require us to change certain aspects of our business and operations to ensure compliance, which could decrease demand for products and services, reduce revenues, increase costs, require us to obtain more licenses, permits, approvals or certificates, subject us to additional liabilities, or lead to any of our portfolio apps being removed or disabled from the app stores. To the extent any new or more stringent measures are required to be implemented, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be adversely affected.
As our international operations continue to expand, we face significant challenges to ensure the content and communications on our platform are in compliance with various local jurisdictions’ regulatory frameworks and social environment, many of which could be substantially different from those of China and each other due to differences in, among others, legal systems, political environment, culture and religion. Such differences may impose more stringent requirements and restrictions on the content we present outside of China. Our experience gained from our operations in China may not apply to our overseas operations. In addition, the regulatory framework for live streaming and social networking services is still developing and remains uncertain in many countries where we offer our services. New laws and regulations may also be adopted from time to time to address new issues that come to the attention of local government authorities. Considerable uncertainties still exist with respect to the interpretation and implementation of existing and any future laws and regulations governing our business activities in these areas. In addition, we may be required to impose more stringent content monitoring measures, be in compliance with relevant content regulatory regimes, obtain relevant licenses or permits or renew or expand the coverage of our existing licenses, and we cannot assure you that we will be able to timely obtain or maintain all the required licenses or permits or make any necessary filings applicable in the future, or comply with other relevant regulatory requirements. If we fail to obtain, hold or maintain any of the required licenses or permits or make necessary filings on time or at all, or fail to comply with other regulatory requirements, we may be subject to various penalties. Cultural differences may also pose additional challenges to our efforts in content control. Therefore, such different and possibly more stringent regulatory and cultural environments may increase the risk exposure to our daily operations in foreign jurisdictions.
Due to the uncertainties in the regulatory environment of the industries in which we operate, there can be no assurance that we have obtained or applied for all the approvals, permits and licenses required for conducting our business and all activities, or that we would be able to maintain our existing approvals, permits and licenses or obtain any new approvals, permits and licenses if required by any future laws or regulations. If we fail to obtain and maintain approvals, licenses or permits required for our business, or to comply with relevant laws and regulations, we could be subject to liabilities, fines, penalties and operational disruptions, or we could be required to modify our business model, which could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. See also “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Industry—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—We may be adversely affected by the complexity, uncertainties and changes in PRC laws and regulation, and any lack of requisite approvals, licenses or permits applicable to our business may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial conditions and results of operations.”
We face uncertainties with respect to the enactment, interpretation and implementation of Notice 78.
According to Notice 78, platforms providing online show live streaming or e-commerce live streaming services shall, among other things, register their information and business operations by November 30, 2020, ensure real-name registration for all broadcasters and virtual gifting users, prohibit users that are minors or without real-name registration from virtual gifting, and set a limit on the maximum amount of virtual gifting per time, per day, and per month.
Notice 78 also requests the live streaming platforms for online shows to register in the National Internet Audio-visual Platforms Information Management System, and we have filed application for registration as requested. Notice 78 also sets forth requirements for certain live streaming businesses with respect to real-name registration, limits on user spending on virtual gifting, restrictions on minors on virtual gifting, live streaming review personnel requirements, content tagging requirements, and other requirements. For more information on Notice 78, see “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations Relating to Live Streaming Service.”
As of the date of this annual report, there is currently no explicit provisions as to what limits on virtual gifting will be imposed by the NRTA pursuant to Notice 78 and it is unclear how and to what degree any such limits would be imposed on different platforms. Given there is no explicit provisions on how to set the limit on virtual gifting, we have not been able to set such limit on our platform and we are currently not able to assess the impact this requirement under Notice 78 will have on the virtual gifting spending activities on our platform. We derived 91.3%, 88.5% and 84.3% of our revenues from live streaming services in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. Any such limits ultimately imposed may materially and adversely impact our revenues derived from virtual gifting, live streaming business, and our results of operations.
Since Notice 78 was only issued in November 2020 and some of the requirements in Notice 78 are unclear and have no explicit provisions or implementation standards, we are still in the process of getting further guidance from regulatory authorities and evaluating the applicability and effect of the various requirements under Notice 78 on our business. Any further rulemaking under Notice 78 or other intensified regulation with respect to live broadcasting may increase our compliance burden in the live broadcasting business, and may have an adverse impact on our business and results of operations.
The success of our business depends in part on our ability to develop and provide our users with new and innovative products and services.
Our business is growing and becoming more complex, and our ability to engage, retain, increase and engage our user base and to increase our revenue will depend heavily on our ability to quickly and successfully develop and launch new and innovative products and services. The industries in which we operate are evolving rapidly and users expect to see new features and experience new products and services offered by us within a relatively short period of time. Over the years, we have been continuously upgrading our social networking platform. Users can enjoy our premium services by subscribing for our membership services, communicate with each other in various means, such as text, pictures, videos, voice and gaymojis, share their lives or view the lives of other users, enjoy talent shows, interact with broadcasters and send virtual gifts to broadcasters. We have also started offering health-related services to our users to address their growing needs. We may introduce significant changes to our existing products and services or develop and introduce new and unproven products and services. Developing and integrating new products and services could also be expensive and time-consuming, and these efforts may not yield the benefits we expect to achieve at all. If new or enhanced products or services fail to engage our users, customers or business partners, we may fail to attract or retain users or to generate sufficient revenue, operating margin, or other value to justify our investments, any of which may seriously harm our business.
We have incurred, and may continue to incur net losses in the future.
We recorded net losses of RMB144.6 million, RMB52.9 million and RMB221.9 million (US$34.0 million) in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. Our ability to achieve profitability is affected by various factors, many of which are beyond our control, such as the continual development of the industries in which we operate, both in China and other countries and regions, changes in the macroeconomic and regulatory environment or competitive dynamics and our inability to respond to these changes in a timely and effective manner. We also expect our costs to increase on an absolute basis due to our continued investment in services, products, technology and development and our continued sales and marketing initiatives. If we cannot successfully offset our increased costs with a significant increase in total revenues, our financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected. We may continue to incur net losses in the future.
Difficulties in identifying, consummating and integrating acquisitions and strategic alliances and potential write-offs in connection with our investments or acquisitions may have a material and adverse effect on our business and results of operations.
We have acquired, and may in the future acquire, companies that are complementary to our business. From time to time, we may also make alternative investments and enter into strategic partnerships or alliances as we see fit. For example, in 2020, we acquired the business of Finka, a gay social networking app in China targeting younger generations, through the acquisition of 100% equity interests of its operating entity, iRainbow Hong Kong Limited and all of its subsidiaries and other entities under its control, for an aggregate consideration equivalent to RMB237 million in cash. In 2020, we also acquired the business of LESDO, a lesbian social networking service provider in China. In March 2021, one of our VIE’s subsidiaries entered into a License Purchase Agreement with Chongqing Changyuan Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd., whereby we purchased a license of drug operation permit. The purchase price for the license was RMB2.6 million.
While we have completed the acquisitions of Finka and LESDO, each of Finka and LESDO still remains as a stand-alone brand and the process of integrating certain aspects of their operations into our own operations is still continuing as of the date of this annual report. We cannot assure you that the standards of certain operation aspects of Finka and LESDO, including without limitation, the aspects of technology, finance, compliance, etc., have been fully in line with those of our Blued mobile app. The on-going integration could result in unforeseen operating difficulties, divert significant management attention and require significant resources that would otherwise have been available for the ongoing development of our existing operations.
Moreover, past and future acquisitions, partnerships or alliances may expose us to potential risks, including risks associated with:
|●||the difficulty in retaining and increasing the user base of the acquired businesses following the acquisitions;|
|●||the need to integrate certain operations, systems, technologies, and personnel, the inefficiencies that may result if such integration is delayed or not implemented as expected, and unforeseen difficulties and expenditures that may arise in connection with such integration;|
|●||the difficulty in successfully evaluating and utilizing the technology and features of the acquired businesses;|
|●||the difficulty in integrating potentially contrasting corporate cultures and management philosophies;|
|●||diversion of our management’s and personnel’s attention from our existing businesses and initiatives;|
|●||the difficulty in retaining employees following the acquisition;|
|●||the difficulties relating to achieving the expected synergies of the transaction;|
|●||the administrative penalties and criminal liabilities due to the non-compliance relating to the historical operations of the acquired businesses;|
|●||the incurrence of unforeseen obligations or liabilities, which may entail significant expense; and|
|●||the difficulty in integrating financial reporting of the acquired businesses, which may affect our ability to maintain effective controls and procedures over our consolidated financial reporting.|
Moreover, we may not be able to achieve our intended strategic goals or attain the synergies from the transaction. If we are unable to successfully integrate Finka, LESDO, and any future investment and manage the larger business, or are unable to achieve the expected benefits of the transaction, we may be required to record substantial impairment charges to goodwill. Any such negative development could have a material adverse effect on our business, reputation, results of operations and financial condition.
We may incur impairment charges for our intangible assets and goodwill.
Goodwill represents the excess of the purchase consideration over the fair value of the identifiable tangible and intangible assets acquired and liabilities assumed from the acquired entity as a result of our business combinations. We recorded goodwill of nil, nil and RMB196.0 million (US$30.0 million) as of December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively.
We are required to test our goodwill for impairment annually or more frequently if events or changes in circumstances indicate that they may be impaired. We may record impairment of goodwill acquired in connection with our acquisitions if the carrying value of our goodwill acquired in connection with our past or future acquisitions are determined to be impaired.
Our intangible assets consist primarily of intangible assets acquired through business combination. Intangible assets acquired through business acquisitions are recognized as assets separate from goodwill if they satisfy either the “contractual-legal” or “separability” criterion. Intangible assets are subsequently measured at cost less accumulated amortization and impairment. Intangible assets should be tested for recoverability whenever events or changes in circumstances indicate that the carrying amount of the asset group may not be recoverable. We cannot guarantee that we will not record greater impairment losses of intangible assets in the future. Material impairment of intangible assets could negatively affect our financial condition and results of operations.
The availability of our mobile apps in countries and regions with anti-LGBTQ public policies, negative sentiment toward the LGBTQ community or where homosexuality is illegal may subject our users to danger, and may lead to our application being blocked or banned, which could have an adverse effect on our reputation and business.
Our mobile apps are or may become available in certain countries and regions with anti-LGBTQ public policies, negative cultural, social or religious sentiment toward the LGBTQ community, and where homosexuality is illegal. Legal consequences for same-sex activities and relationships in countries and regions where same-sex relationships are illegal vary depending on the local law, with the most severe being the death penalty. In countries and regions with anti-LGBTQ public policies or negative sentiment toward the LGBTQ community but same-sex relationships are not explicitly illegal, governmental authorities generally have discretion to block LGBTQ platforms on broad moral grounds. For example, in early 2018, dozens of apps for the LGBTQ community, including Blued, were blocked by the Google app store upon the request of the Indonesian government. Finally, while we do not expect that any government that permits us to carry on our business activities will reverse that policy, we cannot guarantee that we will continue to be able to provide our services in any jurisdiction where we currently have legal authority to do so. If any of our users in these countries and regions are subjected to penalties as a result of using our products and services or if any of our products and services were to be banned in any of these countries and regions, we may be unable to retain existing users and attract new users, and we may be subject to heightened regulatory scrutiny, which would in turn have a material adverse effect on our reputation and business.
Because we store, process and use data, some of which contains sensitive personal information, we face concerns over the collection, improper use or disclosure of personal information, which could deter current and potential users from using our products and services, damage our reputation, face regulatory scrutiny, and in turn materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Concerns or claims about our practices with regard to the collection or use of personal information or other privacy-related matters, even if unfounded, could damage our reputation and results of operations.
The LGBTQ population generally have higher expectations about the protection of identity and privacy. If we fail to secure and conceal our users’ identity and protect their identity-specific data, including their geographic location, our users may be vulnerable to insults, harassment, blackmails or physical injuries, and their family, property and other assets may also be put at risk. As a result, we may be held liable for these incidents, and our users may feel insecure and cease to use our products and services. Our reputation may be seriously harmed and we may be unable to retain existing customers and attract new customers, which would in turn have a material adverse effect on our business and results of operations.
We face risks in protecting personal information and other data in and hosted on our system against attacks on our system or behaviors by third parties, including text-messaging service providers and mobile app data analytics firms who may come into possession of personal information and other data of our users, or improper use by our employees. Any systems failure or compromise of our data security or any misconduct by our business partners or our employees that results in the unauthorized access to or release of the data, photo or chat history of our users could significantly limit the adoption of our services, as well as harm our reputation and brand, result in litigation against us, liquidated and other damages, regulatory investigations and penalties, and we could be subject to material liability. We expect to continue expending significant resources to protect against security breaches. The risk that these types of events could seriously harm our business is likely to increase as we expand the scope of products and services we offer and as we increase the size of our user base.
Laws, regulations or policies concerning data protection, medical records and health data, user privacy, rights of publicity, distribution and protection of minors are continuously evolving, generally becoming more stringent and remain subject to significant changes both in the PRC and abroad. Many jurisdictions have in the past adopted, and may in the future adopt, new laws and regulations, or amendments to existing laws and regulations, affecting data protection, data privacy and/or information security, such as the General Data Protection Regulation, or the GDPR, adopted by the European Union that became fully effective on May 25, 2018. The GDPR imposes more stringent operational requirements for processors and controllers of personal data, including, for example, requiring expanded disclosures about how personal information is to be used, limitations on retention of information, mandatory data breach notification requirements, and higher standards for data controllers to demonstrate that they have obtained either valid consent or have another legal basis in place to justify their data processing activities. The GDPR further provides that European Union member states may make their own additional laws and regulations in relation to certain data processing activities. Under the GDPR, fines of up to €20 million or up to 4% of the total worldwide annual turnover of the preceding financial year, whichever is higher, may be assessed for non-compliance. In 2020, the Indian government banned certain mobile apps due to data insecurity and other reasons. Although such incidents had no material impacts on us, there can be no assurance that similar incidents will not happen in the future or our portfolio apps will not be banned in the future in India or other jurisdictions, and as a result, we cannot predict how such incidents will develop in the future and how they may impact our business, operations, reputation and financial condition. We may become subject to these and similar laws and regulations by virtue of having users who reside in these jurisdictions, even if we do not have a physical presence there. In addition, the interpretation and application of these laws or regulations are often uncertain and in flux. Our practice may become inconsistent with these laws and regulations, if so, in addition to the possibility of fines, this could result in an order requiring that we change our practices, which could have an adverse effect on our business and results of operations. Complying with new data laws and regulations could cause us to incur substantial costs or require us to change our business practices in a manner materially adverse to our business. See also “—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—Uncertainties in the interpretation and enforcement of Chinese laws and regulations could limit the legal protections available to you and us.”
Even if our practices are consistent with existing laws and regulations, we could be subject to enhanced regulatory scrutiny over our data privacy and security practices. Governmental and regulatory authorities could deem the sensitive personal information we handle as putting national security interests at risk. If relevant authorities were to reach similar conclusions about our company and intervene in our business activities, we could be forced to halt or reverse our expansion into certain countries and regions, we may lose existing users and our reputation may be negatively affected, which would in turn materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
If we fail to keep up with technological developments and evolving user expectations, we may fail to maintain or attract users and customers or generate revenues, and our business and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
We operate in markets characterized by rapidly changing technologies, evolving industry standards, new product and service announcements, new generations of product enhancements, and changing user expectations.
Accordingly, our performance and the ability to further monetize our products and services will depend on our ability to adapt to these rapidly changing technologies and industry standards, and our ability to continually innovate in response to both evolving demands of the marketplace and competitive services. There may be occasions when we may not be as responsive as our competitors in adapting our products and services to changing industry standards and the needs of our users. Historically, new features may be introduced by one player in the industry, and if they are perceived as attractive to users, they are often quickly copied and improved upon by others.
Introducing new technologies into our systems involves numerous technical challenges, substantial amounts of capital and personnel resources and often takes many months to complete. We intend to continue to devote resources to the development of additional technologies and services. We may not be able to effectively integrate new technologies on a timely basis or at all, which may decrease user satisfaction with our products and services. Such technologies, even if integrated, may not function as expected or may be unable to attract and retain a substantial number of users to use our platform. We also may not be able to protect such technology from being copied by our competitors. Our failure to keep pace with rapid technological changes may cause us to fail to retain or attract users or generate revenues, and could have a material and adverse effect on our business and results of operations.
We face risks related to natural disasters, health epidemics and other outbreaks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which could significantly disrupt our operations.
Our business could be adversely affected by the effects of natural disasters, other health epidemics or other public safety concerns. In recent years, there have been other breakouts of epidemics in China and globally. Our operations could be disrupted if one of our employees is suspected of having COVID-19, H1N1 flu, avian flu or another epidemic, since it could require our employees to be quarantined and/or our offices to be disinfected. In addition, our results of operations could be adversely affected to the extent that the outbreak harms the PRC economy in general and the mobile internet industry in particular.
The worldwide outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant disruptions in the global economy. Many countries have implemented a range of different measures, including but not limited to travel bans, closing of borders and military interventions, to help contain the spread of the virus. The accelerated spread of the virus globally has caused extreme volatility in global financial markets, including the repeated triggering of stock market “circuit breakers” intended to stem rapid declines in the stock markets of U.S. and many other countries. The global pandemic also has caused significant uncertainty and tensions in international relations, including relations between China and the U.S. To contain the spread of COVID-19, the Chinese government has taken certain emergency measures, including extension of the Lunar New Year holidays, implementation of travel bans, blockade of certain roads and closure of factories and businesses. These emergency measures have been significantly relaxed by the Chinese government as of the date of this annual report. However, there has been occasional outbreaks of COVID-19 in various cities in China, and the Chinese government may again take measures to keep COVID-19 in check.
Our regional headquarters is located in Beijing, and we also have offices in other cities of China which have been severely impacted by the outbreak of COVID-19. The outbreak has caused, and may continue to cause, companies in China and other affected regions, including us and certain of our business partners, to implement temporary adjustment of work schemes allowing employees to work from home and collaborate remotely. We have taken measures to reduce the impact of this outbreak, including adjusting our work and staffing arrangements, rescheduling certain offline events and monitoring our employees’ health. However, we might still experience lower work efficiency and productivity, which may adversely affect our service quality. This outbreak has also led to travel restrictions and various other types of interruptions to our employees, suppliers and business partners, such as talent agencies. Furthermore, we have cancelled or postponed various offline promotional events and community activities due to the outbreak, which have had an adverse impact on the implementation of our marketing and business expansion initiatives. In addition, the outbreak has had an adverse impact on the activity levels of users of our social networking services, as they are discouraged from engaging in offline social networking activities initiated through our social networking platform. On the other hand, however, COVID-19 has led to increased user activity levels with respect to our livestreaming services due to the various movement restrictions imposed in response to the outbreak, which have resulted in our users generally having more time and opportunities available for online entertainment and media consumption. Nevertheless, there is no guarantee that such a beneficial impact can be sustained upon further developments related to the outbreak. Furthermore, certain types of live streaming content, such as those involving group gatherings and outdoor activities, have been adversely affected as they have become impracticable as a result of the outbreak. As a result of any of the above developments, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected by COVID-19 pandemic for this year and beyond. The full extent to which this outbreak may impact our business, results of operations and financial condition will depend on future developments which are highly uncertain and cannot be predicted, including an economic slowdown in China and globally, new information which may emerge concerning the severity of this outbreak, and future actions we may take, if any, in response to the subsequent developments. In particular, as of the date of this annual report the outbreak have not stabilized globally and there is significant uncertainty about the progression and ultimate impact of the outbreak on the local economic and social conditions. Our business operations and strategic development plans with respect to the overseas markets may be materially and adversely affected as a result.
We are also vulnerable to natural disasters and other calamities. It is possible that we may be unable to recover certain data in the event of a server failure. There can be no assurance that any backup systems will be adequate to protect us from the effects of fire, floods, typhoons, earthquakes, power loss, telecommunications failures, break-ins, war, riots, terrorist attacks or similar events. Any of the foregoing events may give rise to server interruptions, breakdowns, system failures, technology platform failures or internet failures, which could cause the loss or corruption of data or malfunctions of software or hardware as well as adversely affect our ability to provide services on our platform.
In addition, our business could be affected by public health epidemics, such as the outbreak of avian influenza, severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, Zika virus, Ebola virus or other disease. If any of our employees is suspected of having contracted a contagious disease, we may be required to apply quarantines or suspend our operations. Furthermore, any future outbreak may restrict economic activities in affected regions, resulting in reduced business volume, temporary closure of our offices or otherwise disrupt our business operations and adversely affect our results of operations.
Any future outbreak of contagious diseases, extreme unexpected bad weather or natural disasters would adversely affect our offline events. If there is a recurrence of an outbreak of certain contagious diseases or natural disasters, the offline events operated by us may be cancelled. Government advices regarding, or restrictions on holding offline events and travels, in the event of an outbreak of any contagious disease or occurrence of natural disasters may have a material adverse effect on our business and operating results.
Our operating metrics are subject to inherent challenges in measurement, and real or perceived inaccuracies in those metrics may materially and adversely affect our business and operating results.
We regularly review metrics, including our daily and monthly active users, paying users, user next-month retention rate, and ARPPU, to evaluate growth trends, measure our performance and make strategic decisions. These metrics are calculated using internal company data and have not been validated by an independent third party. While these numbers are based on what we believe to be reasonable estimates for the applicable period of measurement, there are inherent challenges in measuring usage and user engagement across our large user base. We treat each account as a separate user for the purposes of calculating our active users, because it may not always be possible to identify people that have set up more than one account. Accordingly, the calculations of our active users may not accurately reflect the actual number of people using our mobile apps, including Blued, Finka and LESDO. We are also facing inherent challenges when assessing the geographic distribution of our user base because using their IP addresses and the country or currency in which they download apps or make purchases from Apple App store or Google Play Store may not reflect the actual geolocation of users. Errors or inaccuracies in our metrics could result in incorrect business decisions and inefficiencies. For example, if a significant understatement or overstatement of daily or monthly active users were to occur, we may expend resources to implement unnecessary business measures or fail to take required actions to attract a sufficient number of users to satisfy our growth strategies.
Our measures of operating metrics may differ from estimates published or adopted by third parties, including but not limited to business partners, market and investment research organizations (including short-selling research firms), investors and media, or from similarly titled metrics used by our competitors or other companies in the relevant industries due to differences in methodology and assumptions. If these third parties do not perceive our operating metrics to be accurate representations of operations, or if we discover material inaccuracies in our operating metrics, our brand value and reputation may be materially harmed, our users and business partners may be less willing to allocate their resources or spending to us, and we may face lawsuits or disputes in relation to the inaccuracies. As a result, our business and operating results may be materially and adversely affected.
Our business depends on our ability to maintain and scale our technology infrastructure. Any service disruption in our service could damage our reputation, result in a potential loss of users and decrease in user engagement, and seriously harm our business.
The popularity of our platform and our ability to further monetize user traffic depend on our ability to adapt to rapidly changing technologies as well as our ability to continually innovate in response to evolving user demands and expectations and intense market competition. Our ability to provide a superior user experience on our platform depends on the continuous and reliable operation of our IT systems and infrastructures.
As our user base and the volume and types of information shared on our platform continue grow, we will need an increasing amount of technology infrastructure, including network capacity and computing power, to continue to satisfy our users’ needs. For example, in China, almost all access to the internet is maintained through state-owned telecommunication operators under the administrative control and regulatory supervision of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, or the MIIT. Moreover, we primarily rely on a limited number of telecommunication service providers to provide us with data communications capacity through local telecommunications lines and internet data centers to host our servers. We have limited access to alternative networks or services in the event of disruptions, failures or other problems with internet infrastructure or the fixed telecommunications networks provided by telecommunication service providers. Web traffic in most countries around the world has experienced significant growth during the past few years. Effective bandwidth and server storage at internet data centers in large cities are scarce. With the expansion of our business, we may be required to upgrade our technology and infrastructure to keep up with the increasing traffic on our platform. There can be no assurance that the internet infrastructure and the fixed telecommunications networks in countries where we operate will be able to support the demands associated with the continued growth in internet usage. If we cannot increase our capacity to deliver our services, we may not be able to the increases in traffic we anticipate from our expanding user base, and the adoption of our services may be hindered, which could adversely impact our business and impede our growth.
In addition, we have no control over the costs of the services provided by telecommunication service providers. If the prices we pay for telecommunications and internet services rise significantly, our results of operations may be materially and adversely affected. Furthermore, if internet access fees or other charges to internet users increase, some users may be prevented from accessing the mobile internet and thus cause the growth of mobile internet users to decrease, which may in turn adversely affect our ability to continue to expand our user base.
Our IT systems and content delivery network are also vulnerable to damage or interruption as a result of fire, floods, earthquakes, power losses, telecommunication failures, undetected errors in software, computer viruses, hacking or other attempts to harm our IT systems. We have experienced, and may in the future experience, service disruptions, outages and other performance problems due to a variety of factors, including infrastructure changes and cybersecurity-related threats, if we fail to address these issues promptly and in a way satisfactory to our users, our user experience may be negatively affected, which in turn may have a material and adverse effect on our reputation and business.
We currently rely on UCloud and Qiniu for a majority of our computing, storage, bandwidth and other services both in and outside of China. Any transition of the cloud services currently provided by UCloud and Qiniu to other cloud providers would be difficult to implement and will cause us to incur significant time and expense. Any significant disruption of or interference with our use of UCloud and Qiniu would negatively impact our operation and our business would be seriously harmed. If our users or partners are not able to access our mobile platform through UCloud and Qiniu or encounter difficulties in doing so, we may lose users, partners or revenues. The level of service provided by UCloud and Qiniu may also impact the usage of and our users’ and partners’ satisfaction with our mobile platform and could seriously harm our business and reputation. If UCloud and Qiniu experience interruptions in service regularly or for a prolonged basis, or other similar issues, our business would be seriously harmed. Hosting costs will also increase as our user base and user engagement grows and may seriously harm our business if we are unable to grow our revenues faster than the cost of utilizing the services of UCloud, Qiniu or similar providers.
We cooperate with talent agencies to manage all of our broadcasters. If we are not able to maintain our relationship with talent agencies, our operations may be materially and adversely affected.
We cooperate with talent agencies to manage all broadcasters on our platform. Substantially all of our live streaming revenues are contributed by broadcasters managed by talent agencies. Cooperation with talent agencies increases our operational efficiency in terms of discovering, supporting and managing broadcasters in a more organized and structured manner, and turning amateur broadcasters to full-time broadcasters.
We pay talent agencies certain fees determined based on a percentage of revenue from virtual gift sales that are attributed to the broadcasters’ live streams. If the talent agencies fail to reach or maintain satisfactory cooperation arrangements with such broadcasters or ensure timely payments to the broadcasters, we may not be able to retain or attract broadcasters.
In addition, some talent agencies do not have exclusive cooperative relationships with us. If other platforms offer better incentives to these talent agencies, such talent agencies may choose to devote more of their resources to broadcasters who stream on the other platforms, or they may encourage their broadcasters to use or even enter into an exclusive agreement with other platforms, any of which could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We may fail to attract, cultivate and retain top broadcasters, which may negatively affect our user retention and our business and results of operations.
The size and engagement level of our user base as well as the quality of the live streaming content offered on our platform are critical to our success and are closely linked to the broadcasters who perform on our platform.
In addition to the most popular broadcasters on our platform, we must continue to attract and retain talented broadcasters in order to maintain and increase the amount of content on our platform and ensure the sustainable growth of our live streaming business. We must identify and acquire potential talented broadcasters and provide them with sufficient resources. We cooperate with talent agencies to recruit, manage, train and support our broadcasters, as well as conduct activities to promote new broadcasters. However, there can be no assurance that we can continue to maintain the same level of attractiveness to our broadcasters.
Broadcasters on our platform, including those who are subject to exclusivity provisions, may leave us for other platforms which may offer better services and terms than we do, or stop broadcasting for personal reasons. In addition, if talented and popular broadcasters cease to contribute content to our platform, or their live streams fail to attract users, we may experience a decline in user traffic and user engagement, which may have material and adverse impact on our results of operations, financial conditions and results of operation.
Increases in the costs of content on our platform, such as higher revenue sharing ratio with broadcasters through talent agencies, may have an adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our portfolio apps needs popular and attractive content to provide our users with engaging and satisfying viewing experiences, and the generation and sharing of such content is dependent on our ability to attract and retain our live broadcasters and talent agencies. We have a revenue sharing arrangement with our broadcasters through their talent agencies under which we share with them a portion of the revenues from the sales of virtual items on our platform. The absolute amounts and revenue percentages that we pay talent agencies may increase if our competitor platforms offer higher revenue sharing ratios with an intent to attract the most popular broadcasters on our platform. If we are not able to continue to retain our broadcasters and high quality content cannot be generated on our platform at costs that are commercially viable, our business, financial condition and results of operations would be adversely impacted. Furthermore, as our business and user base further expands, we may have to devote more resources in encouraging our broadcasters to produce more diverse content that meets the varied interests of our user base, which would increase the costs of content on our platform. There can be no assurance that these investments of resources will generate the returns we expect. If we are unable to generate sufficient revenues that outpace our increased content costs, our business, operating margins, financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
Our revenue growth is significantly dependent on paying users and revenue per paying user. If we fail to grow or maintain our paying users and increase revenue per paying user, our business operation and financial results may be materially and adversely affected.
Our revenues and results of operation depends on our ability to monetize our user base, to convert more users to paying users and to increase the spending of our paying users. Whether we can increase paying users and average revenue per paying user in a given period, or ARPPU, depends on many factors, and many of them are out of our control. For example, our users may be unwilling to pay for our products and services, we may fail to develop new products and services that are attractive enough to our existing paying users for them to pay, our paying users may have less disposable income as they need to meet financial obligations elsewhere, they may decide to no longer follow a particular broadcaster that they had supported financially, and overall worsening economic conditions can lower disposable income for all existing paying users, causing them to spend less on our platform. We expect that our business will continue to be significantly dependent on revenue collected from paying users in the near future. Any decline in the number of paying users or ARPPU may materially and adversely affect our results of operations.
We generate a portion of our revenues from advertising. If we fail to attract more advertisers to our platform or if advertisers are less willing to advertise with us, our revenues may be adversely affected.
Although we currently primarily rely on revenues generated from live streaming services, we also generate a portion of our revenues from advertising. In 2018, 2019 and 2020, we generated RMB32.9 million, RMB35.4 million and RMB45.5 million (US$7.0 million) of revenues from the sales of advertising, representing 6.6%, 4.7% and 4.4% of our total revenues for the same period. Our revenues from advertising partly depend on the continued development of the online advertising industry in China and abroad and advertisers’ willingness to allocate budgets to online advertising or advertising at all due to macroeconomic conditions and, more importantly, their willingness to allocate budgets to our platform that serves primarily the LGBTQ community. In addition, companies that decide to advertise or promote online may utilize more established methods or channels, such as more established internet portals or search engines, over advertising on our platform, due to their concern about user perception or otherwise. If the online advertising market does not continue to grow, or if we are unable to capture and retain a sufficient share of that market, our ability to increase our current level of advertising revenues and our profitability and prospects may be materially and adversely affected.
Furthermore, our core and long-term priority of optimizing user experience and satisfaction may limit our platform’s ability to generate revenues from advertising. For example, in order to provide our users with an uninterrupted user experience, we have limited the amount of advertising placement and inventory and designed functions to allow users to skip or shut down advertisements more conveniently. Our philosophy of putting our users first may not be in line with the interest of our advertisers, and may not result in the long-term benefits that we expect, in which case the success of our business and results of operations could be harmed.
Any non-compliance found on the advertisements shown on our online platform and online store may subject us to penalties and other administrative actions.
We are responsible for and are obligated to monitor the advertising content shown on our platform and online store to ensure that such content is true and accurate and in full compliance with applicable laws and regulations. In addition, for certain types of advertisements such as advertisements relating to pharmaceuticals and medical devices, review by relevant governmental authorities is required before such advertisements can be posted, and we are obligated to confirm that such review has been performed and approval has been obtained.
While we have made significant efforts to ensure that the advertisements shown on our platform are in full compliance with applicable PRC laws and regulations, there can be no assurance that all the content contained in such advertisements or offers is true and accurate as required by the advertising laws and regulations, especially given the uncertainty in the interpretation of these PRC laws and regulations. For example, we enter into agreements with third parties in relation to the distribution of pharmaceutical products of such third parties through our online store. If such arrangement is deemed as conducting advertising operations, we will be required to submit application to the applicable governmental authority for approval before displaying the pharmaceutical products on our online store. If we fail to do so, we may be ordered to cease dissemination of the advertisements, our advertising income on such products will be confiscated, and we will be subject to a fine of three to five times the advertising income. In addition, advertisements of prescription drugs are not allowed to be posted on the internet and social media. If the distribution of third-party prescription drugs on our online store are deemed as conducting advertising operations, our advertising income on such products will be confiscated, and we will be subject to a fine between RMB200,000 and RMB1,000,000, and in serious cases, we may be ordered by the relevant PRC governmental authorities to close the online store and terminate the business of online pharmacy, which may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects.
We are subject to risks inherent in marketing, distributing and selling pharmaceutical and other health and wellness products.
In connection with the health-related services offered on He Health, we are exposed to risks inherent in marketing, distributing and selling pharmaceutical and other health and wellness products in China.
The regulations of the internet health-related service are relatively new and evolving, and their interpretation and enforcement involve significant uncertainty. The pharmaceutical retail and wholesale industry in China is subject to extensive government regulation and supervision as well as monitoring by various government authorities. Certain other laws, rules and regulations may affect the pricing, demand and distribution of pharmaceutical products, such as those relating to procurement, prescription and dispensing of drugs by hospitals and other medical institutions, retail pharmacy, government funding for private healthcare and medical services, and the inclusion of products in the drugs catalogs for national basic medical insurance, on-the-job injury insurance and maternity insurance promulgated by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, or the MOHRSS. In addition, the pharmaceutical manufacturing, pharmaceutical distribution, pharmaceutical retail, healthcare services and medical device industries in China are each subject to extensive and changing government regulations and supervision. Any unfavorable regulatory changes in these industries may also increase our compliance burden and materially and adversely affect our business, profitability and prospects. However, as of the date of this annual report, none of the regulations or implementation rules regulating online drug sales have yet been promulgated and implemented, which may further introduce and impose certain conditions and restrictions to the online sale of drugs.
Due to the uncertainties in the regulatory environment of the industries in which we operate, there can be no assurance that we have obtained or applied for all the approvals, permits and licenses required for conducting our business and all activities in China, or that we would be able to maintain our existing approvals, permits and licenses or obtain any new approvals, permits and licenses if required by any future laws or regulations. We provide our users with the access to a wide variety of OTC and prescription drugs and nutritional supplements related to men’s health through our self-owned pharmacy operated by Shandong Youping Pharmacy Chain Co., Ltd. We may be subject to administrative penalties if we fail to comply fully with the legal formalities, and/or claims or customer complaints if any of our customers experience side effect or complications, any products sold through our platform are deemed or proven to be unsafe, ineffective or defective, or are found to contain illicit substances, we may also be subject to customer allegations, such as providing inadequate warnings or insufficient or misleading disclosures of side effects.
Any claims made against us could be costly to defend against, result in substantial damage awards against us and divert the attention of our management from our operations, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and reputation.
Our business may be materially and adversely affected by unfavorable perception of, or negative developments and news regarding, the family planning services we provided in the past and/or the ART industry as a whole.
In March 2021, we stopped from accepting new orders in the provision of our family planning services. However, we cannot assure you that our historical operation of the family planning services will not subject us to the risks described herein. We are aware that ART technology in general has been viewed negatively or opposed to by certain feminist groups. Certain ART services that are in demand among members of the LGBTQ community, including surrogacy, use of a gestational carrier, directed gamete donation and collection, and embryo donation and collection are currently prohibited in China. Any negative perception of ART or actual or potential actions by relevant governmental authorities or other parties against ART service providers may subject us for our past provision of family planning services to potential penalties and other legal liabilities, render potential customers reluctant to seek, or cause negative perception towards our company as a whole, thereby having an adverse effect on our brand, reputation and the other products and services provided by us.
From time to time, there has been negative news and publicity about the assisted reproductive industry, assisted reproductive medical facilities and/or medical professionals practicing in this industry. Any further negative news and publicity about the ART industry could amplify existing concerns and misperceptions about ART, and thus may have an adverse effect on our brand, reputation, and results of operations.
Uncertainties in laws and regulations applicable to the ART industry may materially and adversely affect our business.
In March 2021, we stopped from accepting new orders in the provision of our family planning services. However, we cannot assure you that our historical operation of the family planning services will not subject us to the risks described herein.
PRC laws provide that ART should only be carried out in approved and registered medical institutions in China. No entity or individual in the PRC should carry out ART or related intermediary services in the PRC without the approval of competent public health authority. Furthermore, any form of advertisement on unapproved ART services is prohibited in the PRC. From time to time, the governmental authorities in the PRC initiate campaigns against unapproved ART services and entities acting as intermediaries or providing advertising for such services, by strengthening the supervision of the publication of relevant information and advertisements on social media, and on investigating intermediaries for illegal ART activities.
As part of our family planning services that has been stopped from accepting new orders, our subsidiary in China, Bluebaby (Beijing) Medical Management& Consulting Ltd., or Bluebaby Beijing, provided consulting and administrative services related to ART such as translation, concierge and logistics. However, due to the lack of a clear and consistent official distinction between the consulting services and intermediary or advertising services in the PRC, there is no assurance that the family planning service provided in the past may not be deemed by the relevant PRC governmental authorities as intermediary or advertising service. The revenues generated from the family planning services represent approximately 1.2% and 0.9% of our total revenues in 2019 and 2020, respectively.
If the relevant PRC governmental authorities, including a PRC court, choose to scrutinize our family planning services prior to March 2021 and deem Bluebaby Beijing as an intermediary or providing advertising for unapproved ART services, the validity and enforceability of service agreements entered into between Bluebaby Beijing and its customers may be challenged and will be considered in light of the Civil Code of the PRC, or the Civil Code by taking several factors into consideration, such as ethical, legal and social impact. If the relevant PRC governmental authorities determine that we are providing intermediary services or advertising on unapproved ART services in the PRC, we may be subject to fines, confiscation of illegal gains, discontinuation or restriction of our operations in China, shutting down of all or a portion of our network or servers, takedown of our mobile application from the app store, revocation of business license of the applicable operating entity, operation limits, banning of the gateway to the ART consulting services, and other regulatory or enforcement actions, which may have a material and adverse effect on our business and results of operations. See also “Item 3. Key Information — D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Our Industry—Our business is subject to complex and evolving laws and regulations in various countries and regions where we have business. Many of these laws and regulations are subject to change and uncertain interpretation, and could result in claims, changes to our business practices, monetary penalties, increased cost of operations, or declines in user growth or engagement, or otherwise harm our business.”
Our past commercial dealings with ART service providers outside of China may also subject us to risks associated with compliance with local laws and regulations. For example, when we introduced customers to ART service providers outside of China, such as reproductive clinics and ancillary agencies, we received commissions from the ART service providers as referral fees. Local laws of certain jurisdictions where some of these ART service providers operate prohibit commission payments of this nature. Where prohibited by local laws, we ceased entering into new agreements containing commission payment arrangements since January 2020 to ensure compliance. However, we cannot assure you that we will not be subject to penalties or sanctions imposed by applicable law enforcement bodies, if they choose to scrutinize our commission arrangements prior to January 2020 in these jurisdictions despite collectively immaterial contribution of the payments to our revenue. If we become subject to such penalties and sanctions, our operations in these local jurisdictions may be materially disrupted.
Our business depends on the strength and perception of our brands within our addressable user community.
We operate our business under the main brand “BlueCity.” Our mobile app Blued has received wide recognition among the LGBTQ population in China and certain other geographic areas where we operate, such as India, Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. Starting as a website focused on public wellbeing and HIV prevention, BlueCity has transformed into a community providing a full suite of services empowering LGBTQ persons in all aspects of their daily lives. Over the years, our users have developed a unique culture that distinguishes us from players in the market. Our users come to and stay with our platform owing to their sense of belonging. We therefore believe that maintaining and promoting a healthy and respectful community culture is critical to retaining and expanding our user base. Our business and financial performance are highly dependent on the strength and market perception of our brand. A well-recognized brand is crucial to increasing our user base and, in turn, facilitating our efforts to monetize our products and services and enhancing our attractiveness to users, customers and business partners. From time to time, we conduct various marketing activities both online and offline to enhance our brand and to guide public perception of our brand and services. We may need to substantially increase our marketing expenditures in order to create and maintain brand awareness and brand loyalty, to influence public perception, to retain existing and to attract new users, customers and business partners as well as to promote our products and services. However, there can be no assurance that these activities will be successful or that we will be able to achieve the brand promotion effect we expect.
Since we operate in highly competitive industries, brand maintenance and enhancement directly affect our ability to maintain our market position. We must continuously exercise strict quality control of our platform to ensure that our brand image is not tarnished by substandard products or services. We must also promote and distinguish our platform from those of our competitors. If for any reason we are unable to maintain and enhance our brand recognition, or if we incur excessive expenses in this effort, our business, results of operations and prospect may be materially and adversely affected.
In addition, people may not fully comprehend the value of our platform, and there may be a misperception that our platform is used solely as a tool to start spontaneous relationships with strangers. Convincing potential new users, customers and business partners of the value of our services and our welcoming community culture is critical to increasing the number of our users, customers and business partners and to the success of our business.
If events occur that damage our reputation and brand, our ability to expand our user base and business partners may be impaired, and our business and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
Since our inception, we and our community have had to fend against social bias and public sentiment, and we are under continuous media scrutiny and governmental supervision. Unfavorable publicity regarding us, our service offerings, our business practices, or our users, business partners, shareholders or competitors and other industry players, even if factually incorrect or based on isolated incidents, could seriously harm our reputation and brand. Such negative publicity could also adversely affect the size, demographics, engagement and loyalty of our user base and result in decreased revenue or slower user growth rate, which could seriously harm our business. There can be no assurance that we will be able to address negative publicity about us, our management and/or our products or services to the satisfaction of our investors, users, customers and business partners. In the past there had been negative publicity about our company and the misuse of our services, which adversely affected our brand, public image and reputation, and there can be no assurance that there will not be similar negative publicity in the future. Such negative publicity, especially when it is directly addressed against us, may also require us to engage in defensive media campaigns. This may cause us to increase our marketing expenses and divert our management’s attention and may adversely impact our business and results of operations.
Our brand image, business and results of operations may be adversely impacted by user misconduct and misuse of our mobile apps including Blued, Finka and LESDO.
Our portfolio apps, Blued, Finka and LESDO, allow users to freely contact and communicate with other users and enable users and broadcasters to interact and engage in various other online activities. In China, we have required all users to complete real-name registration procedures pursuant to the notice jointly issued by National Office of Anti-Pornography and Illegal Publication and other five authorities in August 2018. See also “Item 4. Information on the Company— B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations Relating to Real-Name Registration System.” In countries other than China, our users are not required to complete real-name registration or verify their emails when registering and we are unable to verify the sources of the information posted by our users. In addition, since we have limited control over real-time and offline behavior of our broadcasters and users, our mobile apps may still be misused by users or broadcasters.
We have implemented control procedures on our mobile apps, Blued, Finka and LESDO, to detect and block illegal or inappropriate content and illegal or fraudulent activities conducted through the misuse of our platform, including inappropriate user profiles, messages and live streams. We may be required by relevant governmental authorities to report certain misbehaviors for further investigation if such misbehaviors are subject to judicial or police investigation. In addition, safety alerts will automatically pop up after a user sends a first message to another user, alerting the recipient to be wary of fraudulent activities, though this function has not yet been fully applied to all of our portfolio apps. We have also announced the rules of conduct for our broadcasters which are made available on the top of our live streaming page as a banner. Despite all these efforts, we may not be able to identify every incident of inappropriate stream and content, or prevent all such contents from being further disseminated. As a majority of the video and audio communications on our platform are conducted in real time, we cannot filter the content generated by our streamers and users on air before they are streamed on our platform. Therefore, it is possible that broadcasters and users may engage in illegal, obscene or incendiary conversations or activities, including distribution of inappropriate content or content that may be deemed unlawful under applicable laws and regulations on our platform. If any content on our platform is deemed illegal, obscene or incendiary, or if appropriate licenses and third-party consents have not been obtained, claims may be brought against us for torts, defamation, libel, negligence, copyright, patent or trademark infringement, other unlawful activities or other theories and claims based on the nature and content of the information delivered on or otherwise accessed through our platform. In response to allegations of illegal or inappropriate activities conducted through our platform, relevant governmental authorities may intervene and hold us liable for non-compliance with applicable laws and regulations concerning the dissemination of information on the internet and subject us to administrative penalties or other sanctions, such as requiring us to restrict or discontinue some of the features and services provided on our platform. In addition, there were cases where our users suffered or alleged to have suffered physical, financial or emotional harm following contact initiated on our platform, although we have not been subjected to civil lawsuits or other liabilities initiated by the affected users, there can be no assurance that if similar cases occur in the future, we would not face civil lawsuits or other liabilities initiated by the affected user. Our business and public perception of our brand may be materially and adversely affected. Defending any such actions could be costly and require significant time and attention of our management and other resources, which would materially and adversely affect our business.
If the content contained within videos, audios and other content formats on our platforms is deemed to violate any PRC laws or regulations, our business, financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
The PRC government and regulatory authorities have adopted regulations scrutinizing videos, audio and other content on the internet. Under these regulations, internet content providers are prohibited from posting or displaying internet content that, among other things, violates PRC laws and regulations, impairs the national dignity of China or the public interest, or is obscene, superstitious, fraudulent, violent or defamatory. Internet content providers are also prohibited from displaying content that may be deemed by relevant government authorities as “socially destabilizing” or leaking “state secrets” of China. Failure to comply with these requirements may result in revocation of licenses to provide internet content or other licenses, closure of the concerned websites and reputational harm. The website operator may also be held liable for such censored information displayed on or linked to their website. In January 2019, the China Netcasting Services Association, or the CNSA, issued the Regulations on Administration of Network Short Video Platforms, pursuant to which all content of a short video, including but not limited to its title, description, bullet-chats and comments, may be required to be reviewed in advance before the content is broadcasted. Furthermore, the number of content reviewers a platform is required to host should in principle be more than one one-thousandth of the number of short videos newly broadcasted on the platform per day. In January 2019, CNSA issued the Censoring Criteria for Network Short Video Content, which set forth certain details of content prohibited to be broadcasted, such as violence, pornography, gambling, terrorism, and other illegal or immoral content. The enactment of these regulations may significantly increase our compliance costs in recruiting additional content reviewers and training them to identify content violations timely and accurately. In November 2019, the CAC, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, or the MCT, and the National Radio and Television Administration, or the NRTA, jointly issued the Administrative Provisions on Online Audio-Visual Information Services, effective from January 1, 2020, which provide that online audio-visual information service providers are the principals responsible for managing the security of information content, and should, among other things, establish and improve their internal policies in relation to user registration, scrutiny of information publication, and information security management. Any failure to comply with these regulations may subject us to liability. In November 2020, the NRTA further promulgated the Notice on Strengthening the Administration of Online Show Live Broadcasting and E-commerce Live Streaming, or the Notice 78, which requests the live broadcasting platforms for online shows and e-commerce to strengthen positive value guidance and to prevent the spread of the trends of wealth flaunting, money worshiping and vulgarity. See also “Item 4. Information on the Company— B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations Relating to Online Transmission of Audio-Visual Programs.”
In particular, failure to identify and prevent illegal or inappropriate content from being uploaded on our platform may subject us to liability. To the extent that PRC regulatory authorities find any content on our platform objectionable, they may require us to limit or eliminate the dissemination of such content on our platform in the form of take-down orders, or cause our app to be removed from app stores.
In addition, PRC laws and regulations are subject to interpretation by relevant authorities, and it may not be possible to determine in all cases the types of content that could result in our liability as a platform operator. We also may face liability for copyright or trademark infringement, fraud and other claims based on the nature and content of the materials that are delivered, shared or otherwise accessed through or displayed on our platform. See also “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Our Industry—We have been and may be subject to intellectual property infringement claims or other allegations by third parties, which may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and prospects.”
Our business, financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected if we are unable to compete effectively.
We face competition from other platforms that provide products and services to the LGBTQ community, both domestically and internationally. In addition, our users face a vast array of choices in almost every aspect of our business and costs for users to switch between products are low, and users have a propensity to try new approaches whether to connect with people, enjoy live streams of broadcasters or consult other service providers for healthcare related matters. As a result, new products, entrants and business models are likely to continue to emerge. It is possible that a new product could gain rapid scale at the expense of existing brands through harnessing a new technology, creating more interesting content or other means. Many of our current and potential competitors have greater resources and broader global recognition and enjoy better competitive positions in certain geographical areas or user demographics that we currently serve or may serve in the future. These advantages could enable these competitors to offer products and services that are more appealing to users than our products and services or to respond more quickly and/or cost-effectively than us to new or changing opportunities. Similarly, existing players in an adjacent or downstream industries may choose to leverage their existing infrastructure and expand their services and compete with us to serve the LGBTQ community. If these players succeed in doing so, our business could be encroached upon by their entrance and adversely affected.
If we fail to compete effectively with our current or future competitors that may emerge, our overall user base and level of user engagement may decrease. We may be required to devote additional resources to further increase our brand recognition and promote our products and services, and such additional capital expenditure may adversely affect our profitability. Furthermore, if we are involved in disputes with any of our competitors that result in negative publicity to us, such disputes, regardless of their veracity or outcome, may harm our reputation or brand image and in turn lead to reduced number of users and advertisers. Any legal proceedings or measures we take in response to such disputes may be expensive, time-consuming and disruptive to our operations and divert our management’s attention.
We face risks associated with the misconduct of our employees, business partners and their employees and other related personnel.
We rely on our employees to maintain and operate our business and have implemented an internal code of conduct to guide the actions of our employees. However, we do not have control over the actions of our employees, and any misbehavior of our employees could materially and adversely affect our reputation and business. For example, if our employees download pirated software to their work computers or perform other unauthorized actions on our IT system, we may be exposed to security breach. Despite the security measures we have implemented, our systems and procedures and those of our third-party providers, may be vulnerable to security breaches, act of vandalism, software viruses, misplaced or lost data, programming or human errors or other similar events caused by our employees, our business partners and their employees and other related personnel, which may disrupt our delivery of services or expose the identities and confidential information of our users and others. If an actual or perceived breach of our security occurs, the market perception of the effectiveness of our security measures could be harmed, we may lose current and potential users and may be exposed to legal and financial risks, including legal claims, regulatory fines and penalties, which in turn could adversely affect our business, reputation and results of operations.
With respect to employees, we could also in the future face a wide variety of claims, including discrimination (for example, based on gender, age, race or religious affiliation), sexual harassment, privacy, labor and employment claims. Often these cases raise complex factual and legal issues, and the result of any such claims are inherently unpredictable. Claims against us, whether meritorious or not, could require significant amounts of management time and corporate resources to defend, could result in significant media coverage and negative publicity, and could be harmful to our reputation and our brand. If any of these claims were to be determined adversely to us, or if we were to enter settlement arrangements, we could be exposed to monetary damages or be forced to change the way in which we operate our business, which could have an adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We also rely on our business partners, including assisted reproductive medical facilities and third-party logistics and delivery companies to directly interact with and serve our users and customers, and their performance is directly associated with our brand. However, we do not directly supervise them in providing services to users and customers. Although we have implemented measures to select business partners with strong reputation and track record, we may not be able to successfully monitor, maintain and improve the quality of their services. In the event of any unsatisfactory performance by our business partners and/or their employees, we or our users may experience disruptions in content or services and our reputation may be materially and adversely affected. For example, we pay the compensation of broadcasters through talent agencies. If any talent agency fails to make payment to the broadcasters, they may lose trust in us and stop live streaming on our platform, they may also disclose such information during live streaming. As a result, our reputation may be materially and adversely affected, we may fail to retain and expand our users, and our business, financial condition and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
We organize and train volunteers for HIV prevention initiatives and conduct research studies jointly with third-party institutions. Although we have measures in place to regulate the activities of these volunteers or research institutions to prevent the unauthorized disclosure of private information, we do not directly supervise the volunteers or third-party institutions in how they use the private information. In the event of abusive use or unlawful disclosure of private information involved in this process, our reputation and brand may be seriously harmed, which may in turn materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Our results of operations are subject to fluctuations due to seasonality.
We experience seasonality in certain aspects of our business, reflecting seasonal fluctuations in internet usage. As a result, comparing our results of operations on a period-to-period basis may not be meaningful. For example, the number of active users tend to be higher during popular western or Chinese festivals such as Valentine’s Day, Christmas and the Chinese Valentine’s Day, whereas lower during long national holidays. Advertising revenues tend to be higher in June and November, which correlates with marketing campaigns and promotional activities conducted by top e-commerce platforms.
Overall, the historical seasonality of our business has been relatively mild due to our rapid growth but seasonality may increase in the future. Due to our limited operating history, the seasonal trends that we have experienced in the past may not apply to, or be indicative of, our future results of operations. Once our business development has reached a more matured stage, our financial results may reflect seasonal effects owing to the factors mentioned above.
We are dependent on app stores to disseminate our mobile apps.
We offer our social networking service through our mobile apps, including Blued, Finka and LESDO. Our mobile apps are offered via smartphone and tablet apps stores operated by third parties, such as Apple App Store and Google Play Store, which could suspend or terminate users’ access to our mobile apps, increase access costs or change the terms of access in a way that makes our apps less desirable or harder to access. As a result, our ability to expand our user base may be hindered if potential users experience difficulties in or are barred from accessing our mobile app.
While each of our mobile apps, including Blued, Finka and LESDO, is free to download from third-party app stores, we provide value-added services comprising a wide variety of additional social features and functions that users pay to use mainly in the form of subscription-based membership services and pay-per-use enhancement functions. We determine the prices at which these memberships services are sold and, in exchange for facilitating the purchase of these membership services through our mobile app to users who download our mobile app from these stores, and we pay Apple, as applicable, a certain share of the revenue we receive from these transactions As the distribution of our mobile application through app stores increases, and given the strict requirements to use the in-app payments systems tied into Apple’s, and to a lesser degree, Google’s distribution services, we may need to offset any further increase in fees charged by app stores by decreasing traditional marketing expenditures as a percentage of revenue, increasing user volume or monetization per user, or by engaging in other efforts to increase revenue or decrease costs generally, otherwise our business, financial condition and results of operations could be adversely affected.
User growth and engagement depend upon effective interoperation with mobile operating systems, hardware, networks, regulations and standards that we do not control.
Our mobile apps, including Blued, Finka and LESDO, must remain interoperable with popular mobile operating systems, such as iOS and Android, and related hardware. We have no control over these operating systems or hardware, and any changes to these systems or hardware that degrade the functionality of our products and services, or give preferential treatment to competitive products, could seriously harm usage of our mobile app. We plan to continue to introduce new products regularly and have experienced that it takes time to optimize such products to function with these operating systems and hardware, impacting the popularity of such products, and we expect this trend to continue.
To deliver high quality products and services, it is crucial that our products and services work well with a range of mobile technologies, systems, networks, regulations and standards that we do not control. In particular, any future changes to the iOS or Android operating systems may impact the accessibility, speed, functionality and other performance aspects of our products and services, which issues are likely to occur in the future from time to time. In addition, the adoption of any laws or regulations that adversely affect the growth, popularity or use of the internet, including laws governing internet neutrality, could decrease the demand for our products and increase our cost of doing business.
We may fail to successfully cultivate relationships with key industry participants or develop products and services that operate effectively with these technologies, systems, networks, regulations or standards. If it becomes more difficult for our users to access and use our app on their mobile devices, if our users choose not to access or use our app on their mobile devices, or if our users choose to use mobile products that do not offer access to our app, our user growth, retention, and engagement could be seriously harmed.
If the software used by our platform and internal systems contains undetected programming errors or vulnerabilities, our business could be adversely affected.
Our mobile platform and internal systems rely on software, including software developed or maintained internally and/or by third parties. In addition, our mobile platform and internal systems depend on the ability of such software to store, retrieve, process and manage immense amounts of data. The software on which we rely in the past has contained, and may now or in the future contain, undetected programming errors, bugs, or vulnerabilities. Some errors may only be discovered after the code has been released for external or internal use. Errors, vulnerabilities, or other design defects within the software on which we rely may result in a negative experience for users using our mobile platform, delay introductions of new features or enhancements, result in errors or compromise our ability to protect the data of our users and/or our intellectual property or lead to reductions in our ability to provide some or all of our services. In addition, any errors, bugs, vulnerabilities, or defects discovered in the software on which we rely, and any associated degradations or interruptions of service, could result in harm to our reputation and loss of users, which could adversely affect our business, financial condition and operation results.
Our business is sensitive to economic conditions. A severe or prolonged downturn in the global or Chinese economy could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
COVID-19 may continue to have a severe and prolonged negative impact on the Chinese and the global economy, including potential reductions in advertising and marketing customers’ budgets, which may affect our advertising revenues and financial performance generally. Whether this will lead to a prolonged economic downturn is still uncertain. Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, the Chinese and global macroeconomic environment faced numerous challenges. There is considerable uncertainty over the long-term effects of the expansionary monetary and fiscal policies which had been adopted by the central banks and financial authorities of some of the world’s leading economies, including the United States and China. Unrest, terrorist threats and the potential for war in the Middle East and elsewhere may increase market volatility across the globe. There have also been concerns about the relationship between China and other countries, including neighboring Asian countries, which may potentially have negative economic effects. In particular, there is significant uncertainty about the future relationship between the United States and China with respect to trade policies, treaties, government regulations and tariffs. The tensions between China, the U.S. and other countries have intensified especially since the outbreak of COVID-19. Economic conditions in China are sensitive to global economic conditions, as well as changes in domestic economic and political policies and the expected or perceived overall economic growth rate in China. Any severe or prolonged slowdown in the global or Chinese economies may materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
Our failure to protect our intellectual property rights may undermine our competitive position, and third-party infringements of our intellectual property rights may adversely affect our business.
We believe that our copyrights, trademarks and other intellectual property are essential to our success. See also “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects—C. Research and Development, Patents and Licenses, Etc.—Intellectual Property.” We have devoted considerable time and energy to the development and improvement of our mobile app and our system infrastructure.
We rely on a combination of copyright and trademarks laws, trade secrets protection and other contractual restrictions for the protection of the intellectual property used in our business. For example, we have generally registered and continue to apply to register and renew, or secure by contract where appropriate, trademarks and service marks as they are developed. Effective trademark protection may not be available or may not be sought in every country in which our products are made available, and contractual disputes may affect the use of marks governed by private contract. Although our contracts with users and business partners typically prohibit the unauthorized use of our brands, images, characters and other intellectual property rights, there can be no assurance that they will always comply with these terms. These agreements may not effectively prevent disclosure of confidential information and may not provide an adequate remedy in the event of unauthorized disclosure of confidential information. Although we enter into confidentiality agreements with our employees which also include intellectual property ownership provisions, these confidentiality agreements could be breached, we may not have adequate remedies for any breach, and our proprietary technology, know-how or other intellectual property could otherwise become known to third parties. In addition, third parties may independently discover trade secrets and proprietary information, limiting our ability to assert any trade secret rights against such parties.
While we actively take steps to protect our proprietary rights, such steps may not be adequate to prevent the infringement or misappropriation of our intellectual property. In addition, there can be no assurance that any of our trademark applications will ultimately proceed to registration or will result in registration with adequate scope for our business. Some of our pending applications or registrations may be successfully challenged or invalidated by others. If our trademark applications are not successful, we may have to use different marks for affected products or services, or seek to enter into arrangements with any third parties who may have prior registrations, applications or rights, which might not be available on commercially reasonable terms, if at all.
Implementation of intellectual property laws in China has historically been lacking, primarily because of ambiguities in the laws and difficulties in enforcement. Accordingly, intellectual property right protection in China may not be as effective as in other jurisdictions that have a more developed legal framework regulating intellectual property rights. Policing unauthorized use of our proprietary technology, trademarks and other intellectual property is difficult and expensive, and litigation may be necessary in the future to enforce our intellectual property rights. Future litigation could result in substantial costs and diversion of our resources, and could disrupt our business, as well as materially adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.
We have been and may be subject to intellectual property infringement claims or other allegations by third parties, which may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and prospects.
We have been and may in the future be subject to intellectual property infringement claims or other allegations by third party owners or right holders of technology patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets and website content for services we provide or for information or content displayed on, retrieved from or linked to, recorded, stored or made accessible on our platform, or otherwise distributed to our users, including in connection with the music, movies and videos played, recorded, stored or made accessible on our platform during live-streaming or advertisement display, which may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and prospects.
Under our agreements with talent agencies, we obtain the intellectual property arising from live-streaming on our platform. We have implemented internal control measures to ensure that the design of our platform and the content that is streamed on it does not infringe on valid intellectual property, such as patents and copyrights held by third parties. We also license certain intellectual properties from third parties to implement certain functions available on our platform.
However, companies in the internet-related industries are frequently involved in litigation based on allegations of infringement of intellectual property rights, unfair competition, invasion of privacy, defamation and other violations of other parties’ rights. The validity, enforceability and scope of protection of intellectual property rights in internet-related industries, particularly in China, are uncertain and still evolving. As we face increasing competition and as litigation becomes a more common method for resolving commercial disputes in China, we face a higher risk of being the subject of intellectual property infringement claims or other legal proceedings.
We allow users and broadcasters to upload text, pictures, audio, video and other content to our platform and users to download, share, link to and otherwise access other content on our platform. Under relevant PRC laws and regulations, online service providers, which provide storage space for users to upload works or links to other services or content, could be held liable for copyright infringement under various circumstances, including situations where the online service provider knows or should reasonably have known that the relevant content uploaded or linked to on its platform infringes upon the copyright of others and the online service provider failed to take necessary actions to prevent such infringement. We have procedures implemented to reduce the likelihood that content might be used without proper licenses or third-party consents. However, these procedures may not be effective in preventing the unauthorized posting or distribution of copyrighted content and we may be considered failing to take necessary actions against such infringement. Therefore, we may face liability for copyright or trademark infringement, defamation, unfair competition, libel, negligence, and other claims, or our portfolio apps may be disabled or taken down from app stores, based on the nature and content of the materials that are delivered, shared or otherwise accessed through our platform. For example, in December 2020, Blued app was temporarily taken down from Apple App Store due to the alleged infringements by our users.
Defending claims is costly and can impose a significant burden on our management and employees, and there can be no assurance that favorable final outcomes will be obtained in all cases. Such claims, even if they do not result in liability, may harm our reputation. Any resulting liability or expenses, or changes required to our platform to reduce the risk of future liability, may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and prospects.
Some of our products and services contain open source software, which may pose particular risk to our proprietary software, products and services in a manner that negatively affect our business.
We use open source software in some of our products and services and will continue to use open source software in the future. There is a risk that open source software licenses could be construed in a manner that imposes unanticipated conditions or restrictions on our ability to provide or distribute our products or services. Additionally, we may face claims from third parties claiming ownership of, or demanding release of, the open source software or derivative works that we developed using such software. These claims could result in litigation and could require us to make our software source code freely available, purchase a costly license or cease offering the implicated products or services unless and until we can re-engineer them to avoid infringement. This re-engineering process could require significant additional technology and development resources, and we may not be able to complete it successfully.
Furthermore, because any software source code we contribute to open source projects is publicly available, our ability to protect our intellectual property rights with respect to such software source code may be limited or lost entirely. As a result, we may be unable to prevent our competitors or others from using such software source code contributed by us.
Our business depends substantially on the continuing efforts of our executive officers and other key employees. If we lose their services, our business operations and growth prospects may be materially and adversely affected.
Our future success depends heavily on the continuing services of our executive officers and other key employees. In particular, we rely on the expertise, experience and vision of our founder and chief executive officer, Mr. Baoli Ma, as well as other members of our senior management team. If one or more of our executive officers or key employees were unable or unwilling to continue their services with us, we might not be able to replace them easily, in a timely manner, or at all. Competition for qualified talent is intense, there can be no assurance that we will be able to attract or retain qualified employees. As a result, our business may be materially and adversely affected, our financial condition and results of operations may be severely affected, and we may incur additional expenses to recruit, train and retain key personnel.
Moreover, if any of our executive officers or other key employees joins a competitor or forms a competing company, we may lose know-how, trade secrets, business partners, user base and market share. Each of our executive officers and key employees has entered into an employment agreement and a non-compete agreement. However, the non-competition agreements may be deemed invalid or unenforceable under PRC laws. If any dispute arises between our executive officers or key employees and us, there can be no assurance that we would be able to enforce these non-compete agreements in China, where these executive officers and key employees reside.
We are subject to risks relating to third-party online payment platforms.
Currently, we sell a significant portion of our products and services to our users through third-party online payment systems. In all these online payment transactions, secured transmission of confidential information such as paying users’ credit card numbers and personal information over public networks is essential to maintaining users’ trust and confidence on our platform.
We do not have control over the security measures of our third-party online payment vendors. Any security breaches of the online payment systems that we use could expose us to litigation and possible liability for failing to secure confidential customer information and could, among other things, damage our reputation and the perceived security of all of the online payment systems that we use. If a well-publicized internet or mobile network security breach were to occur, users may become reluctant to purchase our products and services even if the publicized breach did not involve payment systems or methods used by us. In addition, there may be billing software errors that would damage customer confidence in these online payment systems. If any of the above were to occur and damage our reputation or the perceived security of the online payment systems we use, we may lose paying users and users may be discouraged from purchasing our products and services, which may have a material adverse effect on our business.
In addition, there are currently only a limited number of reputable third-party online payment systems in China and certain other countries where we operate. If any of these major payment systems decides to cease to provide services to us, or significantly increase the percentage they charge us for using their payment systems for our products and services, our results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
Present or future strategic alliances or acquisitions may fail and our business, reputation and results of operations may be materially and adversely affected.
We may enter into strategic alliances, including joint ventures or minority equity investments, with various third parties to further our business purpose from time to time. These alliances could subject us to a number of risks, including risks associated with sharing proprietary information, non-performance by the third party and increased expenses in establishing new strategic alliances, any of which may materially and adversely affect our business. We may have limited ability to monitor or control the actions of these third parties and, to the extent any of these strategic third parties suffers negative publicity or harm to their reputation from events relating to their business, we may also suffer negative publicity or harm to our reputation by virtue of our association with any such third party.
In addition, if appropriate opportunities arise, we may acquire additional assets, products, technologies or businesses that are complementary to our existing business. Future acquisitions and the subsequent integration of new assets and businesses into our own would require significant attention from our management and could result in a diversion of resources from our existing business, which in turn could have an adverse effect on our business operations. Acquisitions may not achieve our goals and could be viewed negatively by users, advertisers, partners or investors. Acquisitions could result in the use of substantial amounts of cash, potentially dilutive issuances of equity securities, the occurrence of significant goodwill impairment charges, amortization expenses for other intangible assets and exposure to potential unknown liabilities of the acquired business. Moreover, the costs of identifying and consummating acquisitions may be significant. In addition to possible shareholders’ approval, we may also have to obtain approvals and licenses from relevant governmental authorities for the acquisitions and to comply with any applicable PRC laws and regulations, which could result in increased delay and costs. For example, in August 2020, we completed the acquisition of LESDO, a leading location-based social networking service provider targeting the lesbian community in China. In December 2020, we completed the acquisition of Finka, a leading gay social networking app in China targeting younger generations. While we believe these acquisitions serve to broaden our product offerings and extend our coverage of sub-groups of the LGBTQ population, we cannot guarantee that these transactions will achieve the strategic value that we have anticipated or assure that these transactions will not negatively impact our results of operations.
We may not have sufficient insurance to cover our business risks, so that any uninsured occurrence of business disruption may result in substantial costs to us and the diversion of our resources, which could have an adverse effect on our results of operations and financial condition.
We have obtained insurance to cover certain potential risks and liabilities, such as property all risks insurance to cover physical loss of or damage to the insured property and digital business, data protection insurance to cover losses due to privacy beach, confidentiality breach, cyber extortion threat, business interruption event, unavailability of our computer system, cyberattack or wrongful act, and D&O insurance to reduce our indemnification obligations towards our directors and officers for certain preset types of claims and liabilities asserted against them in relation to their exercise of duties for our company. However, we may not be able to acquire any insurance for certain types of risks such as business liability to cover our operations and our coverage may not be adequate to compensate for all losses that may occur, particularly with respect to loss of business or operations. Any business disruption, litigation, regulatory action, outbreak of epidemic disease or natural disaster could also expose us to substantial costs and diversion of resources. There can be no assurance that our insurance coverage is sufficient to prevent us from any loss or that we will be able to successfully claim our losses under our current insurance policies on a timely basis, or at all. If we incur any loss that is not covered by our insurance policies, or the compensated amount is significantly less than our actual loss, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
If we fail to implement and maintain an effective system of internal controls over financial reporting, we may be unable to accurately report our results of operations or prevent fraud or fail to meet our reporting obligations, and investor confidence and the market price of our ADSs may be materially and adversely affected.
We are not required to provide a report of management on our internal control over financial reporting, and our independent registered public accounting firm is not required to conduct an audit of our internal control over financial reporting due to a transition period established by rules of the Securities and Exchange Commission, or the SEC, for newly public companies. In auditing our consolidated financial statements for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2020, we and our independent registered public accounting firm identified one material weakness in our internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2020, in accordance with the standards established by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board of the United States (PCAOB).
As defined in the standards established by the PCAOB, a “material weakness” is a deficiency, or combination of deficiencies, in internal control over financial reporting, such that there is a reasonable possibility that a material misstatement of the annual or interim financial statements will not be prevented or detected on a timely basis. The material weakness identified related to our lack of sufficient financial reporting and accounting personnel with appropriate knowledge of U.S. GAAP and SEC reporting requirements to properly address complex U.S. GAAP accounting issues and related disclosures in accordance with U.S. GAAP and financial reporting requirements set forth by the SEC. The material weakness, if not timely remedied, may have led to significant misstatements in our consolidated financial statements in the future.
Following the identification of the material weakness and other control deficiencies, we have taken measures and plan to continue to take measures to remedy these control deficiencies. See “Item 15 Controls and Procedures—Internal Control Over Financial Reporting.” However, the implementation of these measures may not fully address these deficiencies in our internal control over financial reporting, and we cannot conclude that they have been fully remedied. Our failure to correct these control deficiencies or our failure to discover and address any other control deficiencies could result in inaccuracies in our financial statements and impair our ability to comply with applicable financial reporting requirements and related regulatory filings on a timely basis. Moreover, ineffective internal control over financial reporting could significantly hinder our ability to prevent fraud.
We are now a public company in the United States subject to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, or Section 404, requires that we include a report of management on our internal control over financial reporting in our annual report on Form 20-F beginning with our annual report for the fiscal year ending December 31, 2021. In addition, once we cease to be an “emerging growth company” as such term is defined in the JOBS Act, our independent registered public accounting firm must attest to and report on the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting. Our management may conclude that our internal control over financial reporting is not effective. Moreover, even if our management concludes that our internal control over financial reporting is effective, our independent registered public accounting firm, after conducting its own independent testing, may issue a report that is qualified if it is not satisfied with our internal controls or the level at which our controls are documented, designed, operated or reviewed, or if it interprets the relevant requirements differently from us. In addition, as we are now a public company, our reporting obligations may place a significant strain on our management, operational and financial resources and systems. We may be unable to timely complete our evaluation testing and any required remediation.
During the course of documenting and testing our internal control procedures, in order to satisfy the requirements of Section 404, we may identify other weaknesses and deficiencies in our internal control over financial reporting. In addition, if we fail to maintain the adequacy of our internal control over financial reporting, as these standards are modified, supplemented or amended from time to time, we may not be able to conclude on an ongoing basis that we have effective internal control over financial reporting in accordance with Section 404. If we fail to achieve and maintain an effective internal control environment, we could suffer material misstatements in our consolidated financial statements and fail to meet our reporting obligations, which would likely cause investors to lose confidence in our reported financial information. This could in turn limit our access to capital markets, harm our results of operations, and lead to a decline in the trading price of our ADSs. Additionally, ineffective internal control over financial reporting could expose us to increased risk of fraud or misuse of corporate assets and subject us to potential delisting from the stock exchange on which we list, regulatory investigations and civil or criminal sanctions. We may also be required to restate our financial statements from prior periods.
We have granted and expect to continue to grant share-based awards in the future under our share incentive plan, which may result in increased share-based compensation expenses.
We adopted the 2015 stock incentive plan, or the 2015 Plan, in 2015, and a share incentive plan, or the 2020 Plan, in 2020, for purposes of granting share-based compensation awards to employees, directors and consultants to incentivize their performance and align their interests with ours. We account for compensation costs for all share options using a fair-value based method and recognize expenses in our consolidated statements of comprehensive loss in accordance with U.S. GAAP. Under the 2015 Plan, we are authorized to grant options to purchase ordinary shares of our company and restricted share units to receive ordinary shares. Under the 2020 Plan, we are authorized to grant options and other types of awards. The maximum number of ordinary shares which may be issued pursuant to all awards under the 2015 Plan is 1,551,724. The maximum aggregate number of shares which may be issued pursuant to all awards under the 2020 Plan is 758,783. As of April 8, 2021, awards to purchase a total of 1,249,817 ordinary shares under the 2015 Plan and 755,783 ordinary shares under the 2020 Plan have been granted and are outstanding. For the year ended December 31, 2018, we recorded share-based compensation of RMB50.3 million as a result of our repurchase of unvested share options from our management with consideration of US$8.0 million in April 2018. We did not record share-based compensation expenses for the year ended December 31, 2019. We recorded share-based compensation of RMB186.9 million for 2020.
We believe the granting of share incentive awards is of significant importance to our ability to attract and retain employees, and we will continue to grant share incentive awards to employees in the future. As a result, our expenses associated with share-based compensation may increase, which may have an adverse effect on our results of operations.
We may be the subject of allegations, harassing or other detrimental conduct by third parties, which could harm our reputation and cause us to lose market share, users and customers.
We have been subject to allegations by third parties or purported former employees, negative internet postings and other adverse public exposure on our business, operations and staff compensation. We may also become the target of harassment or other detrimental conduct by third parties or disgruntled former or current employees. Such conduct may include complaints, anonymous or otherwise, to regulatory agencies, media or other organizations. We may be subject to government or regulatory investigations or other proceedings as a result of such third-party conduct and may be required to spend significant time and incur substantial costs to address such third-party conduct, and there is no assurance that we will be able to conclusively refute each of the allegations within a reasonable period of time, or at all. Additionally, allegations, directly or indirectly against us, may be posted on the internet, including social media platforms by anyone, whether or not related to us, on an anonymous basis. Any negative publicity on us or our management can be quickly and widely disseminated. Information posted may be inaccurate and adverse to us, and it may harm our reputation, business or prospects. The harm may be immediate without affording us an opportunity for redress or correction. Our reputation may be negatively affected as a result of the public dissemination of negative and potentially false information about our business and operations, which in turn may cause us to lose market share, users or customers.
Computer and mobile malware, viruses, hacking and phishing attacks, spamming and improper or illegal use of our platform may affect user experience, which could reduce our ability to attract users and advertisers and materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Computer and mobile malware, viruses, hacking and phishing attacks have become more prevalent in our industries, have occurred on our platform in the past, and may occur again in the future. Although it is difficult to determine what, if any, direct harm may result from an interruption or attack, any failure to maintain performance, reliability, security and availability of our products and technical infrastructure to the satisfaction of our users may seriously harm our reputation and our ability to retain existing users and attract new users.
In addition, spammers may use our platform to send targeted and untargeted spam messages to users, which may affect user experience. In spamming activities, spammers typically create multiple user accounts for the purpose of sending spam messages. Although we attempt to identify and delete accounts created for spamming purposes, we may not be able to effectively eliminate all spam messages from our platform in a timely fashion. Our actions to combat spam may also require diversion of significant time and focus of our engineering team from improving our products. As a result, our users may use our products less or stop using them altogether, and result in continuing operational costs to us.
We are subject to anti-corruption, anti-bribery, anti-money laundering, financial and economic sanctions and similar laws, and noncompliance with such laws can subject us to administrative, civil and criminal fines and penalties, collateral consequences, remedial measures and legal expenses, all of which could adversely affect our business, results of operations, financial condition and reputation.
We are subject to anti-corruption, anti-bribery, anti-money laundering, financial and economic sanctions and similar laws and regulations in various jurisdictions in which we conduct activities, including the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA, and other anti-corruption laws and regulations. Those laws generally prohibit us and our officers, directors, employees and business partners acting on our behalf, including agents, from corruptly offering, promising, authorizing or providing anything of value to a “foreign official” for the purposes of influencing official decisions or obtaining or retaining business or otherwise obtaining favorable treatment. The FCPA also requires companies to make and keep books, records and accounts that accurately reflect transactions and dispositions of assets and to maintain a system of adequate internal accounting controls. A violation of these laws or regulations could adversely affect our business, results of operations, financial condition and reputation.
We have adopted and implemented policies and procedures designed to ensure compliance by us and our directors, officers, employees, representatives, consultants, agents and business partners with applicable anti-corruption, anti-bribery, anti-money laundering, financial and economic sanctions and similar laws and regulations. However, our policies and procedures may not be sufficient and our directors, officers, employees, representatives, consultants, agents, business partners, and users could engage in improper conduct for which we may be held responsible.
Non-compliance with anti-corruption, anti-bribery, anti-money laundering or financial and economic sanctions laws could subject us to whistleblower complaints, adverse media coverage, investigations, and severe administrative, civil and criminal sanctions, collateral consequences, remedial measures and legal expenses, all of which could materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations, financial condition and reputation. In addition, changes in economic sanctions laws in the future could adversely impact our business and investments in our shares.
If we cannot maintain our corporate culture as we grow, we could lose the innovation, collaboration and focus that contribute to our business.
We believe that a critical component of our success is our corporate culture, we are comprised of a group of passionate team players, dedicated to bring value to the LGBTQ community. Powered by technological innovation and global expansion, we endeavor to become a platform where the LGBTQ community can find a sense of belonging and enjoy the high-quality products and services we provide. Any failure to preserve our culture could undermine our reputation in the marketplace and negatively impact our ability to retain existing customers and attract new customers, which would in turn jeopardize our future success.
We may need additional capital, and we may be unable to obtain such capital in a timely manner or on acceptable terms, or at all.
To pursue our business objectives and respond to business opportunities, challenges or unforeseen circumstances, including to improve our brand awareness, develop new services or further improve existing services, expand into new geographic areas and acquire complementary businesses and technologies, we may require additional capital from time to time. However, additional funds may not be available when we need them on reasonable terms, or at all. Our ability to obtain additional capital is subject to a variety of uncertainties, including:
|●||our market position and competitiveness in the LGBTQ-focused social, entertainment and health industries;|
|●||our future profitability, overall financial condition, results of operations and cash flows;|
|●||general market conditions for capital raising activities by online social networking and live streaming platforms and other internet companies in China; and|
|●||economic, political and other conditions in China and internationally.|
If we are unable to obtain additional capital in a timely manner or on acceptable terms, or at all, our ability to continue to pursue our business objectives and respond to business opportunities, challenges or unforeseen circumstances could be significantly limited, and our business, results of operations, financial condition and prospects could be materially and adversely affected. In addition, our future capital needs and other business reasons could require us to sell additional equity or debt securities or obtain a credit facility. The sale of additional equity or equity-linked securities could dilute our shareholders. The incurrence of indebtedness would result in increased debt service obligations and could result in operating and financing covenants that would restrict our operations or our ability to pay dividends to our shareholders.
Foreign currency exchange rate fluctuations could adversely affect our results of operations.
We operate in various international markets, primarily in various jurisdictions within Asia. In December 2020, more than 41.5% of our MAUs were outside of China. As we continue our efforts to monetize our user outside of China, we expect our revenues outside of China will continue to grow. We translate international revenues into RMB-denominated results of operations. As a result, we expect foreign currency exchange rate fluctuations will affect the period-over-period comparison of our results of operations as the results of our subsidiaries outside China are translated into RMB, our reporting currency. See “Item 11. Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk—Foreign Currency Exchange Risk.”
Historically, we have not hedged any foreign currency exposures. The continued growth and expansion of our international operations into new countries increases our exposure to foreign exchange rate fluctuations. Significant foreign exchange rate fluctuations, in the case of one currency or collectively with other currencies, could adversely affect our future results of operations.
Our ADSs may be delisted under the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act if the PCAOB is unable to inspect auditors who are located in China. The delisting of our ADSs, or the threat of their being delisted, may materially and adversely affect the value of your investment. Additionally, the inability of the PCAOB to conduct inspections deprives our investors with the benefits of such inspections.
The Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, or the HFCA Act, was enacted on December 18, 2020. The HFCA Act states if the SEC determines that we have filed audit reports issued by a registered public accounting firm that has not been subject to inspection by the PCAOB for three consecutive years beginning in 2021, the SEC shall prohibit our shares or ADSs from being traded on a national securities exchange or in the over the counter trading market in the U.S.
Our auditor, the independent registered public accounting firm that issues the audit report included elsewhere in this annual report, as an auditor of companies that are traded publicly in the United States and a firm registered with the PCAOB, is subject to laws in the United States pursuant to which the PCAOB conducts regular inspections to assess its compliance with the applicable professional standards. Since our auditor is located in China, a jurisdiction where the PCAOB has been unable to conduct inspections without the approval of the Chinese authorities, our auditor is currently not inspected by the PCAOB.
On March 24, 2021, the SEC adopted interim final rules relating to the implementation of certain disclosure and documentation requirements of the HFCA Act. We will be required to comply with these rules if the SEC identifies us as having a "non-inspection" year under a process to be subsequently established by the SEC. The SEC is assessing how to implement other requirements of the HFCA Act, including the listing and trading prohibition requirements described above.
The SEC may propose additional rules or guidance that could impact us if our auditor is not subject to PCAOB inspection. For example, on August 6, 2020, the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets, or the PWG, issued the Report on Protecting United States Investors from Significant Risks from Chinese Companies to the then President of the United States. This report recommended the SEC implement five recommendations to address companies from jurisdictions that do not provide the PCAOB with sufficient access to fulfil its statutory mandate. Some of the concepts of these recommendations were implemented with the enactment of the HFCA Act. However, some of the recommendations were more stringent than the HFCA Act. For example, if a company was not subject to PCAOB inspection, the report recommended that the transition period before a company would be delisted would end on January 1, 2022.
The SEC has announced that the SEC staff is preparing a consolidated proposal for the rules regarding the implementation of the HFCA Act and to address the recommendations in the PWG report. It is unclear when the SEC will complete its rulemaking and when such rules will become effective and what, if any, of the PWG recommendations will be adopted. The implications of this possible regulation in addition the requirements of the HFCA Act are uncertain. Such uncertainty could cause the market price of our ADSs to be materially and adversely affected, and our securities could be delisted or prohibited from being traded “over-the-counter” earlier than would be required by the HFCA Act. If our securities are unable to be listed on another securities exchange by then, such a delisting would substantially impair your ability to sell or purchase our ADSs when you wish to do so, and the risk and uncertainty associated with a potential delisting would have a negative impact on the price of our ADSs.
The PCAOB’s inability to conduct inspections in China prevents it from fully evaluating the audits and quality control procedures of our independent registered public accounting firm. As a result, we and investors in our ordinary shares are deprived of the benefits of such PCAOB inspections. The inability of the PCAOB to conduct inspections of auditors in China makes it more difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of our independent registered public accounting firm’s audit procedures or quality control procedures as compared to auditors outside of China that are subject to the PCAOB inspections, which could cause investors and potential investors in our stock to lose confidence in our audit procedures and reported financial information and the quality of our financial statements.
In May 2013, the PCAOB announced that it had entered into a Memorandum of Understanding on Enforcement Cooperation with the CSRC and the PRC Ministry of Finance, which establishes a cooperative framework between the parties for the production and exchange of audit documents relevant to investigations undertaken by the PCAOB in the PRC or by the CSRC or the PRC Ministry of Finance in the United States. The PCAOB continues to be in discussions with the CSRC and the PRC Ministry of Finance to permit joint inspections in the PRC of audit firms that are registered with the PCAOB and audit Chinese companies that trade on U.S. exchanges.
Proceedings instituted by the SEC against certain PRC-based accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm, could result in financial statements being determined to not be in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act.
In December 2012, the SEC brought administrative proceedings against the Big Four PRC-based accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm, alleging that these firms had violated U.S. securities laws and the SEC’s rules and regulations thereunder by failing to provide to the SEC the firms’ audit work papers with respect to certain other PRC-based companies that are publicly traded in the United States.
On January 22, 2014, the administrative law judge, or the ALJ, presiding over the matter rendered an initial decision that each of the firms had violated the SEC’s rules of practice by failing to produce audit papers and other documents to the SEC. The initial decision censured each of the firms and barred them from practicing before the SEC for a period of six months.
On February 6, 2015, the four China-based accounting firms each agreed to a censure and to pay a fine to the SEC to settle the dispute and avoid suspension of their ability to practice before the SEC and audit U.S.-listed companies. The settlement required the firms to follow detailed procedures and to seek to provide the SEC with access to Chinese firms’ audit documents via the CSRC. Under the terms of the settlement, the underlying proceeding against the four China-based accounting firms was deemed dismissed with prejudice four years after entry of the settlement. The four-year mark occurred on February 6, 2019. While we cannot predict if the SEC will further challenge the four China-based accounting firms’ compliance with U.S. law in connection with U.S. regulatory requests for audit work papers or if the results of such a challenge would result in the SEC imposing penalties such as suspensions, if the accounting firms are subject to additional remedial measures, our ability to file our financial statements in compliance with the SEC requirements could be impacted. A determination that we have not timely filed financial statements, our financial statements could be determined not to be in compliance with the SEC requirements could ultimately lead to the delisting of our ordinary shares from Nasdaq or the termination of the registration of our ordinary shares under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, or both, which would substantially reduce or effectively terminate the trading of our ADSs in the United States.
Any financial or economic crisis, or perceived threat of such a crisis may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
The global financial markets experienced significant disruptions in 2008 and the United States, European and other economies went into recession. The recovery from the lows of 2008 and 2009 was uneven and the global financial markets are facing new challenges, including the escalation of the European sovereign debt crisis since 2011, the hostilities in the Ukraine, the end of quantitative easing by the U.S. Federal Reserve and the economic slowdown in the Eurozone in 2014. It is unclear whether these challenges will be contained and what effects they each may have. There is considerable uncertainty over the long-term effects of the expansionary monetary and fiscal policies that have been adopted by the central banks and financial authorities of some of the world’s leading economies, including China’s. Recently there have been signs that the rate of China’s and global economic growth is declining. Any prolonged slowdown in global economic development might lead to tighter credit markets, increased market volatility, sudden drops in business and dramatic changes in business.
Cayman Islands economic substance requirements may have an effect on our business and operations.
Pursuant to the International Tax Cooperation (Economic Substance) Act (Revised) of the Cayman Islands, or the ES Act, that came into force on January 1, 2019, a “relevant entity” is required to satisfy the economic substance test set out in the ES Act. A “relevant entity” includes an exempted company incorporated in the Cayman Islands as is our company. Based on the current interpretation of the ES Act, we believe that our company is a pure equity holding company since it only holds equity participations in other entities and only earns dividends and capital gains. Accordingly, for so long as our company is a “pure equity holding company”, it is only subject to the minimum substance requirements, which require us to (1) comply with all applicable filing requirements under the Companies Act, Cap. 22 (Act 3 of 1961, as consolidated and revised) of the Cayman Islands; and (2) have adequate human resources and adequate premises in the Cayman Islands for holding and managing equity participations in other entities. However, there can be no assurance that we will not be subject to more requirements under the ES Act. Uncertainties over the interpretation and implementation of the ES Act may have an adverse impact on our business and operations.
Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure
If the PRC government finds that the agreements that establish the structure for operating some of our operations in China do not comply with PRC regulations relating to the relevant industries, or if these regulations or the interpretation of existing regulations change in the future, we could be subject to severe penalties or be forced to relinquish our interests in those operations.
Foreign ownership of certain parts of our businesses, including value-added telecommunications services, is subject to restrictions under current PRC laws and regulations. For example, foreign investors are not allowed to own more than 50% of the equity interests in a value-added telecommunication service provider (excluding e-commerce, domestic multi-party communication, store-and-forward, and call center) and any such foreign investor must have experience in providing value-added telecommunications services overseas and maintain a good track record, and foreign investors are prohibited from engaging in the internet audio-video program service and internet culture operation (except for music) in accordance with Special Management Measures for the Market Entry of Foreign Investment (Negative List) (2020 Version), or the 2020 Negative List.
We are a Cayman Islands company and our WFOE is considered foreign-invested enterprises. Accordingly, our WFOE is not eligible to operate value-added telecommunication business, internet video, online advertising services and other businesses which foreign-owned companies are prohibited or restricted from conducting in China. As a result, we conduct such business activities through our VIE and its subsidiaries. Our VIE holds an ICP License for internet information service (excluding news, publication, education, medical and healthcare, drug and medical instruments, electronic publication services), and an internet culture operation license for operating music products and shows. Each of Mr. Baoli Ma, our founder, chairman and chief executive officer, and Mr. Changyou Ma, a family member of our founder, holds 99.15% and 0.85% equity interests in our VIE, respectively. Our WFOE has entered into a series of contractual arrangements with our VIE and its shareholders, which enables us to:
|●||exercise effective control over our VIE;|
|●||receive substantially all of the economic benefits of our VIE; and|
|●||have an exclusive option to purchase all or part of the equity interests in our VIE when and to the extent permitted by PRC law.|
As a result of these contractual arrangements, we have control over and are the primary beneficiary of our VIE and hence consolidate its financial results and its subsidiaries into our consolidated financial statements under U.S. GAAP. For a detailed discussion of these contractual arrangements, see “Item 4. Information on the Company—C. Organizational Structure.”
In the opinion of King & Wood Mallesons, our PRC legal counsel, (i) the ownership structures of our WFOE and our VIE in China are not in violation of PRC laws and regulations currently in effect; and (ii) the contractual arrangements between our WFOE, our VIE and its shareholders governed by PRC law are legal, valid, binding and enforceable against each party thereto in accordance with their terms and applicable PRC laws and regulations currently in effect. However, our PRC legal counsel has also advised us that there are substantial uncertainties regarding the interpretation and application of current and future PRC laws, regulations and rules; accordingly, the PRC regulatory authorities may take a view that is contrary to the opinion of our PRC legal counsel. It is uncertain whether any new PRC laws or regulations relating to variable interest entity structures will be adopted or if adopted, what they would provide. If we or our VIE are found to be in violation of any existing or future PRC laws or regulations, or fail to obtain or maintain any of the required permits or approvals, the relevant PRC regulatory authorities would have broad discretion to take action in dealing with such violations or failures, including:
|●||revoking the business licenses and/or operating licenses of such entities;|
|●||discontinuing or placing restrictions or onerous conditions on our operations;|
|●||imposing fines, confiscating the income from our WFOE or our VIE, or imposing other requirements with which we or our VIE may not be able to comply;|
|●||requiring us to restructure our ownership structure or operations, including terminating the contractual arrangements with our VIE and deregistering the equity pledges of our VIE, which in turn would affect our ability to consolidate, derive economic interests from, or exert effective control over our VIE, or imposing restrictions on our right to collect revenues;|
|●||shutting down our servers or blocking our app/websites;|
|●||imposing additional conditions or requirements with which we may not be able to comply;|
|●||requiring us to restructure the operations in such a way as to compel us to establish a new enterprise, re-apply for the necessary licenses or relocate our businesses, staff and assets; or|
|●||restricting or prohibiting our use of the proceeds of the initial public offering to finance our business and operations in China.|
The imposition of any of these penalties would result in a material and adverse effect on our ability to conduct our business. In addition, it is unclear what impact the PRC government actions would have on us and on our ability to consolidate the financial results of our VIE in our consolidated financial statements, if the PRC governmental authorities were to find our legal structure and contractual arrangements to be in violation of PRC laws and regulations. If the imposition of any of these government actions causes us to lose our right to direct the activities of our VIE or our right to receive substantially all the economic benefits and residual returns from our VIE and we are not able to restructure our ownership structure and operations in a satisfactory manner, we would no longer be able to consolidate the financial results of our VIE in our consolidated financial statements. Either of these results, or any other significant penalties that might be imposed on us in this event, would have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
Furthermore, it is uncertain whether any new PRC laws, rules or regulations relating to contractual arrangements will be adopted or if adopted, what they would provide. The National People’s Congress promulgated the Foreign Investment Law on March, 15, 2019, which came into effect on January 1, 2020. The Foreign Investment Law does not touch upon the relevant concepts and regulatory regimes that were historically suggested for the regulation of VIE structures, and thus this regulatory topic remains unclear under the Foreign Investment Law. Since the Foreign Investment Law is new, there are substantial uncertainties exist with respect to its implementation and interpretation and it is also possible that variable interest entities will be deemed as foreign invested enterprises and be subject to restrictions in the future. Such restrictions may cause interruptions to our operations, products and services and may incur additional compliance cost, which may in turn materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Any of these events could cause significant disruption to our business operations and severely damage our reputation, which would in turn materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. If occurrences of any of these events results in our inability to direct the activities of our consolidated affiliated entities in China that most significantly impact their economic performance, and/or our failure to receive the economic benefits from our consolidated affiliated entities, we may not be able to consolidate the entity in our consolidated financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP.
Uncertainties exist with respect to the interpretation and implementation of the newly enacted PRC Foreign Investment Law and how it may impact the viability of our current corporate structure, corporate governance and business operations.
On March 15, 2019, the National People’s Congress approved the Foreign Investment Law and the State Council approved the Regulation on Implementing the Foreign Investment Law (the “Implementation Regulations”) on December 12, 2019, effective from January 1, 2020, which replaced the trio of existing laws regulating foreign investment in China, namely, the Sino-foreign Equity Joint Venture Enterprise Law, the Sino-foreign Cooperative Joint Venture Enterprise Law and the Wholly Foreign-invested Enterprise Law, together with their implementation rules and ancillary regulations. The Supreme People’s Court of China issued a judicial interpretation on the Foreign Investment Law on December 27, 2019, effective from January 1, 2020, to ensure fair and efficient implementation of the Foreign Investment Law. See “Item 4. Information on the Company—B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulations Relating to Foreign Investment” for further details. The Foreign Investment Law embodies an expected PRC regulatory trend to rationalize its foreign investment regulatory regime in line with prevailing international practice and the legislative efforts to unify the corporate legal requirements for both foreign and domestic investments.
However, since it is relatively new, uncertainties still exist in relation to its interpretation. For instance, under the Foreign Investment Law, “foreign investment” refers to the investment activities directly or indirectly conducted by foreign individuals, enterprises or other entities in China. Though it does not explicitly classify contractual arrangements as a form of foreign investment, there is no assurance that foreign investment via contractual arrangement would not be interpreted as a type of indirect foreign investment activities under the definition in the future. In addition, the definition contains a catch-all provision which includes investments made by foreign investors through means stipulated in laws or administrative regulations or other methods prescribed by the State Council. Therefore, it still leaves leeway for future laws, administrative regulations or provisions promulgated by the Stale Council to provide for contractual arrangements as a form of foreign investment. In any of these cases, it will be uncertain whether our contractual arrangements will be deemed to be in violation of the market access requirements for foreign investment under the PRC laws and regulations. Furthermore, if future laws, administrative regulations or provisions prescribed by the State Council mandate further actions to be taken by companies with respect to existing contractual arrangements, we may face substantial uncertainties as to whether we can complete such actions in a timely manner, or at all. Failure to take timely and appropriate measures to cope with any of these or similar regulatory compliance challenges could materially and adversely affect our current corporate structure, corporate governance and business operations.
We rely on contractual arrangements with our VIE and its shareholders for a portion of our business operations, which may not be as effective as direct ownership in providing operational control.
Our VIE contributed a portion of our consolidated total revenues for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. We have relied and expect to continue to rely on contractual arrangements with our VIE and its shareholders to conduct our business. For a description of these contractual arrangements, see “Item 4. Information on the Company—C. Organizational Structure.” These contractual arrangements may not be as effective as direct ownership in providing us with control over our VIE. For example, our VIE and its shareholders could breach their contractual arrangements with us by, among other things, failing to conduct their operations in an acceptable manner or taking other actions that are detrimental to our interests.
If we had direct ownership of our VIE, we would be able to exercise our rights as a shareholder to effect changes in the board of directors of our VIE, which in turn could effect changes, subject to any applicable fiduciary obligations, at the management level. However, under the current contractual arrangements, we rely on the performance by our VIE and its shareholders of their obligations under the contracts to exercise control over our VIE. The shareholders of our VIE may not act in the best interests of our company or may not perform their obligations under these contracts. Such risks exist throughout the period in which we intend to operate our business through the contractual arrangements with our VIE. If any dispute relating to these contracts remains unresolved, we will have to enforce our rights under these contracts through the operations of PRC law and courts and therefore will be subject to uncertainties in the PRC legal system. See “—Any failure by our VIE or its shareholders to perform their obligations under our contractual arrangements with them would have a material and adverse effect on our business.” Therefore, our contractual arrangements with our VIE may not be as effective in ensuring our control over the relevant portion of our business operations as direct ownership would be.
Any failure by our VIE or its shareholders to perform their obligations under our contractual arrangements with them would have a material and adverse effect on our business.
If our VIE or its shareholders fail to perform their respective obligations under the contractual arrangements, we may have to incur substantial costs and expend additional resources to enforce such arrangements. We may also have to rely on legal remedies under PRC law, including seeking specific performance or injunctive relief, and claiming damages, which may be unsuccessful. For example, if the shareholders of our VIE were to refuse to transfer their equity interest in our VIE to us or our designee when we exercise the purchase option pursuant to these contractual arrangements, or if they were otherwise to act in bad faith toward us, we may have to take legal actions to compel them to perform their contractual obligations.
All of the agreements under our contractual arrangements are governed by PRC law and provide for the resolution of disputes through arbitration in China. Accordingly, these contracts would be interpreted in accordance with PRC law and any disputes would be resolved in accordance with PRC legal procedures. The legal system in China is not as developed as in some other jurisdictions, such as the United States. As a result, uncertainties in the PRC legal system could limit our ability to enforce these contractual arrangements. See “Risks Related to Doing Business in China—Uncertainties in the interpretation and enforcement of Chinese laws and regulations could limit the legal protections available to you and us.” Meanwhile, there are very few precedents and little formal guidance as to how contractual arrangements in the context of a variable interest entity should be interpreted or enforced under PRC law, and as a result it may be difficult to predict how an arbitration panel would view such contractual arrangements. Additionally, under PRC law, rulings by arbitrators are final, parties cannot appeal the arbitration results in courts, and if the losing parties fail to carry out the arbitration awards within a prescribed time limit, the prevailing parties may only enforce the arbitration awards in PRC courts through arbitration award recognition proceedings, which would require additional expenses and delay.
Our VIE holds our ICP License for internet information service (excluding news, publication, education, medical and healthcare, drug and medical instruments, electronic publication services), an internet culture operation license for operating music products and shows, a radio and television programs production and management license for animations, feature films, TV variety shows (excluding political news and similar features and columns). In the event we are unable to enforce our contractual arrangements, we may not be able to exert effective control over our VIE, and our ability to conduct these businesses may be negatively affected.
The shareholders of our VIE may have potential conflicts of interest with us, which may materially and adversely affect our business and financial condition.
The shareholders of our VIE may have potential conflicts of interest with us. For example, Mr. Baoli Ma is one of the shareholders of our VIE. Mr. Baoli Ma is also our founder, chairman and chief executive officer. Any shareholder of our VIE may breach, or cause our VIE to breach, or refuse to renew, the existing contractual arrangements we have with any of them and our VIE, which would have a material and adverse effect on our ability to effectively control our VIE and receive substantially all the economic benefits from them. For example, the shareholders may be able to cause our agreements with our VIE to be performed in a manner adverse to us by, among other things, failing to remit payments due under the contractual arrangements to us on a timely basis. There can be no assurance that when conflicts of interest arise, any or all of these shareholders will act in the best interests of our company or such conflicts will be resolved in our favor.
Currently, we do not have any arrangements to address potential conflicts of interest between these shareholders and our company, except that we could exercise our purchase option under the exclusive option agreements with these shareholders to request them to transfer all of their equity interests in the VIE to a PRC entity or individual designated by us, to the extent permitted by PRC law. For individuals who are also our directors and officers, we rely on them to abide by the laws of the Cayman Islands, which provide that directors and officers owe a fiduciary duty to the company that requires them to act in good faith and in what they believe to be the best interests of the company and not to use their position for personal gains. The shareholders of our VIE have executed shareholders’ voting rights proxy agreement to appoint our WFOE or a person designated by our WFOE to vote on their behalf and exercise voting rights as shareholders of our VIE. If we cannot resolve any conflict of interest or dispute between us and the shareholders of our VIE, we would have to rely on legal proceedings, which could result in disruption of our business and subject us to substantial uncertainty as to the outcome of any such legal proceedings.
The shareholders of our VIE may be involved in personal disputes with third parties or other incidents that may have an adverse effect on their respective equity interests in the relevant VIE and the validity or enforceability of our contractual arrangements with the relevant entity and its shareholders. For example, in the event that any of the shareholders of our VIE divorces his spouse, the spouse may claim that the equity interest of the relevant VIE held by such shareholder is part of their community property and should be divided between such shareholder and his or her spouse. If such claim is supported by the court, the relevant equity interest may be obtained by the shareholder’s spouse or another third party who is not subject to obligations under our contractual arrangements, which could result in a loss of the effective control over the relevant VIE by us. Similarly, if any of the equity interests of our VIE is inherited by a third party with whom the current contractual arrangements are not binding, we could lose our control over the relevant VIE or have to maintain such control by incurring unpredictable costs, which could cause significant disruption to our business and operations and harm our financial condition and results of operations.
Contractual arrangements in relation to our VIE may be subject to scrutiny by the PRC tax authorities and they may determine that we or our VIE owe additional taxes, which could negatively affected our financial condition and the value of your investment.
Under applicable PRC laws and regulations, arrangements and transactions among related parties may be subject to audit or challenge by the PRC tax authorities. We could face material and adverse tax consequences if the PRC tax authorities determine that the VIE contractual arrangements were not entered into on an arm’s-length basis in such a way as to result in an impermissible reduction in taxes under applicable PRC laws, rules and regulations, and adjust the income of our VIE in the form of a transfer pricing adjustment. A transfer pricing adjustment could, among other things, result in a reduction of expense deductions recorded by our VIE for PRC tax purposes, which could in turn increase its tax liabilities. In addition, the PRC tax authorities may impose punitive interest on our VIE for the adjusted but unpaid taxes at the rate of 5% over the basic RMB lending rate published by the People’s Bank of China for a period according to the applicable regulations. Our financial position could be materially and adversely affected if our VIE’s tax liabilities increase or if it is required to pay punitive interest.
We may lose the ability to use and enjoy assets held by our VIE that are material to the operation of certain portion of our business if the VIE goes bankrupt or become subject to a dissolution or liquidation proceeding.
As part of our contractual arrangements with our VIE, our VIE and its subsidiaries hold certain assets that are material to the operation of certain portion of our business. If our VIE goes bankrupt and all or part of its assets become subject to liens or rights of third-party creditors, we may be unable to continue some or all of our business activities, which could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations. Under the contractual arrangements, neither our VIE nor the shareholders of our VIE may not, in any manner, sell, transfer, mortgage or dispose of their assets or legal or beneficial interests in the business without our prior consent. If our VIE undergoes a voluntary or involuntary liquidation proceeding, independent third-party creditors may claim rights to some or all of these assets, thereby hindering our ability to operate our business, which could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
If the chops of our WFOE and our VIE are not kept safely, are stolen or are used by unauthorized persons or for unauthorized purposes, the corporate governance of these entities could be severely and adversely compromised.
In China, a company chop or seal serves as the legal representation of the company towards third parties even when unaccompanied by a signature. Each legally registered company in China is required to maintain a company chop, which must be registered with the local Public Security Bureau. In addition to this mandatory company chop, companies may have several other chops which can be used for specific purposes. The chops of our WFOE and VIE are generally held securely by personnel designated or approved by us in accordance with our internal control procedures. To the extent those chops are not kept safely, are stolen or are used by unauthorized persons or for unauthorized purposes, the corporate governance of these entities could be severely and adversely compromised and those corporate entities may be bound to abide by the terms of any documents so chopped, even if they were chopped by an individual who lacked the requisite power and authority to do so. In addition, if the chops are misused by unauthorized persons, we could experience disruption to our normal business operations. We may have to take corporate or legal action, which could involve significant time and resources to resolve while distracting management from our operations.
Risks Related to Doing Business in China
Changes in China’s economic, political or social conditions or government policies could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
A substantial majority of our revenues are sourced from China. Accordingly, our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects may be influenced to a significant degree by political, economic and social conditions in China generally. The Chinese economy differs from the economies of most developed countries in many respects, including the level of government involvement, level of development, growth rate, control of foreign exchange and allocation of resources. Although the Chinese government has implemented measures emphasizing the utilization of market forces for economic reform, the reduction of state ownership of productive assets, and the establishment of improved corporate governance in business enterprises, a substantial portion of productive assets in China is still owned by the government. In addition, the Chinese government continues to play a significant role in regulating industry development by imposing industrial policies.
The Chinese government also exercises significant control over China’s economic growth through allocating resources, controlling payment of foreign currency-denominated obligations, setting monetary policy, and providing preferential treatment to particular industries or companies.
While the Chinese economy has experienced significant growth in recent decades, growth has been uneven, both geographically and among various sectors of the economy. The Chinese government has implemented various measures to encourage economic growth and guide the allocation of resources. Some of these measures may benefit the overall Chinese economy, but some may have a negative effect on us. For example, our financial condition and results of operations may be adversely affected by government control over capital investments, monetary policy or changes in tax regulations. The growth rate of the Chinese economy has gradually slowed since 2010, and the impact of COVID-19 on the Chinese economy in 2020 is likely to be severe. Any prolonged slowdown in the Chinese economy may reduce the demand for our products and services and materially and adversely affect our business and results of operations.
Uncertainties in the interpretation and enforcement of Chinese laws and regulations could limit the legal protections available to you and us.
We conduct our business primarily through our WFOE and our VIE and its subsidiaries in China. Our operations in China are governed by PRC laws and regulations. Our WFOE is subject to laws and regulations applicable to foreign investment in China. The PRC legal system is a civil law system based on written statutes. Unlike the common law system, prior court decisions under the civil law system may be cited for reference but have limited precedential value. In addition, any new or changes in PRC laws and regulations related to foreign investment in China could affect the business environment and our ability to operate our business in China.
From time to time, we may have to resort to administrative and court proceedings to enforce our legal rights. Any administrative and court proceedings in China may be protracted, resulting in substantial costs and diversion of resources and management attention. Since PRC administrative and court authorities have significant discretion in interpreting and implementing statutory provisions and contractual terms, it may be more difficult to evaluate the outcome of administrative and court proceedings and the level of legal protection we enjoy than in more developed legal systems. These uncertainties may impede our ability to enforce the contracts we have entered into and could materially and adversely affect our business and results of operations.
Furthermore, the PRC legal system is based in part on government policies and internal rules, some of which are not published on a timely basis or at all and may have retroactive effect. As a result, we may not be aware of our violation of any of these policies and rules until sometime after the violation. Such unpredictability towards our contractual, property and procedural rights could adversely affect our business and impede our ability to continue our operations.
Any failure or perceived failure by us to comply with the Anti-Monopoly Guidelines for Internet Platforms Economy Sector and other PRC anti-monopoly laws and regulations may result in governmental investigations or enforcement actions, litigation or claims against us and could have an adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
On February 7, 2021, the State Council Anti-Monopoly Committee issued the Anti-Monopoly Guide that aims at specifying some of the circumstances under which an activity of internet platforms may be identified as monopolistic act as well as setting out merger controlling filing procedures involving variable interest entities. Due to the uncertainties associated with the evolving legislative activities and varied local implementation practices of anti-monopoly and competition laws and regulations in the PRC, it may be costly to adjust some of our business practice in order to comply with these laws, regulations, rules, guidelines and implementations.
The PRC anti-monopoly enforcement agencies have strengthened enforcement under the PRC Anti-Monopoly Law in recent years, which may subject us to penalties and fines for transactions closed in the past. Under the PRC Anti-Monopoly Law, companies conducting certain investments and acquisitions relating to businesses in China must file with the anti-monopoly enforcement agency, in advance of any transaction where the parties’ revenues exceed certain thresholds and the buyer would obtain control of, or decisive influence over, the other party. It is unclear whether transactions involving companies with a VIE structure are subject to these requirements, namely the filing of notification of concentration of undertaking. However, the governmental authorities have recently strengthened the enforcement of notification of concentration of undertaking filing requirement by companies with a VIE structure. In December 2020, the SAMR penalized three internet companies each with a VIE structure in the transactions for failure to make the filing of notification of concentration of undertaking. Since then, the SAMR has been reviewing historical cases of concentrations of undertaking of certain major internet companies with a VIE structure, and may impose penalties for past failures to making filings. Any failure or perceived failure to comply with the anti-monopoly laws and regulations, as well as the related government policies and guidance relating to investments in or by us or associated inquiries, investigations and other governmental actions may divert significant management time and attention and our financial resources, bring negative publicity, subject us to liabilities or administrative penalties, and/or materially and adversely affect our financial conditions, operations and business prospects.
We may be adversely affected by the complexity, uncertainties and changes in PRC laws and regulation, and any lack of requisite approvals, licenses or permits applicable to our business may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial conditions and results of operations.
Our business is subject to supervision and regulation by various governmental authorities in China, and such governmental authorities include the CAC, the MOFCOM, the MIIT, the State Administration for Market Regulation, or the SAMR, the National Health Commission, or the NHC, the MCT, the NRTA, and the corresponding local regulatory authorities. Such governmental authorities promulgate and enforce laws and regulations that cover a variety of business activities that relate to our operations, such as provision of internet information, sales of and internet advertisement, providing live streaming and short videos broadcasting services, online sale of pharmaceutical products, among other things. These regulations in general regulate the entry into, the permitted scope of, as well as approvals, licenses and permits for, the relevant business activities.
We have not obtained certain approvals, licenses and permits that may be required for some aspects of our business operations. For example, our mobile apps offer short videos created by ourselves and our broadcasters. According to the PRC Administrative Provisions on Internet Audio-Visual Program Services, a provider of online audio-visual service is required to obtain a license for online transmission of audio-visual programs, or Audio-Visual License. We have not obtained the Audio-Visual License for providing internet audio-visual program services and content through our platform in China and we may not be eligible for the Audio-Visual License, because the current PRC laws and regulations require an applicant to be a wholly state-owned or state-controlled entity. Although we are looking for suitable licensed targets or partners to work with, identifying, negotiating and maintaining relationships with such licensed entities require significant time and resources. Though we have obtained a pharmaceutical operation license from the local counterpart of the SAMR in February 2020 through acquisition of license-holding targets for conducting pharmaceutical retail business, historically we did not hold the pharmaceutical operation license; we shall obtain a practicing license of medical institutions from the NHC if our health related services are deemed medical diagnosis and treatment services. We have established our own internet hospital, Dezhou He Health Internet Hospital ("He Health Internet Hospital"), which has obtained a medical institution practicing license and completed the registration of internet diagnosis and treatment activities with the NHC in April 2021. We acquired LESDO and Finka in 2020, which both allow users to communicate in real-time on the apps. Each of LESDO and Finka holds the ICP Licenses for internet information service, which however do not cover real-time information interaction. We are making efforts to obtain all licenses and permits that are necessary to our various business activities, however, there is no assurance that we can timely obtain all such licenses and permits or that we will not be subject to penalty for operating without such licenses and permits.
Our mobile platform, Blued, is operated by our VIE, which holds an ICP license and a Network Culture Operation License and offers value-added telecommunication services through Blued, including features to show users profile at the top of the “nearby user list” and push users’ selected posts to the “now trending” section to bring them more viewership and fans, while our WFOE collected payment from such users for such services and recognized live streaming revenue and membership revenue prior to May 20, 2020. Since May 20, 2020, our VIE has started to collect payments and provided live streaming and membership services. Accordingly, we expect the revenue of our VIE will significantly increase. Due to the uncertainty regarding the interpretation of relevant concepts of value-added telecommunication services and cyber performance operation services, it is not clear whether our WFOE as a party receiving payments for such services rather than the actual business operator will also be deemed to be a service provider and be required to obtain an ICP license or a Network Culture Operation License. Although we consider that our WFOE was providing technical support rather than offering telecommunication services, and that our WFOE did not offer network culture products, there is no assurance that the governmental authorities, future legislations, interpretations and enforcement of law will reach the same conclusion.
We generate a substantial portion of our revenues from the live streaming services. On June 4, 2009, Ministry of Culture, the predecessor of the MCT, and the MOFCOM jointly issued Notice on the Strengthening of the Administration of Online Game Virtual Currency, or the Virtual Currency Notice, which defines what virtual currency is and requires that entities obtain the approval from the Ministry of Culture prior to issuing virtual currency and engaging in transactions using virtual currency in connection with online games. Although we do not think the Virtual Currency Notice applies to the operation of our live streaming business, given the wide discretion of the governmental authorities and uncertainties in the regulatory environment, there is no assurance that the governmental authorities will not in the future interpret the Virtual Currency Notice in a different way and subject our operation of live streaming business to the scope of the Virtual Currency Notice or issue new rules to regulate the virtual currency in the live streaming industry. In that case, our business may be materially and adversely affected.
We pay broadcasters through their talent agencies and the fees are determined based on a percentage of revenue from virtual gift sales that is attributed to the broadcasters’ live streams. Although we consider the nature of our relation with the talent agencies and the broadcasters as that between procurer and suppliers of services and that the users are purchasing the virtual gifts on our platform using virtual currencies, there is no assurance that the governmental authorities will view it in the same way. If the PRC governmental authorities consider that we are receiving the payment on behalf of the broadcasters or their talent agencies for their performance, we may be deemed as third-party payment service providers and be required to either obtain a license to conduct third-party payment business or to work with licensed payment service providers.
If the PRC governmental authorities consider that we are operating without proper approvals, licenses or permits, or new laws and regulations are promulgated that require us to obtain additional approvals or licenses or impose additional restrictions on the operation of any part of our business, the PRC governmental authorities have the power, among other things, to order timely rectification, impose fines, confiscate our income, revoke our business licenses, and require us to discontinue our relevant business or impose restrictions on the affected portion of our business. Any of these actions by the PRC government may have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.
Currently there is no law or regulation specifically governing virtual asset property rights and therefore it is not clear what liabilities, if any, live streaming platforms may have for virtual assets.
While participating on our platform, our users acquire, purchase and accumulate some virtual assets, such as gifts or certain status. Such virtual assets can be important to users and have monetary value and, in some cases, are sold for actual money. In practice, virtual assets can be lost for various reasons, often through unauthorized use of the user account of one user by other users and occasionally through data loss caused by delay of network service, network crash or hacking activities. Under the Civil Code effective in January 2021, ownership of data and virtual assets are civil rights protected by laws. However, there is currently no further PRC law or regulation specifically governing virtual asset property rights. As a result, there is uncertainty as to who the legal owner of virtual assets is, whether and how the ownership of virtual assets is protected by law, and whether an operator of live streaming platform such as us would have any liability, whether in contract, tort or otherwise, to users or other interested parties, for loss of such virtual assets. Based on recent PRC court judgments, the courts have typically held online platform operators liable for losses of virtual assets by platform users, and ordered online platform operators to return the lost virtual items to users or pay damages and losses. In case of a loss of virtual assets, we may be sued by our users and held liable for damages, which may negatively affect our reputation and business, financial condition and results of operations.
You may experience difficulties in effecting service of legal process, enforcing foreign judgments or bringing actions in China against us or our management named in the annual report based on foreign laws.
We are a company incorporated under the laws of the Cayman Islands, we generate a substantial majority of our revenues from China and substantially all of our assets are located in China. In addition, all of our senior executive officers reside within China for a significant portion of the time and all are PRC nationals. As a result, it may be difficult for you to effect service of process upon us or those persons inside mainland China. It may also be difficult for you to enforce in U.S. courts judgments obtained in U.S. courts based on the civil liability provisions of the U.S. federal securities laws against us and our officers and directors as none of them currently resides in the U.S. or has substantial assets located in the U.S. In addition, there is uncertainty as to whether the courts of the Cayman Islands or the PRC would recognize or enforce judgments of U.S. courts against us or such persons predicated upon the civil liability provisions of the securities laws of the United States or any state.
The recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments are provided for under the PRC Civil Procedures Law. PRC courts may recognize and enforce foreign judgments in accordance with the requirements of the PRC Civil Procedures Law based either on treaties between China and the country where the judgment is made or on principles of reciprocity between jurisdictions. China does not have any treaties or other forms of reciprocal arrangement with the United States that provide for the reciprocal recognition and enforcement of foreign judgments. In addition, according to the PRC Civil Procedures Law, the PRC courts will not enforce a foreign judgment against us or our directors and officers if they decide that the judgment violates the basic principles of PRC laws or national sovereignty, security or public interest. As a result, it is uncertain whether and on what basis a PRC court would enforce a judgment rendered by a court in the U.S.
It may be difficult for overseas regulators to conduct investigation or collect evidence within China.
There are significant legal and other obstacles in China to providing information needed for regulatory investigations or litigation initiated by regulators outside China. Although the authorities in China may establish a regulatory cooperation mechanism with the securities regulatory authorities of another country or region to implement cross-border supervision and administration, such cooperation with the securities regulatory authorities in the Unities States involves uncertainty. Furthermore, according to Article 177 of the PRC Securities Law, or Article 177, which became effective in March 2020, no overseas securities regulator is allowed to directly conduct investigation, evidence collection and other activities within the territory of the PRC. While detailed interpretation of or implementation rules under Article 177 have yet to be promulgated, the inability for an overseas securities regulator to directly conduct investigation or evidence collection activities within China may further increase difficulties faced by you in protecting your interests.
We may rely on dividends and other distributions on equity paid by our WFOE to fund any cash and financing requirements we may have, and any limitation on the ability of our WFOE to make payments to us could have a material and adverse effect on our ability to conduct our business.
We are a Cayman Islands holding company and we rely principally on dividends and other distributions on equity from our WFOE for our cash requirements, including the funds necessary to pay dividends and other cash distributions to our shareholders for services of any debt we may incur. If any of our WFOE, VIE and its subsidiaries incurs debt on its own behalf in the future, the instruments governing the debt may restrict its ability to pay dividends or make other distributions to us. Under PRC laws and regulations, our WFOE may pay dividends only out of its respective accumulated profits as determined in accordance with PRC accounting standards and regulations. In addition, a wholly foreign-owned enterprise is required to set aside at least 10% of its after-tax profits each year, if any, to fund a certain statutory reserve fund, until the aggregate amount of such fund reaches 50% of its registered capital. At its discretion, a wholly foreign-owned enterprise may allocate a portion of its after-tax profits based on PRC accounting standards to a staff welfare and bonus fund. These reserve fund and staff welfare and bonus fund cannot be distributed to us as dividends.
Our WFOE, VIE and its subsidiaries generate primarily all of their revenue in RMB, which is not freely convertible into other currencies. As result, any restriction on currency exchange may limit the ability of our WFOE to use their RMB revenues to pay dividends to us.
The PRC government may continue to strengthen its capital controls, and more restrictions and substantial vetting process may be put forward by the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, or the SAFE, for cross-border transactions falling under both the current account and the capital account. Any limitation on the ability of our WFOE to pay dividends or make other kinds of payments to us could materially and adversely limit our ability to grow, make investments or acquisitions that could be beneficial to our business, pay dividends, or otherwise fund and conduct our business.
There are significant uncertainties under the PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law relating to the withholding tax liabilities of our WFOE, and dividends payable by our WFOE to our offshore subsidiaries may not qualify to enjoy certain treaty benefits.
Under the PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law and its implementation rules, the profits of a foreign-invested enterprise generated through operations, which are distributed to its immediate holding company outside of China, will be subject to a withholding tax rate of 10%. Pursuant to a special arrangement between Hong Kong and China, such rate may be reduced to 5% if a Hong Kong resident enterprise owns more than 25% of the equity interest in the PRC company. Our WFOE is wholly owned by BlueCity Holdings Hong Kong Limited, our Hong Kong subsidiary. Accordingly, BlueCity Holdings Hong Kong Limited may qualify for a 5% tax rate in respect of distributions from our WFOE. Under the Notice of the State Administration of Taxation on Issues regarding the Administration of the Dividend Provision in Tax Treaties promulgated in 2009, the taxpayer needs to satisfy certain conditions to enjoy the benefits under a tax treaty. These conditions include: (i)the taxpayer must be the beneficial owner of the relevant dividends, and (ii)the corporate shareholder to receive dividends from our WFOE must have met the direct ownership thresholds during the 12 consecutive months preceding the receipt of the dividends. Further, the State Administration of Taxation, or the SAT, promulgated the Notice on How to Understand and Recognize the “Beneficial Owner” in Tax Treaties in 2009, which limits the “beneficial owner” to individuals, enterprises or other organizations normally engaged in substantive operations, and sets forth certain detailed factors in determining “beneficial owner” status.
Entitlement to a lower tax rate on dividends according to tax treaties or arrangements between the PRC central government and governments of other countries or regions is subject to the Administrative Measures for Non-Resident Taxpayers to Enjoy Treatments under Tax Treaties, which provides that non-resident enterprises are not required to obtain pre-approval from the relevant tax authority in order to enjoy the reduced withholding tax. Instead, non-resident enterprises and their withholding agents may, by self-assessment and on confirmation that the prescribed criteria to enjoy the tax treaty benefits are met, directly apply the reduced withholding tax rate, and file necessary forms and supporting documents when performing tax filings, which will be subject to post-tax filing examinations by the relevant tax authorities. As a result, there can be no assurance that we will be entitled to any preferential withholding tax rate under tax treaties for dividends received from our WFOE.
There are uncertainties with respect to value-added tax rates relating to the tax liabilities of our WFOE.
The PRC Ministry of Finance, the SAT and the General Administration of Customs promulgated the Announcement on Policies to Deepen Value-Added Tax Reform on March 20, 2019, which provides that the current value-added tax rate of 16% in manufacturing and other industries will be reduced to 13%, the current value-added tax rate of 10% in transportation and other industries will be reduced to 9%, and the value-added tax rate in value-added telecommunication service and other industries will remain at 6% from April, 2019. We are subject to value-added tax at a rate of 13% on our sale of medications and screening kits from April, 2019, less any deductible value-added tax we have already paid or borne. It is uncertain whether the value-added tax rate will be raised in the future, which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations. If we fail to comply with these regulations, we may be subject to sanctions including corrective orders, imposition of fines and confiscation of illegal gains.
PRC regulation of loans to and direct investment in PRC entities by offshore holding companies and governmental control of currency conversion may delay or prevent us from using the proceeds of the initial public offering to make loans or additional capital contributions to our WFOE, which could materially and adversely affect our liquidity and our ability to fund and expand our business.
We are an offshore holding company conducting our operations in China through our WFOE, VIE and its subsidiaries. We may make loans to our WFOE, VIE and its subsidiaries subject to the approval, registration, and filing with governmental authorities and limitation of amount, or we may make additional capital contributions to our wholly foreign-owned subsidiaries in China. Any loans to our wholly foreign-owned subsidiaries in China, which are treated as foreign-invested enterprises under PRC law, are subject to foreign exchange loan registrations. In addition, a foreign invested enterprise shall use its capital pursuant to the principle of authenticity and self-use within its business scope. The capital of a foreign invested enterprise shall not be used for the following purposes: (i) directly or indirectly used for payment beyond the business scope of the enterprises or the payment prohibited by relevant laws and regulations; (ii) directly or indirectly used for investment in securities or investments other than banks’ principal-secured products unless otherwise provided by relevant laws and regulations; (iii) the granting of loans to non-affiliated enterprises, except where it is expressly permitted in the business license; and (iv) paying the expenses related to the construction and purchase of real estate that is not for self-use (except for the foreign-invested real estate enterprises).
In light of the various requirements imposed by PRC regulations on loans to and direct investment in PRC entities by offshore holding companies, there can be no assurance that we will be able to complete the necessary government registrations or obtain the necessary government approvals or filings on a timely basis, if at all, with respect to future loans by us to our WFOE or VIE or with respect to future capital contributions by us to our WFOE. If we fail to complete such registrations or obtain such approvals, our ability to use the proceeds from the initial public offering and to capitalize or otherwise fund our PRC operations may be negatively affected, which could materially and adversely affect our liquidity and our ability to fund and expand our business.
Implementation of the labor laws and regulations in China may adversely affect our business and results of operations.
Pursuant to the Labor Contract Law that took effect in January 2008, its implementation rules that took effect in September 2008 and its amendment that took effect in July 2013, employers are subject to stricter requirements in terms of signing labor contracts, minimum wages, paying remuneration, determining the term of employees’ probation and unilaterally terminating labor contracts. Due to lack of detailed interpretative rules and uniform implementation practices and broad discretion of the local competent authorities, it is uncertain as to how the labor contract law and its implementation rules will affect our current employment policies and practices. Our employment policies and practices may violate the labor contract law or its implementation rules, and we may thus be subject to related penalties, fines or legal fees. Compliance with the labor contract law and its implementation rules may increase our operating expenses, in particular our personnel expenses. In the event that we decide to terminate some of our employees or otherwise change our employment or labor practices, the labor contract law and its implementation rules may also limit our ability to effect those changes in a desirable or cost-effective manner, which could adversely affect our business and results of operations.
We expect our labor costs to increase due to the implementation of these laws and regulations. As the interpretation and implementation of these laws and regulations are still evolving, there can be no assurance that our employment practices will at all times be deemed in full compliance with labor-related laws and regulations in China, which may subject us to labor disputes or government investigations. If we are deemed to have violated relevant labor laws and regulations, we could be required to provide additional compensation to our employees and our business, financial condition and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected.
Further, labor disputes, work stoppages or slowdowns at our company or any of our third-party service providers could significantly disrupt our daily operation or our expansion plans and have a material adverse effect on our business.
Our business may be negatively affected by the potential obligations to make additional social insurance and housing fund contributions.
We are required by PRC labor laws and regulations to pay various statutory employee benefits, including pensions insurance, medical insurance, work-related injury insurance, unemployment insurance, maternity insurance and housing fund, to designated government agencies for the benefit of our employees and associates. The relevant government agencies may examine whether an employer has made adequate payments of the requisite statutory employee benefits, and employers who fail to make adequate payments may be subject to late payment fees, fines and/or other penalties. If the relevant PRC authorities determine that we shall make supplemental social insurance and housing fund contributions or that we are subject to fines and legal sanctions in relation to our failure to make social insurance and housing fund contributions in full for our employees, our business, financial condition and results of operations may be adversely affected.
We may be subject to fines for failing to register and file lease agreements with the relevant governmental authorities in China.
According to the Administrative Measures for Commodity Housing Tenancy promulgated by the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, all leases are to be registered and filed with the relevant real estate administration bureaus in China. As of the date of the annual report, certain leases relating to our offices in China had not been registered and filed with the relevant land and real estate administration bureaus in China. Our PRC legal advisers have advised us that failure to complete the registration and filing of lease agreements will not affect the validity of such leases or impede our use of the relevant properties but could result in the imposition of fines up to RMB10,000 for each leased property that is unregistered if we fail to rectify the noncompliance within the time frame prescribed by the relevant authorities.
Fluctuation in exchange rates could have a material and adverse effect on our results of operations and the value of your investment.
The conversion of Renminbi into foreign currencies, including U.S. dollars, is based on rates set by the People’s Bank of China. The Renminbi has fluctuated against the U.S. dollar, at times significantly and unpredictably. The value of Renminbi against the U.S. dollar and other currencies is affected by changes in China’s political and economic conditions and by China’s foreign exchange policies, among other things. We cannot assure you that Renminbi will not appreciate or depreciate significantly in value against the U.S. dollar in the future. It is difficult to predict how market forces or PRC or U.S. government policy may impact the exchange rate between Renminbi and the U.S. dollar in the future.
A substantial majority of our revenues and costs is denominated in RMB. Any significant depreciation of the RMB may materially adversely affect the value of, and any dividends payable on, our ADSs in U.S. dollars. For example, when we convert our U.S. dollars denominated funds into Renminbi for our operations, appreciation of the Renminbi against the U.S. dollar would have an adverse effect on the Renminbi amount we would receive from the conversion. Conversely, if we decide to convert our Renminbi into U.S. dollars for the purpose of making payments for dividends on our ordinary shares or ADSs or for other business purposes, appreciation of the U.S. dollar against the Renminbi would have a negative effect on the U.S. dollar amount available to us. In addition, appreciation or depreciation in the value of the Renminbi relative to U.S. dollars would affect our financial results reported in U.S. dollar terms regardless of any underlying change in our business or results of operations.
Very limited hedging options are available in China to reduce our exposure to exchange rate fluctuations. To date, we have not entered into any hedging transactions in an effort to reduce our exposure to foreign currency exchange risk. While we may decide to enter into hedging transactions in the future, the availability and effectiveness of these hedges may be limited and we may not be able to adequately hedge our exposure or at all. In addition, our currency exchange losses may be magnified by PRC exchange control regulations that restrict our ability to convert Renminbi into foreign currency. As a result, fluctuations in exchange rates may have a material adverse effect on your investment.
Governmental control of currency conversion may limit our ability to utilize our revenues effectively and affect the value of your investment.
The PRC government imposes controls on the convertibility of the Renminbi into foreign currencies and, in certain cases, the remittance of currency out of China. We receive a substantial majority of our revenues in Renminbi. Under our current corporate structure, our Cayman Islands holding company primarily relies on dividend payments from our WFOE to fund any cash and financing requirements we may have. Under existing PRC foreign exchange regulations, payments of current account items, including profit distributions, interest payments and trade and service-related foreign exchange transactions, can be made in foreign currencies without prior approval of SAFE by complying with certain procedural requirements. Specifically, under the existing exchange restrictions, without prior approval of SAFE, cash generated from the operations of our WFOE in China may be used to pay dividends to our company. However, approval from or registration with appropriate governmental authorities is required where Renminbi is to be converted into foreign currency and remitted out of China to pay capital expenses such as the repayment of loans denominated in foreign currencies. As a result, we need to obtain SAFE approval to use cash generated from the operations of our WFOE and VIE to pay off their respective debt in a currency other than Renminbi owed to entities outside of China, or to make other capital expenditure payments outside of China in a currency other than Renminbi.
In light of the flood of capital outflows of China, the PRC government may from time to time impose more restrictive foreign exchange policies and step up scrutiny of major outbound capital movement. More restrictions and substantial vetting process may be required by SAFE or other governmental authorities to regulate cross-border transactions falling under the capital account. The PRC government may at its discretion restrict access to foreign currencies for current account transactions in the future. If the foreign exchange control system prevents us from obtaining sufficient foreign currencies to satisfy our foreign currency demands, we may not be able to pay dividends in foreign currencies to our shareholders, including holders of our ADSs.
China’s M&A Rules and certain other PRC regulations establish complex procedures for certain acquisitions of Chinese companies by foreign investors, which could make it more difficult for us to pursue growth through acquisitions in China.
Among other things, the Regulations on Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors, or the M&A Rules, adopted by six PRC regulatory agencies in 2006 and amended in 2009, established additional procedures and requirements that could make merger and acquisition activities by foreign investors more time-consuming and complex. Such regulation requires, among other things, that MOFCOM be notified in advance of any change-of-control transaction in which a foreign investor acquires control of a PRC domestic enterprise and involves any of the following circumstances: (i) any important industry is concerned, (ii) such transaction involves factors that impact or may impact national economic security, or (iii) such transaction will lead to a change in control of a domestic enterprise which holds a famous trademark or PRC time-honored brand. The Anti-Monopoly Law promulgated by the Standing Committee of the NPC which became effective in 2008 requires that transactions which are deemed concentrations and involve parties with specified turnover thresholds must be cleared by MOFCOM before they can be completed. In addition, PRC national security review rules that became effective in September 2011 require acquisitions by foreign investors of PRC companies engaged in military related or certain other industries that are crucial to national security be subject to security review before consummation of any such acquisition. On December 14, 2020, the SAMR announced three cases of administrative penalties for the failures of acquirers to make proper concentration declarations to authorities about their past acquisitions. This is also the first time that the SAMR imposed administrative penalties for illegal concentration declarations on entities structured in a VIE arrangement.
We have made strategic acquisitions, and we may in the future grow our business by acquiring complementary businesses. Complying with the requirements of the above-mentioned regulations and other relevant rules to complete such transactions could be time consuming, and any required approval processes, including obtaining approval from MOFCOM or its local counterparts may delay or inhibit our ability to complete such transactions. It is unclear whether our business would be deemed to be in an industry that raises “national defense and security” or “national security” concerns. However, MOFCOM or other government agencies may publish explanations in the future determining that our business is in an industry subject to the security review, in which case our future acquisitions in China, including those by way of entering into contractual control arrangements with target entities, may be closely scrutinized or prohibited.
PRC regulations relating to offshore investment activities by PRC residents may limit our WFOE’s ability to change its registered capital or distribute profits to us or otherwise expose us or our PRC resident beneficial owners to liability and penalties under PRC laws.
In July 2014, SAFE promulgated the Circular on Relevant Issues Concerning Foreign Exchange Control on Domestic Residents’ Offshore Investment and Financing and Roundtrip Investment through Special Purpose Vehicles, or SAFE Circular 37. SAFE Circular 37 requires PRC residents (including PRC individuals and PRC corporate entities as well as foreign individuals that are deemed as PRC residents for foreign exchange administration purpose) to register with SAFE or its local branches in connection with their direct or indirect offshore investment activities. SAFE Circular 37 further requires amendment to the SAFE registrations in the event of any changes with respect to the basic information of the offshore special purpose vehicle, such as change of a PRC individual shareholder, name and operation term, or any significant changes with respect to the offshore special purpose vehicle, such as increase or decrease of capital contribution, share transfer or exchange, or mergers or divisions. SAFE Circular 37 is applicable to our shareholders who are PRC residents and may be applicable to any offshore acquisitions that we make in the future.
If our shareholders who are PRC residents fail to make the required registration or to update the previously filed registration, our WFOE may be prohibited from distributing their profits or the proceeds from any capital reduction, share transfer or liquidation to us, and we may also be prohibited from making additional capital contributions into our WFOE.
In February 2015, SAFE promulgated a Notice on Further Simplifying and Improving Foreign Exchange Administration Policy on Direct Investment, or SAFE Notice 13, effective June 2015. Under SAFE Notice 13, applications for foreign exchange registration of inbound foreign direct investments and outbound overseas direct investments, including those required under SAFE Circular 37, will be filed with qualified banks instead of SAFE. The qualified banks will directly examine the applications and accept registrations under the supervision of SAFE.
We may not be informed of the identities of all the PRC residents holding direct or indirect interest in our company, and we cannot provide any assurance that these PRC residents will comply with our request to make or obtain any applicable registrations or continuously comply with all requirements under SAFE Circular No. 37 or other related rules. The failure or inability of the relevant shareholders to comply with the registration procedures set forth in these regulations may subject us to fines and legal sanctions, such as restrictions on our cross- border investment activities, on the ability of our wholly foreign-owned subsidiaries in China to distribute dividends and the proceeds from any reduction in capital, share transfer or liquidation to us. Moreover, failure to comply with the various foreign exchange registration requirements described above could result in liability under PRC law for circumventing applicable foreign exchange restrictions. As a result, our business operations and our ability to distribute profits to you could be materially and adversely affected.
Any failure to comply with PRC regulations regarding the registration requirements for employee stock incentive plans may subject the PRC plan participants or us to fines and other legal or administrative sanctions.
In February 2012, SAFE promulgated the Notices on Issues Concerning the Foreign Exchange Administration for Domestic Individuals Participating in Stock Incentive Plan of Overseas Publicly Listed Company, replacing earlier rules promulgated in 2007. Pursuant to these rules, PRC citizens and non-PRC citizens who reside in China for a continuous period of not less than one year who participate in any stock incentive plan of an overseas publicly listed company, subject to a few exceptions, are required to register with SAFE through a domestic qualified agent, which could be the PRC subsidiaries of such overseas-listed company, and complete certain other procedures. In addition, an overseas-entrusted institution must be retained to handle matters in connection with the exercise or sale of stock options and the purchase or sale of shares and interests. We and our executive officers and other employees who are PRC citizens or who reside in the PRC for a continuous period of not less than one year and who have been granted options are subject to these regulations when our company becomes an overseas-listed company. Failure to complete SAFE registrations may subject them to fines of up to RMB300,000 for entities and up to RMB50,000 for individuals, and legal sanctions and may also limit our ability to contribute additional capital into our WFOE and limit our WFOE’s ability to distribute dividends to us. We also face regulatory uncertainties that could restrict our ability to adopt additional incentive plans for our directors, executive officers and employees under PRC law. See “Item 4. Information on the Company— B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulation Relating to Foreign Exchange—Regulations on Stock Incentive Plans.”
In addition, the SAT has issued certain circulars concerning employee share options and restricted shares. Under these circulars, our employees working in China who exercise share options or are granted restricted shares will be subject to PRC individual income tax. Our WFOE has obligations to file documents related to employee share options or restricted shares with relevant tax authorities and to withhold individual income taxes of those employees who exercise their share options. If our employees fail to pay or we fail to withhold their income taxes according to relevant laws and regulations, we may face sanctions imposed by the tax authorities or other PRC governmental authorities. See “Item 4. Information on the Company— B. Business Overview—Regulation—Regulation Relating to Foreign Exchange—Regulations on Stock Incentive Plans.”
If we are classified as a PRC resident enterprise for PRC income tax purposes, such classification could result in unfavorable tax consequences to us and our non-PRC shareholders or ADS holders.
Under the PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law and its implementation rules, an enterprise established outside of the PRC with “de facto management body” within the PRC is considered a “resident enterprise” and will be subject to the enterprise income tax on its global income at the rate of 25%. The implementation rules define the term “de facto management body” as the body that exercises full and substantial control and overall management over the business, productions, personnel, accounts and properties of an enterprise. In 2009, the SAT issued a circular, known as SAT Circular 82, which provides certain specific criteria for determining whether the “de facto management body” of a PRC-controlled enterprise that is incorporated offshore is located in China. Although this circular only applies to offshore enterprises controlled by PRC enterprises or PRC enterprise groups, not those controlled by PRC individuals or foreigners, the criteria set forth in the circular may reflect the SAT’s general position on how the “de facto management body” text should be applied in determining the tax resident status of all offshore enterprises.
According to SAT Circular 82, an offshore incorporated enterprise controlled by a PRC enterprise or a PRC enterprise group will be regarded as a PRC tax resident by virtue of having its “de facto management body” in China and will be subject to PRC enterprise income tax on its global income only if all of the following conditions are met: (i) the primary location of the day-to-day operational management is in the PRC; (ii) decisions relating to the enterprise’s financial and human resource matters are made or are subject to approval by organizations or personnel in the PRC; (iii) the enterprise’s primary assets, accounting books and records, company seals, and board and shareholder resolutions, are located or maintained in the PRC; and (iv)at least 50% of voting board members or senior executives habitually reside in the PRC.
We believe that we are not a PRC resident enterprise for PRC tax purposes. However, the tax resident status of an enterprise is subject to determination by the PRC tax authorities and uncertainties remain with respect to the interpretation of the term “de facto management body.” If the PRC tax authorities determine that we are a PRC resident enterprise for enterprise income tax purposes, we could be subject to PRC tax at a rate of 25% on our worldwide income, which could materially reduce our net income, and we may be required to withhold a 10% withholding tax from dividends we pay to our shareholders that are non-resident enterprises, including the holders of our ADSs. In addition, non-resident enterprise shareholders (including our ADS holders) may be subject to PRC tax at a rate of 10% on gains realized on the sale or other disposition of ADSs or Class A ordinary shares, if such income is treated as sourced from within the PRC. Furthermore, if we are deemed a PRC resident enterprise, dividends payable to our non-PRC individual shareholders (including our ADS holders) and any gain realized on the transfer of ADSs or Class A ordinary shares by such shareholders may be subject to PRC tax at a rate of 20% (which, in the case of dividends, may be withheld at source by us), if such income or gains are deemed to be from PRC sources. Any PRC tax imposed on dividends or gains may be subject to reduction if a reduced rate is available under an applicable tax treaty. It is unclear whether non-PRC shareholders of our company would be able to claim the benefits of any tax treaties between their country of tax residence and the PRC in the event that we are treated as a PRC resident enterprise. Any PRC tax may reduce the returns on your investment in the ADSs or Class A ordinary shares.
We face uncertainty with respect to indirect transfers of equity interests in PRC resident enterprises by their non-PRC holding companies.
Pursuant to the Notice on Strengthening Administration of Enterprise Income Tax for Share Transfers by Non-PRC Resident Enterprises, or SAT Circular 698, issued by the SAT in 2009 with retroactive effect from January 1, 2008, where a non-resident enterprise transfers the equity interests of a PRC resident enterprise indirectly by disposition of the equity interests of an overseas holding company, or an Indirect Transfer, and such overseas holding company is located in a tax jurisdiction that: (i)has an effective tax rate less than 12.5% or (ii)does not tax foreign income of its residents, the non-resident enterprise, being the transferor, shall report to the competent tax authority of the PRC resident enterprise this Indirect Transfer.
In February 2015, the SAT issued a Public Notice Regarding Certain Corporate Income Tax Matters on Indirect Transfer of Properties by Non-Tax Resident Enterprises, or SAT Circular 7. SAT Circular 7 supersedes the rules with respect to the Indirect Transfer under SAT Circular 698, but does not touch upon the other provisions of SAT Circular 698, which remain in force. SAT Circular 7 has introduced a new tax regime that is significantly different from the previous one under SAT Circular 698. SAT Circular 7 extends its tax jurisdiction to not only Indirect Transfers set forth under SAT Circular 698 but also transactions involving transfer of immovable property in China and assets held under the establishment, and placement in China, of a foreign company through the offshore transfer of a foreign intermediate holding company. In addition, SAT Circular 7 provides clearer criteria than SAT Circular 698 for assessment of reasonable commercial purposes and has introduced safe harbors for internal group restructurings and the purchase and sale of equity through a public securities market. SAT Circular 7 also brings challenges to both foreign transferor and transferee (or other person who is obligated to pay for the transfer) of taxable assets. Where a non-resident enterprise transfers taxable assets indirectly by disposing of the equity interests of an overseas holding company, which is an Indirect Transfer, the non-resident enterprise as either transferor or transferee, or the PRC entity that directly owns the taxable assets, may report such Indirect Transfer to the relevant tax authority. Using a “substance over form” principle, the PRC tax authority may disregard the existence of the overseas holding company if it lacks a reasonable commercial purpose and was established for the purpose of reducing, avoiding or deferring PRC tax. As a result, gains derived from such Indirect Transfer may be subject to PRC enterprise income tax, and the transferee or other person who is obligated to pay for the transfer is obligated to withhold the applicable taxes, currently at a rate of 10% for the transfer of equity interests in a PRC resident enterprise. Both the transferor and the transferee may be subject to penalties under PRC tax laws if the transferee fails to withhold the taxes and the transferor fails to pay the taxes.
In October 2017, the SAT issued an Announcement on Issues Relating to Withholding at Source of Income Tax of Non-resident Enterprises, or SAT Circular 37. Effective December 2017, SAT Circular 37, among others, repealed the Circular 698 and amended certain provisions in SAT Circular 7. According to SAT Circular 37, where the non-resident enterprise fails to declare the tax payable pursuant to Article 39 of the Enterprise Income Tax, the tax authority may order it to pay the tax due within required time limits, and the non-resident enterprise shall declare and pay the tax payable within such time limits specified by the tax authority. However, if the non-resident enterprise voluntarily declares and pays the tax payable before the tax authority orders it to do so within required time limits, it shall be deemed that such enterprise has paid the tax in time.
We face uncertainties as to the reporting and other implications of certain past and future transactions where PRC taxable assets are involved, such as offshore restructuring, sale of the shares in our offshore subsidiaries and investments. Our company may be subject to filing obligations or taxed if our company is transferor in such transactions, and may be subject to withholding obligations if our company is transferee in such transactions, under SAT Circular 7 and SAT Circular 37. For transfer of shares in our company by investors who are non-PRC resident enterprises, our PRC subsidiary may be requested to assist in the filing under SAT circulars. As a result, we may be required to expend valuable resources to comply with SAT circulars or to request the relevant transferors from whom we purchase taxable assets to comply with these circulars, or to establish that our company should not be taxed under these circulars, which may have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
Risks Related to our ADSs
The market price for our ADSs has been and may continue to be volatile.
The trading price of our ADSs has ranged from US$8.04 to US$28 per ADS in 2020. The trading price of our ADSs is likely to remain volatile and could fluctuate widely due to factors beyond our control. This may happen because of broad market and industry factors, including the performance and fluctuation of the market prices of other companies with business operations located mainly in China that have listed their securities in the United States. In addition to market and industry factors, the price and trading volume for our ADSs may be highly volatile for factors specific to our own operations, including the following:
|●||variations in our revenues, earnings, cash flow and data related to our user base or user engagement;|
|●||announcements of new investments, acquisitions, strategic partnerships or joint ventures by us or our competitors;|
|●||announcements of new product and service offerings, solutions and expansions by us or our competitors;|
|●||announcements of new laws and regulations or interpretations of existing laws and regulations that affect our business;|
|●||changes in financial estimates by securities analysts;|
|●||detrimental adverse publicity about us, our products and services or our industries;|
|●||additions or departures of key personnel;|
|●||release of lock-up or other transfer restrictions on our outstanding equity securities or sales of additional equity securities; and|
|●||actual or potential litigation or regulatory investigations.|
Any of these factors may result in large and sudden changes in the volume and price at which our ADSs will trade.
In the past, shareholders of public companies have often brought securities class action suits against those companies following periods of instability in the market price of their securities. If we were involved in a class action suit, it could divert a significant amount of our management’s attention and other resources from our business and operations and require us to incur significant expenses to defend the suit, which could harm our results of operations. Any such class action suit, whether or not successful, could harm our reputation and restrict our ability to raise capital in the future. In addition, if a claim is successfully made against us, we may be required to pay significant damages, which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
If securities or industry analysts do not publish research or publish inaccurate or unfavorable research about our business, the market price for our ADSs and trading volume could decline.
The trading market for our ADSs will be influenced by research or reports that industry or securities analysts publish about our business. If one or more analysts who cover us downgrade our ADSs, the market price for our ADSs would likely decline. If one or more of these analysts cease to cover us or fail to regularly publish reports on us, we could lose visibility in the financial markets, which in turn could cause the market price or trading volume for our ADSs to decline.
The sale or availability for sale of substantial amounts of our ADSs could adversely affect their market price.
Sales of substantial amounts of our ADSs in the public market, or the perception that these sales could occur, could adversely affect the market price of our ADSs and could materially impair our ability to raise capital through equity offerings in the future. We cannot predict what effect, if any, market sales of securities held by our significant shareholders or any other shareholder or the availability of these securities for future sale will have on the market price of our ADSs.
Because we do not expect to pay dividends in the foreseeable future, you must rely on price appreciation of our ADSs for return on your investment.
We currently intend to retain most, if not all, of our available funds and any future earnings to fund the development and growth of our business. As a result, we do not expect to pay any cash dividends in the foreseeable future. Therefore, you should not rely on an investment in our ADSs as a source for any future dividend income.
Our board of directors has complete discretion as to whether to distribute dividends. Even if our board of directors decides to declare and pay dividends, the timing, amount and form of future dividends, if any, will depend on, among other things, our future results of operations and cash flow, our capital requirements and surplus, the amount of distributions, if any, received by us from our subsidiary, our financial condition, contractual restrictions and other factors deemed relevant by our board of directors. Accordingly, the return on your investment in our ADSs will likely depend entirely upon any future price appreciation of our ADSs. There is no guarantee that our ADSs will appreciate in value or even maintain the price at which you purchased the ADSs. You may not realize a return on your investment in our ADSs and you may even lose your entire investment in our ADSs.
Our dual-class voting structure will limit your ability to influence corporate matters and could discourage others from pursuing any change of control transactions that holders of our Class A ordinary shares and the ADSs may view as beneficial.
We have a dual-class ordinary share structure. Our ordinary shares are divided into Class A ordinary shares and Class B ordinary shares. Holders of Class A ordinary shares will be entitled to one vote per share, while holders of Class B ordinary shares will be entitled to five votes per share. Each Class B ordinary share is convertible into one Class A ordinary share at any time by the holder thereof, while Class A ordinary shares are not convertible into Class B ordinary shares under any circumstances. Upon any transfer of Class B ordinary shares by a holder thereof to any person or entity that is not an affiliate of such holder, such Class B ordinary shares shall be automatically and immediately converted into the equal number of Class A ordinary shares.
As of April 8, 2021, Mr. Baoli Ma beneficially owns an aggregate of 5,114,840 Class B ordinary shares and 1,087,789 Class A ordinary shares, which represent 69.5% of our total voting power. Therefore, Mr. Baoli Ma has decisive influence over matters requiring shareholders’ approval, including election of directors and significant corporate transactions, such as a merger or sale of our company or our assets. This concentrated control will limit your ability to influence corporate matters and could discourage others from pursuing any potential merger, takeover or other change of control transactions that holders of our Class A ordinary shares and the ADSs may view as beneficial.
The dual-class structure of our ordinary shares may adversely affect the trading market for the ADSs.
S&P Dow Jones and FTSE Russell have previously announced changes to their eligibility criteria for inclusion of shares of public companies on certain indices, including the S&P 500, to exclude companies with multiple classes of shares and companies whose public shareholders hold no more than 5% of total voting power from being added to such indices. In addition, several shareholder advisory firms have announced their opposition to the use of multiple class structures. As a result, the dual class structure of our ordinary shares may prevent the inclusion of the ADSs representing our Class A ordinary shares in such indices and may cause shareholder advisory firms to publish negative commentary about our corporate governance practices or otherwise seek to cause us to change our capital structure. Any such exclusion from indices could result in a less active trading market for the ADSs representing our Class A ordinary shares. Any actions or publications by shareholder advisory firms critical of our corporate governance practices or capital structure could also adversely affect the value of the ADSs.
You must rely on the judgment of our management as to the use of the net proceeds from the initial public offering, and such use may not produce income or increase our ADS price.
Our management will have considerable discretion in the application of the net proceeds received by us. You will not have the opportunity, as part of your investment decision, to assess whether proceeds are being used appropriately. The net proceeds may be used for corporate purposes that do not improve our efforts to achieve or maintain profitability or increase our ADS price. The net proceeds from the initial public offering may be placed in investments that do not produce income or that lose value.
There can be no assurance that we will not be a passive foreign investment company, or PFIC, for United States federal income tax purposes for any taxable year, which could subject United States investors in our ADSs or Class A ordinary shares to significant adverse United States income tax consequences.
We will be classified as a passive foreign investment company, or PFIC, for United States federal income tax purposes for any taxable year if either (a) 75% or more of our gross income for such year consists of certain types of “passive” income or (b) 50% or more of the value of our assets (generally determined on the basis of a quarterly average) during such year produce or are held for the production of passive income. Although the law in this regard is unclear, we intend to treat our VIE (including its subsidiaries) as being owned by us for United States federal income tax purposes, not only because we exercise effective control over the operation of such entities but also because we are entitled to substantially all of their economic benefits, and, as a result, we consolidate their results of operations in our consolidated financial statements. Assuming that we are the owner of our VIE (including its subsidiaries) for United States federal income tax purposes, and based upon our current and expected income and assets, including goodwill and other unbooked intangibles not reflected on our balance sheet, we do not believe that we were a PFIC for the taxable year ended December 31, 2020 and do not presently expect to be a PFIC for the current taxable year or the foreseeable future.
While we do not expect to become a PFIC, because the value of our assets for purposes of the asset test may be determined by reference to the market price of our ADSs, fluctuations in the market price of our ADSs may cause us to become a PFIC for the current or subsequent taxable years. The determination of whether we will be or become a PFIC will also depend, in part, on the composition of our income and assets. In addition, the composition of our income and assets will also be affected by how, and how quickly, we use our liquid assets. If we determine not to deploy significant amounts of cash for active purposes or if it were determined that we do not own the stock of our VIE for United States federal income tax purposes, our risk of being a PFIC may substantially increase. Because PFIC status is a factual determination made annually after the close of each taxable year, there can be no assurance that we will not be a PFIC for the current taxable year or any future taxable year.
If we are a PFIC in any taxable year, a U.S. Holder (as defined in “Item 10. Additional Information—E. Taxation—United States Federal Income Tax Considerations”) may incur significantly increased United States income tax on gain recognized on the sale or other disposition of the ADSs or Class A ordinary shares and on the receipt of distributions on the ADSs or Class A ordinary shares to the extent such gain or distribution is treated as an “excess distribution” under the United States federal income tax rules, and such U.S. Holder may be subject to burdensome reporting requirements. Further, if we are a PFIC for any year during which a U.S. Holder holds our ADSs or Class A ordinary shares, we generally will continue to be treated as a PFIC for all succeeding years during which such U.S. Holder holds our ADSs or Class A ordinary shares. For more information see “Item 10. Additional Information—E. Taxation—United States Federal Income Tax Considerations—Passive Foreign Investment Company Considerations” and “Item 10. Additional Information—E. Taxation—United States Federal Income Tax Considerations—Passive Foreign Investment Company Rules.”
The voting rights of holders of ADSs are limited by the terms of the deposit agreement, and you may not be able to exercise your right to direct the voting of the underlying Class A ordinary shares which are represented by your ADSs.
As a holder of our ADSs, you will only be able to exercise the voting rights with respect to the underlying Class A ordinary shares representing your ADSs in accordance with the provisions of the deposit agreement. Under the deposit agreement, you must vote by giving voting instructions to the depositary. Upon receipt of your voting instructions, the depositary will vote the underlying Class A ordinary shares representing your ADSs in accordance with these instructions. You will not be able to directly exercise your right to vote with respect to the underlying Class A ordinary shares representing your ADSs unless you withdraw the shares and become the registered holder of such shares prior to the record date for the general meeting. When a general meeting is convened, you may not receive sufficient advance notice enable you to withdraw the Class A ordinary shares underlying your ADSs and become the registered holder of such shares prior to the record date of the general meeting to allow you to vote with respect to any specific matter. In addition, under our currently effective memorandum and articles of association, for the purposes of determining those shareholders who are entitled to attend and vote at any general meeting, our directors may close our register of members or fix in advance a record date for such meeting, and such closure of our register of members or the setting of such a record date may prevent you from withdrawing the Class A ordinary shares underlying your ADSs and becoming the registered holder of such shares prior to the record date, so that you would not be able to attend the general meeting or to vote directly. Where any matter is to be put to a vote at a general meeting, the depositary will use its best endeavors to notify you of the upcoming vote and to deliver our voting materials to you. There can be no assurance that you will receive the voting materials in time to ensure that you can instruct the depositary to vote your Class A ordinary shares. In addition, the depositary and its agents are not responsible for failing to carry out voting instructions or for their manner of carrying out your voting instructions. This means that you may not be able to exercise your right to vote and you may have no legal remedy if the Class A ordinary shares underlying your ADSs are not voted as you requested.
Except in limited circumstances, the depositary for our ADSs will give us a discretionary proxy to vote the Class A ordinary shares underlying your ADSs if you do not vote at shareholders’ meetings, which could adversely affect your interests.
Under the deposit agreement for the ADSs, if you do not timely and properly give voting instructions to the depository as to how to vote the Class A ordinary shares underlying your ADSs, the depositary will give us or our nominee a discretionary proxy to vote the Class A ordinary shares underlying your ADSs at shareholders’ meetings unless:
|●||we have instructed the depositary that we do not wish a discretionary proxy to be given;|
|●||we have informed the depositary that there is substantial opposition as to a matter to be voted on at the meeting;|
|●||a matter to be voted on at the meeting would have a material adverse impact on shareholders; or|
|●||the voting at the meeting is to be made on a show of hands.|
The effect of this discretionary proxy is that if you do not timely and properly give voting instructions to the depository as to how to vote the Class A ordinary shares underlying your ADSs at shareholders’ meetings, you cannot prevent such Class A ordinary shares underlying your ADSs from being voted, except under the circumstances described above. This may make it more difficult for shareholders to influence the management of our company. Holders of our Class A ordinary shares are not subject to this discretionary proxy.
Your rights to pursue claims against the depositary as a holder of ADSs are limited by the terms of the deposit agreement.
Under the deposit agreement, any action or proceeding against or involving the depositary, arising out of or based upon the deposit agreement or the transactions contemplated thereby or by virtue of owning the ADSs may only be instituted in a state or federal court in New York, New York, and you, as a holder of our ADSs, will have irrevocably waived any objection which you may have to the laying of venue of any such proceeding, and irrevocably submitted to the exclusive jurisdiction of such courts in any such action or proceeding. The depositary may, in its sole discretion, require that any dispute or difference arising from the relationship created by the deposit agreement be referred to and finally settled by an arbitration conducted under the terms described in the deposit agreement, although the arbitration provisions do not preclude you from pursuing claims under the Securities Act or the Exchange Act in state or federal courts. See “Item 12. Description of Securities Other than Equity Securities—D. American Depositary Shares” for more information.
ADSs holders may not be entitled to a jury trial with respect to claims arising under the deposit agreement, which could result in less favorable outcomes to the plaintiff(s) in any such action.
The deposit agreement governing the ADSs representing our Class A ordinary shares provides that, subject to the depositary’s right to require a claim to be submitted to arbitration, the federal or state courts in the City of New York have exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine claims arising under the deposit agreement and in that regard, to the fullest extent permitted by law, ADS holders waive the right to a jury trial of any claim they may have against us or the depositary arising out of or relating to our ordinary shares, the ADSs or the deposit agreement, including any claim under the U.S. federal securities laws.
If we or the depositary opposed a jury trial demand based on the waiver, the court would determine whether the waiver was enforceable based on the facts and circumstances of that case in accordance with the applicable state and federal law. To our knowledge, the enforceability of a contractual pre-dispute jury trial waiver in connection with claims arising under the federal securities laws has not been finally adjudicated by the United States Supreme Court. However, we believe that a contractual pre-dispute jury trial waiver provision is generally enforceable, including under the laws of the State of New York, which govern the deposit agreement. In determining whether to enforce a contractual pre-dispute jury trial waiver provision, courts will generally consider whether a party knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily waived the right to a jury trial. We believe that this is the case with respect to the deposit agreement and the ADSs. It is advisable that you consult legal counsel regarding the jury waiver provision before investing in the ADSs.
If you or any other holders or beneficial owners of ADSs bring a claim against us or the depositary in connection with matters arising under the deposit agreement or the ADSs, including claims under federal securities laws, you or such other holder or beneficial owner may not be entitled to a jury trial with respect to such claims, which may have the effect of limiting and discouraging lawsuits against us and/or the depositary. If a lawsuit is brought against us and/or the depositary under the deposit agreement, it may be heard only by a judge or justice of the applicable trial court, which would be conducted according to different civil procedures and may result in different outcomes than a trial by jury would have had, including results that could be less favorable to the plaintiff(s) in any such action.
Nevertheless, if this jury trial waiver provision is not enforced, to the extent a court action proceeds, it would proceed under the terms of the deposit agreement with a jury trial. No condition, stipulation or provision of the deposit agreement or ADSs shall relieve us or the depositary from our respective obligations to comply with the Securities Act and Exchange Act.
You may experience dilution of your holdings due to inability to participate in rights offerings.
We may from time to time distribute rights to our shareholders, including rights to acquire our securities. However, we cannot make such rights available to you in the United States unless we register both the rights and the securities to which the rights relate under the Securities Act or an exemption from the registration requirements is available. Under the deposit agreement, the depositary will not make rights available to you unless both the rights and the underlying securities to be distributed to ADS holders are either registered under the Securities Act or exempt from registration under the Securities Act. We are under no obligation to file a registration statement with respect to any such rights or securities or to endeavor to cause such a registration statement to be declared effective and we may not be able to establish a necessary exemption from registration under the Securities Act. Accordingly, you may be unable to participate in our rights offerings in the future and may experience dilution in your holdings.
You may not receive dividends or other distributions on our Class A ordinary shares and you may not receive any value for them, if it is illegal or impractical to make them available to you.
The depositary of our ADSs has agreed to pay to you the cash dividends or other distributions it or the custodian receives on Class A ordinary shares or other deposited securities underlying our ADSs, after deducting its fees and expenses. You will receive these distributions in proportion to the number of Class A ordinary shares your ADSs represent. However, the depositary is not responsible if it decides that it is unlawful or impractical to make a distribution available to any holders of ADSs. For example, it would be unlawful to make a distribution to a holder of ADSs if it consists of securities that require registration under the Securities Act but that are not properly registered or distributed under an applicable exemption from registration. The depositary may also determine that it is not feasible to distribute certain property through the mail. Additionally, the value of certain distributions may be less than the cost of mailing them. In these cases, the depositary may determine not to distribute such property. We have no obligation to register under U.S. securities laws any ADSs, Class A ordinary shares, rights or other securities received through such distributions. We also have no obligation to take any other action to permit the distribution of ADSs, Class A ordinary shares, rights or anything else to holders of ADSs. This means that you may not receive distributions we make on our Class A ordinary shares or any value for them if it is illegal or impractical for us to make them available to you. These restrictions may cause a material decline in the value of our ADSs.
You may be subject to limitations on transfer of your ADSs.
Your ADSs are transferable on the books of the depositary. However, the depositary may close its books at any time or from time to time when it deems expedient in connection with the performance of its duties. The depositary may close its books from time to time for a number of reasons, including in connection with corporate events such as a rights offering, during which time the depositary needs to maintain an exact number of ADS holders on its books for a specified period. The depositary may also close its books in emergencies, and on weekends and public holidays. The depositary may refuse to deliver, transfer or register transfers of our ADSs generally when our share register or the books of the depositary are closed, or at any time if we or the depositary thinks that it is advisable to do so because of any requirement of law or of any government or governmental body, or under any provision of the deposit agreement, or for any other reason in accordance with the terms of the deposit agreement. As a result, you may be unable to transfer your ADSs when you wish to.
Our memorandum and articles of association contain anti-takeover provisions that could have a material adverse effect on the rights of holders of our Class A ordinary shares and ADSs.
Our seventh amended and restated memorandum and articles of association contain provisions that could limit the ability of others to acquire control of our company or cause us to engage in change-of-control transactions. These provisions could have the effect of depriving our shareholders of an opportunity to sell their shares at a premium over prevailing market prices by discouraging third parties from seeking to obtain control of our company in a tender offer or similar transaction. In addition, our board of directors has the authority, without further action by our shareholders, to issue preferred shares in one or more series and to fix their designations, powers, preferences, privileges, and relative participating, optional or special rights and the qualifications, limitations or restrictions, including dividend rights, conversion rights, voting rights, terms of redemption and liquidation preferences, any or all of which may be greater than the rights associated with our Class A ordinary shares, in the form of ADS or otherwise. Preferred shares could be issued quickly with terms calculated to delay or prevent a change in control of our company or make removal of management more difficult. If our board of directors decides to issue preferred shares, the price of our ADSs may fall and the voting and other rights of the holders of our Class A ordinary shares and ADSs may be materially and adversely affected.
You may face difficulties in protecting your interests, and your ability to protect your rights through U.S. courts may be limited, because we are incorporated under Cayman Islands law.
We are an exempted company incorporated under the laws of the Cayman Islands. Our corporate affairs are governed by our currently effective memorandum and articles of association, the Companies Act (As Revised) of the Cayman Islands, or the Companies Act, and the common law of the Cayman Islands. The rights of shareholders to take action against our directors, actions by our minority shareholders and the fiduciary duties of our directors owed to us under Cayman Islands law are to a large extent governed by the common law of the Cayman Islands. The common law of the Cayman Islands is derived in part from comparatively limited judicial precedent in the Cayman Islands as well as from the common law of England, the decisions of whose courts are of persuasive authority, but are not binding, on a court in the Cayman Islands. The rights of our shareholders and the fiduciary duties of our directors owed to us under Cayman Islands law are not as clearly established as they would be under statutes or judicial precedent in some jurisdictions in the United States. In particular, the Cayman Islands has a less developed body of securities laws than the United States. Some U.S. states, such as Delaware, have more fully developed and judicially interpreted bodies of corporate law than the Cayman Islands. In addition, Cayman Islands companies may not have standing to initiate a shareholder derivative action in a federal court of the United States.
The notice of registered office is a matter of public record. A list of the names of the current directors and alternate directors (if applicable) are made available by the Registrar of Companies in the Cayman Islands for inspection by any person on payment of a fee. The register of mortgages is open to inspection by creditors and members. Shareholders of Cayman Islands exempted companies like us have no general rights under Cayman Islands law to inspect corporate records (other than the currently effective memorandum and articles of association and any special resolutions passed by such companies) or to obtain copies of lists of shareholders of these companies. Our directors have discretion under our currently effective memorandum and articles of association to determine whether or not, and under what conditions, our corporate records may be inspected by our shareholders, but are not obliged to make them available to our shareholders. This may make it more difficult for you to obtain the information needed to establish any facts necessary for a shareholder motion or to solicit proxies from other shareholders in connection with a proxy contest.
As a result of all of the above, our public shareholders may have more difficulty in protecting their interests in the face of actions taken by our management, members of our board of directors or our controlling shareholders than they would as public shareholders of a company incorporated in the United States. See “Item 10.B. Additional Information—Memorandum and Articles of Association—Differences in Corporate Law.”
We are an emerging growth company within the meaning of the Securities Act and may take advantage of certain reduced reporting requirements.
We are an “emerging growth company,” as defined in the JOBS Act, and we may take advantage of certain exemptions from requirements applicable to other public companies that are not emerging growth companies including, most significantly, not being required to comply with the auditor attestation requirements of Section 404 for so long as we are an emerging growth company until the fifth anniversary from the date of our initial listing. As a result, if we elect not to comply with such auditor attestation requirements, our investors may not have access to certain information they may deem important.
In addition, pursuant to the JOBS Act, we have elected to take advantage of the extended transition period for complying with new or revised accounting standards until those standards would otherwise apply to private companies. As a result, our operating results and financial statements may not be comparable to the operating results and financial statements of other companies who have adopted the new or revised accounting standards. If we cease to be an emerging growth company, we will no longer be able to take advantage of these exemptions or the extended transition period for complying with new or revised accounting standards.
We cannot predict if investors will find our ADSs less attractive or our company less comparable to certain other public companies because we will rely on these exemptions and election. If some investors find our ADSs less attractive as a result, there may be a less active trading market for our ADSs and our ADS price may be more volatile.
We are a foreign private issuer within the meaning of the rules under the Exchange Act, and as such we are exempt from certain provisions applicable to United States domestic public companies.
Because we are a foreign private issuer under the Exchange Act, we are exempt from certain provisions of the securities rules and regulations in the United States that are applicable to U.S. domestic issuers, including: (i) the rules under the Exchange Act requiring the filing of quarterly reports on Form 10-Q or current reports on Form 8-K with the SEC; (ii) the sections of the Exchange Act regulating the solicitation of proxies, consents, or authorizations in respect of a security registered under the Exchange Act; (iii) the sections of the Exchange Act requiring insiders to file public reports of their stock ownership and trading activities and liability for insiders who profit from trades made in a short period of time; and (iv) the selective disclosure rules by issuers of material nonpublic information under Regulation FD.
We are required to file an annual report on Form 20-F within four months of the end of each fiscal year. In addition, we intend to publish our results on a quarterly basis through press releases, distributed pursuant to the rules and regulations of Nasdaq. Press releases relating to financial results and material events will also be furnished to the SEC on Form 6-K. However, the information we are required to file with or furnish to the SEC will be less extensive and less timely compared to that required to be filed with the SEC by U.S. domestic issuers. As a result, you may not be afforded the same protections or information, which would be made available to you, were you investing in a U.S. domestic issuer.
As an exempted company incorporated in the Cayman Islands, we are permitted to adopt certain home country practices in relation to corporate governance matters that differ significantly from the Nasdaq corporate governance listing standards; these practices may afford less protection to shareholders than they would enjoy if we complied fully with the Nasdaq corporate governance listing standards.
As an exempted company incorporated in the Cayman Islands company that is listed on the Nasdaq, we are subject to the Nasdaq corporate governance listing standards. However, Nasdaq rules permit a foreign private issuer like us to follow the corporate governance practices of its home country. Certain corporate governance practices in the Cayman Islands, which is our home country, may differ significantly from the Nasdaq corporate governance listing standards. Currently, we do not plan to rely on home country practice with respect to our corporate governance. However, if we choose to follow home country practice in the future, our shareholders may be afforded less protection than they otherwise would enjoy under the Nasdaq corporate governance listing standards applicable to U.S. domestic issuers.
We are a “controlled company” within the meaning of the Nasdaq Stock Market Rules and, as a result, may rely on exemptions from certain corporate governance requirements that provide protection to shareholders of other companies.
We are a “controlled company” as defined under the Nasdaq Stock Market Rules because Mr. Baoli Ma, our founder, chairman and chief executive officer, owns more than 50% of our total voting power. For so long as we remain a controlled company under that definition, we are permitted to elect to rely, and may rely, on certain exemptions from corporate governance rules, including an exemption from the rule that a majority of our board of directors must be independent directors. As a result, you may not have the same protection afforded to shareholders of companies that are subject to these corporate governance requirements.
We expect to incur increased costs as a result of being a public company, particularly after we cease to qualify as an “emerging growth company.”
We are a public company and expect to incur significant legal, accounting and other expenses that we did not incur as a private company. These additional costs may negatively affect our financial results. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, as well as rules subsequently implemented by the SEC and Nasdaq, impose various requirements on the corporate governance practices of public companies. We expect these rules and regulations to increase our legal and financial compliance costs and to make some corporate activities more time-consuming and costly. We expect to incur significant expenses and devote substantial management effort toward ensuring compliance with the requirements of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and the other rules and regulations of the SEC. For example, as a public company, we have increased the number of independent directors and adopted policies regarding internal controls and disclosure controls and procedures. We also expect that operating as a public company will make it more difficult and more expensive for us to obtain director and officer liability insurance, and we may be required to accept reduced policy limits and coverage or incur substantially higher costs to obtain the same or similar coverage. In addition, we incur additional costs associated with our public company reporting requirements. It may also be more difficult for us to find qualified persons to serve on our board of directors or as executive officers. We are currently evaluating and monitoring developments with respect to these rules and regulations, and we cannot predict or estimate with any degree of certainty the amount of additional costs we may incur or the timing of such costs.
In the past, shareholders of a public company often brought securities class action suits against the company following periods of instability in the market price of that company’s securities. If we were involved in a class action suit, it could divert a significant amount of our management’s attention and other resources from our business and operations, which could harm our results of operations and require us to incur significant expenses to defend the suit. Any such class action suit, whether or not successful, could harm our reputation and restrict our ability to raise capital in the future. In addition, if a claim is successfully made against us, we may be required to pay significant damages, which could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
ITEM 4. INFORMATION ON THE COMPANY
A.History and Development of the Company
In September 2011, Beijing BlueCity Culture and Media Co., Ltd., our VIE, a PRC domestic company, was established. We launched our mobile app Blued in 2012.
In December 2013, BlueCity Holdings Limited was established in the Cayman Islands as our offshore holding company to facilitate financing and offshore listing. In March 2014, BlueCity Holdings Limited established a wholly-owned subsidiary in Hong Kong, BlueCity Holdings Hong Kong Limited.
In 2014, BlueCity Holdings Hong Kong Limited established, Beijing BlueCity Information & Technology Co., Ltd., our WFOE, and we gained control over our VIE through our WFOE by entering into a series of contractual arrangements with our VIE and its shareholders. In June 2018, in order to reflect the change of shareholding of our VIE, we effected some restructuring of the equity ownership in our VIE, and a new series of contractual arrangements, whose terms are substantially the same with the previous contractual agreements, were subsequently entered into by and among our WFOE, our VIE and our VIE’s shareholders. See “—Contractual Arrangements with our VIE and Its Shareholders” and “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure.” As a result of our direct ownership in our WFOE and the variable interest entity contractual arrangements, we are regarded as the primary beneficiary of our VIE. We treat our VIE as our consolidated affiliated entity under U.S. GAAP, and have consolidated the financial results of our VIE in our consolidated financial statements in accordance with U.S. GAAP.
On July 8, 2020, our ADSs commenced trading on the Nasdaq Global Market under the ticker symbol “BLCT.” We raised approximately US$78.2 million in net proceeds from the issuance of new shares from the initial public offering after deducting underwriting commissions and the offering expenses payable by us.
In August 2020, we completed the acquisition of LESDO, a leading location-based social networking service provider targeting the lesbian community in China.
In December 2020, we completed the acquisition of Finka, a leading gay social networking app in China targeting younger generations, for an aggregate consideration equivalent to RMB237 million (US$36.3 million) in cash.
In April 2021, we established our own internet hospital, He Health Internet Hospital, which has obtained a medical institution practicing license and completed the registration of internet diagnosis and treatment activities with the NHC. He Health Internet Hospital is expected to provide our users with HIV-related diagnosis and treatment services, as well as consultation services related to comprehensive men's health issues in the near future.
Our principal executive office is Block 2 Tower B Room 028, No 22 Pingguo Shequ, Bai Zi Wan Road, Chaoyang District, Beijing, China. Our telephone number at this address is +86 10 5876-9855. Our registered office in the Cayman Islands is Conyers Trust Company (Cayman) Limited, Cricket Square, Hutchins Drive, P.O. 2681, Grand Cayman KY1-1111, Cayman Islands. Our agent for service of process in the United States is Cogency Global Inc., located at 122 East 42nd Street, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10168.
SEC maintains an internet site that contains reports, proxy and information statements, and other information regarding issuers that file electronically with the SEC on www.sec.gov. You can also find information on our website http://ir.blue-city.com. The information contained in our website is not a part of this annual report.
We have a large and active user base that primarily consists of LGBTQ persons in China, other parts of Asia including India, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. We provide a full suite of services that fosters connections and enhance the wellbeing of the LGBTQ community through its portfolio of brands. BlueCity’s portfolio apps are available in 13 languages, and has more than 72 million registered users worldwide. BlueCity’s mobile app Blued enables users to conveniently and safely connect with each other, express themselves and access professional health-related services. BlueCity’s portfolio of brands also includes Finka, a leading gay social networking app for a younger generation in China, and LESDO, a leading lesbian social networking app in China. We acquired the businesses of Finka and LESDO through two acquisitions of their operating entities in 2020, with the aim of further developing our portfolio of apps and services and better serving the LGBTQ community across geographies and demographics.
For detailed descriptions of the definitions of average MAUs and average DAUs, see "Introduction." Average MAUs of our portfolio apps reached 7.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2020, an increase of 20.3% from the same period in 2019. Leveraging our experience in China, we have successfully expanded into a number of overseas markets and established a strong global presence. We are rapidly expanding into new markets, and have Blued users spanning approximately 170 countries and regions as of December 31, 2020. Users in countries and regions outside of China represented over 41.5% of our total portfolio MAUs in December 2020. Despite our global footprint, approximately 3.4%, 6.6% and 10.0% of our total revenues for 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively, were contributed by users outside China. We are still in the early stage of generating revenue from our users outside China and are continuing to introduce diversified service offerings to cater to their different needs. Currently, Blued is primarily used by homosexual men, while all of its services are available to the general LGBTQ population. LESDO, a new addition to our portfolio in August 2020, primarily serves the lesbian community China. Finka, another gay social networking app that we acquired in December 2020, primarily targets younger generations and is mainly focused on relationships.
We generate revenues through various services we provide for LGBTQ community. Our total revenues increased by 51.4% to RMB758.9 million (US$107.2 million) in 2019 from RMB501.3 million in 2018, and by 35.9% to RMB1,031.3 million (US$158.1 million) in 2020 from RMB758.9 million in 2019. Our net loss decreased by 63.4% to RMB52.9 million (US$7.5 million) in 2019 from RMB144.6 million in 2018, while increased by 319.1% to RMB221.9 million (US$34.0 million) in 2020 from RMB52.9 million in 2019.
We operate a leading global LGBTQ platform that is deeply rooted in the LGBTQ community, which is primarily based in China but also includes users from other parts of Asia. Currently, our portfolio of apps include Blued, LESDO and Finka. Blued is primarily used by homosexual men, while all of its services are available to the LGBTQ population in general. LESDO, a leading lesbian social-networking app in China, primarily serves the lesbian community in China. Finka is a networking app that primarily targets younger generations of the gay community and is mainly focused on developing relationships between users.
We are the largest online LGBTQ community in China, other parts of Asia including India, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam in terms of average MAUs in 2020, according to the Frost & Sullivan Report. We are rapidly expanding into new markets such as Latin America. We mainly grow our user base organically and foster a healthy and uplifting community culture to allow the LGBTQ population to know themselves, be themselves, and celebrate their lives.
In 2020, Blued had an average daily time spent per active user of over 50 minutes and average daily sessions per active user of over 21 times, according to the Frost & Sullivan Report. Blued had an average next month retention rate of 66.3% in 2020.
Blued mobile app
As a central hub of BlueCity’s services and platforms, the Blued mobile app allows our users to connect with each other through our social networking services, express themselves through our live streaming services, access professional health related services through He Health at their fingertips. Through Blued, Danlan Public Interest also conducts a variety of public interest activities for our community, including online HIV test booking and HIV prevention education.
We currently operate Blued via a domestic version and an international version, which were launched in 2012 and 2015, respectively. The two versions are substantially similar in terms of the social networking and live streaming functions, while we adopted different approaches to user interface design to cater to domestic and international users’ preferences. The international version can be used in a broad range of languages to accommodate our globalized user base. As we are in the early stage of developing our health-related services, currently they are accessible only on the domestic version of Blued.
The main services and features of the Blued app are described below.
Social Networking Services
Location-Based Social Networking
We offer a variety of location-based features that cater to the diverse social needs of our users and enable them to conveniently connect with each other and expand relationships from online to offline. Users can contact each other via messaging or other communication tools on our platform, and follow other users’ accounts in order to receive real-time notifications on their status updates.
Content-Based Social Networking
Leveraging our strong data analytics capabilities and AI-driven technologies, our content-based social features allow users to discover content that is interesting and relevant to them and build connections with other users in our robust global community. The “Recommendation” channel of Blued presents a selected feed of high-quality posts made by users of the general community that is updated on a real-time basis. The “Following” channel allows users to follow the posts made by the content creators that they follow.
We offer more contents through sub-channels. Under “Community” feature, users can join groups covering diverse topics and better engage with community members that share the common interests. Other features available on our platform, such as Super Topic and short video channel, help users to generate relevant content and make meaningful interactions with others within the communities.
We customize our content offerings based on user behavior in different operating regions and the needs of the local communities. We launched “Quick Chat” feature on the international version of Blued that allows users to join live video speed dating. This feature pairs users in seconds based on the languages that they speak and their locations. We have brought a voice chatroom feature to some Asian markets, including Japan and India. This business has not commercialized. In November 2020, we introduced a major update to our Blued mobile app in Latin America with optional photo verification and a simpler user interface.
Our social networking services are supported by instant messaging function, which enables users to communicate with each other using various forms of messages including text, our self-designed emojis “gaymojis,” voice recordings, pictures and video messages, virtual gifts, as well as real-time communication through audio and video chat functions.
Live Streaming Services
Our application enables viewers to enjoy a wide variety of content and interactive activities including talent shows, matchmaking shows, game shows, storytelling shows, comedy shows and casual chats between broadcasters and viewers, facilitating dynamic and engaging interactions among members of our community. In addition to solo-broadcaster live streaming sessions, we also enable our broadcasters to collaborate with each other to conduct one-on-one battle and multi-broadcaster sessions. Leveraging our artificial intelligent algorithm, we are able to efficiently recommend to viewers live streaming content and broadcasters that they might find interesting.
We offer a wide range of interesting and interactive features such as customized filters, virtual gifts, and special visual effects. Viewers of live streams may interact with broadcasters by posting bullet feeds that can be seen by other viewers or by sending virtual gifts purchased with our platform’s virtual currencies. We enable viewers to discover live streaming channels by different categories and view channels of the broadcasters they have followed. Users may apply to become a broadcaster through our required verification processes directly on the mobile app.
Through the He Health platform, we provide a wide variety of health-related services primarily including (1) HIV-related services and (2) comprehensive men’s health services. Our users can access He Health from Blued, official website and Wechat official account.
We provide easy access to timely and professional HIV screening, pre-exposure prophylaxis (“PrEP”) and post-exposure prophylaxis (“PEP”) solutions. We enable our users to select and order from a comprehensive array of advanced self-test kits and PrEP and PEP medications to be delivered directly to their doorstep, or to be picked up at a pharmacy in our partner network covering 37 major cities in China. We have a customer service team dedicated to providing basic guidance for our users on the use of the medications and kits. For users in need of medical advice regarding their PrEP and PEP plans, we provide online referrals to HIV specialists from recommended hospitals in China who provide follow-up and one-on-one consultation services. Our He Health Internet Hospital has obtained a medical institution practicing license and completed the registration of internet diagnosis and treatment activities in April 2021. He Health Internet Hospital is expected to provide our users with HIV-related diagnosis and treatment services in the near future.
In addition, as an important initiative of our Danlan Public Interest, we enable our users to search for HIV testing locations in China and make appointments directly via Blued. In cooperation with our community partners throughout China, we have amassed a network of nearly 7,000 testing locations and established 18 express testing centers. We also educate and engage our users by running a forum through He Health, on which we regularly post feature articles and organize “Q&A” threads related to HIV prevention. For more information on our public interest initiatives, see “—Corporate Social Responsibility—Danlan Public Interest.”
Comprehensive Men’s Health Services
Helping our users enjoy a healthier life is a top priority of our platform. Through our self-owned pharmacy operated by Shandong Youping Pharmacy Chain Co., Ltd. and through our cooperation with relevant reputable vendors, He Health provides access to a wide variety of OTC drugs and nutritional supplements related to men’s health. Our users can submit purchase requests, upload relevant medical information and place orders through He Health to efficiently obtain the drugs or supplements they need. We also provide online referrals to users to specialists from top hospitals in China to provide one-on-one consultation services on various men’s health issues. Furthermore, our He Health Internet Hospital is expected to provide our users with consultation services related to comprehensive men's health issues in the near future. In addition, we provide a selected collection of skincare, lifestyle and sexual wellness products on He Health in cooperation with reputable vendors.
LESDO mobile app
In August 2020, we acquired LESDO, a leading lesbian social-networking app in China. LESDO is a social networking app serving the lesbian community in China, allowing users to express themselves while building authentic and healthy social connections via private chats, live streaming and social news feeds. This acquisition represents our determination to better serve more sub-groups of the LGBTQ community.
In November 2020, LESDO launched a new version with customizable user recommendations and “Catch” feature, which aims to better encourage users to start up more meaningful and revealing conversations, while also bringing them greater choices.
Finka mobile app
In December 2020, we completed the acquisition of Finka, a leading gay social networking app in China that primarily targets younger generations. Built upon the signature “Swipe” function, Finka helps young users establish social contact, record and share their daily lives through rich product features, including matching, private message, posting moments and live streaming. Finka complements our Blued app, both in its functionality focused on dating and swipe, and in the demographics of its users.
Our Monetization Model
We generate revenue primarily through (1) live streaming services, (2) membership services, (3) advertising services, (4) merchandise sales and (5) other services.
Live Streaming Services
We derive a substantial portion of our revenues from live streaming, primarily through sale of virtual gifts that viewers purchase for the broadcasters. We officially launched our live streaming services in Blued app in 2016. LESDO and Finka also provide live streaming services to our community members.
On our portfolio apps, we offer a wide variety of innovative virtual gift items to our users, including decorations and other consumable special effects, which they can give to broadcasters to show their appreciation, thereby converting them to paying users. Users are able to purchase virtual gifts on our platform using virtual currencies, beans on Blued and LESDO, and diamonds on Finka, which in turn can be purchased via embedded payment systems. These virtual currencies are non-refundable and may not be converted back to cash or be transferred between users. The RMB equivalent pricing of virtual gifts range approximately from less than RMB1 to RMB8,500. We continuously offer new virtual items related to trendy events and pop culture trends to incentivize purchases and increase sales.
We have a large pool of robust, talented and loyal broadcasters on our portfolio apps, and share a certain percentage of revenue generated from virtual gift sales with talent agencies that represent these broadcasters. Talent agencies recruit, train and manage broadcasters on our platform. We are committed to supporting the development of our broadcasters and attracting new broadcasters to ensure a sustainable supply of high-quality streaming content on our platform. For broadcasters who join us without a talent agency, we refer them to a third-party talent agency for better management and development. We require talent agencies and their broadcasters to comply with our platform’s polices. We promote our broadcaster’s profile and increase their popularity in a number of ways, such as designating eye-catching “agency-signed broadcaster” or, for certain highly popular agency-signed broadcasters, “official broadcaster” labels to their profile and recommending their channels on the homepage and during special online events. We also continuously encourage our users to become a broadcaster by holding various promotional campaigns to encourage our users to express themselves and showcase their talent.
To satisfy our users’ social networking needs and improve their user experience, we provide membership services comprising a wide variety of additional social features and functions that users pay to use mainly in the forms of (1) subscription-based membership services and (2) pay-per-use enhancement functions.
We launched our membership services in June 2018 on the domestic version of Blued. Blued started to implement a comparable membership service system on the international version in November 2019 with certain offerings differentiated for the international markets. Currently, Finka and LESDO also provide membership service.
Subscription-based Membership Services
On Blued, we provide enhanced and additional services to users who subscribe to our membership program by paying membership fees. The domestic version is currently divided into two tiers, VIP and Blued X. Membership services for all members include displaying a membership logo on their profile, ability to hide distance and last log-in time from other users, personalized homepage, advanced filters, personalized chat window background, higher limits on the maximum number of blacklisted users, and other special features unavailable to non-members. Additional services unlocked for our Blued X include the ability to hide log-in status blocking in-app advertisements, follow other users, and view messages received from other users without giving them notice. For users with more specific social networking needs, we currently provide attractive service packages, on our domestic version, that our users can purchase to enjoy for a one-month period that contain certain enhanced privacy and promotional functions.
On Finka, we provide enhanced and additional services to users who subscribe to our membership program by paying membership fees. Additional services unlocked for members include access to near-by users, advanced filters, exploration to find friends in different locations, personalized main page, privacy alteration and special virtual effect when entering into live streaming channels.
On Blued, we also empower our users to better promote themselves and raise their profile through advanced enhancement functions on a pay-per-service basis, currently including “Promote” and “Spotlight” which are only available on the domestic version. “Promote” promotes a single post that the paying user created by widely pushing the post to other users and thus increasing the likelihood of other users viewing the post for several hours. The paying user can either rely on our intelligent matchmaking algorithm to recommend the post to other users that he might be interested in attracting, or directly target a specific user type by applying a number of filters. After purchasing “Spotlight” service, our platform recommends the paying user to the nearby users for a short period of time, significantly increasing the likelihood of other users visiting or messaging the paying user.
We offer a variety of advertising services via Blued and Finka, primarily including (1) display advertising placement on the full screen that appears before the application is loaded, banners on the location-based social homepage, banners on recent visitors page and banners on the user profile page and (2) native advertising placement on the location-based social homepage and recent visitors page. Our advertisers consist of a variety of brands attracted by our platform and user base, including major e-commerce platforms, fast moving consumer goods, cosmetic and beauty products and health products providers in China.
Through He Health, we generated revenue from merchandise sales of HIV-related screening kits, medications and drugs, as well as sales of OTC drugs and nutritional supplements related to men’s health. He Health, launched in March 2019, is currently available only in China.
Through Bluedbaby which we launched in July 2017, we collected consulting service fees from customers of our family planning services. We stopped from accepting new orders in the provision of family planning services in March 2021.
Content Monitoring and Prevention of Minor Usage
We are committed to complying with relevant laws and regulations on online content. We have invested significant resources in developing advanced content monitoring technologies, policies and procedures. We have a dedicated team, which consists of approximately 25% of our employees, to review and handle content on our platform for compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
We maintain content management and review procedures to monitor short-form videos, online chatting rooms, user profiles and news feed, and other content on our platform to promptly identify content that may be deemed inappropriate, in violation of laws, regulations and government policies or infringing upon third-party rights. We have an automated AI-enabled screening mechanism that serves as the first layer of defense in our content review system. This system, incorporating AI technologies provided by third-party service providers, automatically flags and screens out content that involves inappropriate or illegal audio, video, comments or texts. Once the content is processed by the automated screening mechanism, our system then extracts the selected suspicious content and sends to our manual content monitoring team, our second layer of defense, for further review. The content is subject to manual re-assessment, our third layer of defense.
Due to the real time nature of live streaming, we deploy concurrent manual and machine monitoring regarding image content to comply with applicable laws and regulations. Our AI-enabled screening mechanism constantly analyzes the live video feed and flags doubtful content to our content monitoring team for further handling. In addition, we rolled out a report button for all users watching the live streaming so that the content monitoring team may re-examine the one-minute video clip around the point when report button is pressed. When any inappropriate or illegal content is identified, we promptly remove the content. Further actions may also be taken to hold relevant users accountable.
We strictly limit people under the lawful age to use our platform, which is expressly and repeatedly stated in our user terms and conditions, new-user registration page, welcoming screen, home page banner, and chatting interface. Each newly registered user in China is subject to a manual review process as a measure to prevent minor usage. We also generally require broadcasters to submit their bank information, and valid identifications before initiating any live streaming activities. We actively encourage users to report minor users. Once a user is determined to be under age, the relevant account will be identified and blocked by our platform.
Data Security and Cyber Security Compliance
We are committed to protecting information of all users on our platform. We collect personal information and data only with users’ prior consent. We encrypt confidential personal information we gather from our platform. We strictly control and manage the use of data within our various teams and retain access record. To further ensure data security and avoid data leakage, we have established internal protocols under which we grant classified access to confidential personal data to limited employees with strictly defined and layered access authority through internal application programming interface (API).
We have a security team of engineers and technicians dedicated to protecting the security of our platform and complying with applicable cyber security laws and regulations in the regions where we operate. Our back-end security system is capable of handling malicious attacks to safeguard the security of our platform and to protect the privacy of our users. We back up our user and certain other critical forms of data on a daily basis in separate and various secured data back-up systems operated by cloud providers to minimize the risk of data lost. Among our portfolio apps, only Blued’s infrastructure and cloud-based data security system has passed ISO 27001 and GB 17859-1999 Level 3 standards. See “Item 3. Key Information — D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Industry—Because we store, process and use data, some of which contains sensitive personal information, we face concerns over the collection, improper use or disclosure of personal information, which could deter current and potential users from using our products and services, damage our reputation, face regulatory scrutiny, and in turn materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.”
We have a team of over 227 experienced technology professionals who are based in China as of December 31, 2020. Our major technology and development teams include those focusing on mobile, front end, big data, artificial intelligence, quality control and infrastructure. Among our technology and development personnel, above 80% hold undergraduate degrees or above, and above 10% hold graduate degrees.
We build big data analysis framework on our platform to improve operating efficiencies and user satisfaction. The data we collect include user behavior, profiles, channels, subscription history, and live streaming statistics and key words in posts. The collected data are processed to remove identifying information, transformed, and stored on our big data clusters. We leverage big data analytics and artificial intelligence technologies to enhance the accuracy of user behavior predictions and user profiling and optimize our operation, targeted content and user experience. Internal operational teams may also gain insights with visual representation from sampled data to track their performances.
The seamless collaboration between our technology and operational teams, together with our big data analytics capability have resulted in improved operational efficiency for our company. Our data engineers are involved in all critical operational areas, such as content recommendation, live streaming monitoring, and ads algorithms. They have thorough understanding of the computational needs from different operational teams, and are therefore capable of providing technological support to address diversified needs in operating our platform.
We believe we are in a unique position to capitalize on the use of artificial intelligence technologies, including computer vision, machine learning, and natural language processing, to provide personalized user experience on our platform. Notable artificial intelligence features include:
User Matching and Content Recommendation
We utilize artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies to empower our ranking and recommendation system to increase the exposure of certain live streaming contents. We also plan to deploy a more personalized ranking system to provide more precise social matching services based on user profiles and preferences.
We have incorporated various artificial intelligence technologies from third-party service providers, including image and video recognition, natural language processing, voice recognition, and text filters. Combining artificial intelligence with manual verification, we constantly monitor user-generated contents, such as live streaming, chatting room interaction and discussion.
We have developed a secure, efficient and cost-effective cloud-based core system to operate our business. Cloud-based technology allows us to process large amount of complex data in-house, which significantly reduces cost and improves operation efficiency. We currently rely on UCloud and Qiniu for major of our computing, storage, bandwidth, content delivery network, and other services both in and outside of China. We currently rely on Akamai for content delivery network outside of China. Data related to users in and outside of China are strictly stored on servers in and outside of China, respectively. This ensures the instant expansion and robustness of our services at peak times. We currently support simultaneous hosting of hundreds and thousands of live streaming and simultaneous streaming services for millions of users. See “Item 3. Key Information — D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Industry—Our business depends on our ability to maintain and scale our technology infrastructure. Any service disruption in our service could damage our reputation, result in a potential loss of users and decrease in user engagement, and seriously harm our business.”
Marketing and Brand Promotion
Our brand values are diversity, healthiness and positivity. We believe that our high-quality products and services lead to strong word-of-mouth referrals, which drives customer awareness of our brand. Our market position benefits significantly from our large and robust user base and our strong brand recognition. Leveraging our in-depth understanding of our users, we adopt a variety of online and offline marketing and promotional activities, including advertising placements through major social networks and search engines, promotional campaigns on app stores, key opinion leader marketing, sponsorship of LGBTQ events, local user groups gatherings and entertainment and user feedback sessions. In addition, our long-standing dedication to public interest initiatives related to the health and recognition of the LGBTQ community is also conducive to building and promoting our brand. To assist with our overseas marketing and promotional activities, we also engage marketing service providers with in-depth local knowledge in a number of countries and regions outside of China.
Providing superior customer service is our top priority. We have established customer service centers based in China. Our users may submit inquiries, feedback or complaints about the use of our products and services by sending messages via online chat or emails at any time. Upon receipt of complaints or inquiries, our customer service team will promptly conduct investigations and provide users with explanations and solutions accordingly.
For our health-related services, we have a customer service team dedicated to providing guidance to our users on various issues, including use of the products, explanation of test results, and referral to HIV or men’s health specialists.
We have not received any complaints from our users that resulted in a material adverse impact on our business.
Corporate Social Responsibility
We are committed to undertaking our corporate social responsibility in the regions where we have our user communities, and continually supporting and empowering the LGBTQ community through our own public interest initiatives and in partnership with other public interest organizations.
We have been ranked at No. 12 among 50 Chinese Internet companies for its performance in corporate social responsibility (CSR) in 2019 according to a report issued in April 2020 by China CSR Research Center, an affiliate of Southern Weekly, one of the country’s most influential media outlets. Launched in 2003, the annual report is one of the most influential CSR performance indices in China.
In August 2020, we released our 2019 Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Report and 2019 Corporate Social Responsibility Report, both in their very first editions, which highlight our initiatives to drive progress towards a more diverse and inclusive space for our employees, users globally and wider society.
Danlan Public Interest
Leveraging our deep understanding of and broad connections with the LGBTQ community accumulated throughout the years since Danlan.org, we continuously conduct a wide variety of public interest initiatives related to the LGBTQ community primarily through Danlan Public Interest, BlueCity’s public interest arm. Empowered by our platform’s technologies and data traffic, we introduced the concept of “Internet + HIV prevention” to integrate online and offline HIV prevention efforts in China. We promoted our “Internet + HIV prevention” practices and experience at the International AIDS Conference in 2016 and 2020. We are also committed to continuously promoting diversity and LGBTQ awareness around the world by organizing and participating in a wide variety of social events. Examples of Danlan Public Interest’s initiatives include the following:
HIV Express Testing. We empower our users to search for HIV testing locations in China and make appointments directly via Blued. In cooperation with our community partners throughout China, we have amassed a network containing nearly 7,000 testing locations and established 18 express testing centers covering most major cities throughout China. Our first testing center was established in Beijing in 2012. From 2017 to 2019, we facilitated over 23,000 free offline HIV tests in Beijing alone. In 2020, we facilitated through the Blued app over 5,600 online appointments for HIV testing in Beijing.
HIV Education. We committed a portion of Blued platform resources to HIV prevention education. We recommend and promote HIV prevention education materials through our advertising spots, messaging system and He Health’s educational forum. We also cooperate with HIV specialists to produce educational programs distributed in the forms of short video posts and live streaming sessions organized by our Blued official account.
HIV Research. We are a natural partner for HIV research. Leveraging our platform’s technological advantages and our large LGBTQ user base, we are able to empower researchers in various aspects of HIV research, including size estimation of LGBTQ population, recruitment of research subjects, assessment of risks and intervention strategies and large-scale survey for feedback on prevention measures. We have worked with a wide range of governmental, academia and corporate partners, including Gilead Sciences, Inc. and GlaxoSmithKline (China) Investment Co., Ltd., to conduct HIV-related research and studies. From 2018 to 2020, we have participated in 16 studies and co-published 19 research papers on renowned academic journals.
HIV Prevention Volunteers. Effective HIV prevention also needs dedicated community efforts offline. We have organized and trained more than 380 volunteers who have worked on HIV testing and prevention initiatives since 2012, with an aggregate of over 52,000 dedicated volunteer hours. We have implemented a standardized program to regularly interview, recruit and train our volunteers and test and evaluate their HIV-related knowledge and service quality.
Funding for HIV Prevention. We also work with prominent community partners to provide funding to HIV programs from time to time. For example, in August 2019, in cooperation with Chinese Foundation for Prevention of STD and HIV we established and provided the initial funding for “Danlan Public Interest Fund.” Through the fund, we intend to further gather support from other community partners and HIV-related organizations to strengthen support for HIV prevention efforts among youth. In November 2020, we pledged to donated RMB1 million ($153.3 thousands) to further carry out HIV-prevention education and control in the lead-up to World AIDS Day. The funds will be used to support the HIV prevention work of prospective non-profit organizations in their community outreach and capacity building. The brand will also actively seek applications and provide grants for programs focusing on HIV prevention among young people.
Other Social Responsibility and Sustainability Initiatives
We are committed to serving our community by continuously improving our social responsibility and sustainability performance. In addition to the HIV-related initiatives currently implemented by Danlan Public Interest, we are committed to operating as a strong corporate citizen across many other areas of our business. Among other things, we review and disclose our corporate social responsibility performance on an annual basis. In reference to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, we have identified certain key areas for a corporation like us to focus on, including operational compliance, user data and privacy protection, community care, product innovation, user experience and customer service, employee health and safety and employee diversity and equality. Examples of some of the activities include the following:
Diversity and LGBTQ Inclusion. We are a firm believer in equality and diversity, and in promoting an open and inclusive corporate culture within our company. We also constantly participate in a wide range of activities to promote diversity and LGBTQ inclusion. We routinely organize seminars and gatherings to conduct dialogues with LGBTQ members on their life issues and help provide guidance to them. We also organize LGBTQ social events in cooperation with NGOs, media, and corporate partners with the aim of using our influence to foster a more LGBTQ friendly environment. For example, in 2015, we sponsored a group wedding ceremony of seven Chinese same-sex couples officiated in the U.S., in cooperation with our corporate and NGO partners. In late June 2020, in the fight against the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Blued held #StayProud: A Virtual Pride Experience, its first-ever online pride event to encourage the LGBTQ community to stay strong and proud during these challenging times, with profits of the show donated to the Los Angeles LGBT Center. We also partnered with not-for-profit organizations in markets including Brazil, China, South Korea, India, Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam to donate certain medical supplies and conduct COVID-19 related training and education. For example, in July 2020, Blued invited representatives from Casa 1, an LGBT NGO in São Paulo, to share sexual and mental health advice in live streaming events for the region’s users. In late 2020, in partnership with Impulse, a global nonprofit HIV/wellness organization for gay men, Blued promoted HIV prevention and deliver free testing toolkits at offline launch events in Mexico City in conjunction with the launching of its new interface in Latin America, and joined Impulse in supporting the World AIDS Day on December 1. In January 2021, our CEO was listed on the “OUTstanding 100 LGBT+ Executives List” from INvolve, a global network and consultancy championing diversity and inclusion in business.
Operational Compliance. We continuously optimize our ability to effectively manage and control our internal systems and processes. We have established various channels to gather external information from our stakeholders, such as our users, suppliers and partners, as well as standardized procedures for internal communications and feedback between each level of our operations. We have also established comprehensive internal policies and procedures to monitor, report and prevent fraudulent and corruptive conduct to improve our operational compliance and promote an ethical and transparent culture.
Talent Development. Talent development is fundamental to our sustainable growth. Our new employee training features a “Rainbow Boat” program, through which we provide comprehensive training tailored to new employees’ personal goals to help them effectively and holistically align themselves with our corporate culture. We also provide various interactive training programs to develop our employees’ professional skills and capabilities, including “Knowledge and Innovation Sharing Sessions” in which we teach them innovative skills and ideas to help them better develop our businesses as well as their own career.
Employee Health. We are committed to improving employees’ physical and mental health. We provide a healthy workplace that offers resources to actively support a healthy lifestyle, such as office gym, ergonomic office supplies and baby care rooms. We also provide our employees access to health check programs and regularly organize recreational activities.
Fight against the COVID-19. In addition to organizing the #StayProud event to support the LGBTQ community in the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, we partnered with not-for-profit organizations in countries such as Brazil, China, South Korea, India, Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam to donate much-needed medical supplies or conduct COVID-19-related training and education.
We currently compete in various intensely competitive industries, primarily including the global online LGBTQ social and entertainment industry, and PRC online health services industry.
We anticipate that these industries will continue to evolve and experience rapid technological change, evolving industry trends, shifting customer demands, and frequent innovation. We will endeavor to continually innovate to remain competitive.
We regard our proprietary domain names, copyrights, trademarks, patents and other intellectual property as critical to our operations. We rely on a combination of patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secret laws to protect our intellectual property. As of December 31, 2020, we had more than 520 registered trademarks in China and globally including the logo of our Blued application and Finka application; 1 patent in China; 31 software copyrights in China; and more than 265 domain names.
We rigorously control access to our proprietary technology and information and maintain internal channels for report of intellectual property rights infringements. There can be no assurance that our efforts will be successful. Even if our efforts are successful, we may incur significant costs in defending our rights. From time to time, third parties may initiate litigation against us alleging infringement of their proprietary rights or claiming they have not infringed our intellectual property rights. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Our Industry—We have been and may be subject to intellectual property infringement claims or other allegations by third parties, which may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and prospects.”
We maintain various insurance policies to safeguard against risks and unexpected events. We have purchased property insurance, digital business and data protection insurance, business interruption insurance and directors and officers liability insurance. We provide social security insurance for our employees as required by PRC law. We do not have product liability insurance or key-man life insurance.
This section sets forth a summary of the most significant rules and regulations that affect our business activities in China or the rights of our shareholders to receive dividends and other distributions from us.
Regulations Relating to Foreign Investment
Guidance Catalogue of Industries for Foreign Investment
Investment activities in the PRC by foreign investors are principally governed by the Guidance Catalogue of Industries for Foreign Investment, which was promulgated and is amended from time to time by MOFCOM and NDRC. On June 28, 2017, MOFCOM and NDRC promulgated a revision of the Guidance Catalogue of Industries for Foreign Investment (2017 Revision), or the Catalogue, effective on July 28, 2017. Industries listed in the Catalogue are divided into three categories: encouraged, restricted and prohibited. On June 28, 2018, NDRC and MOFCOM promulgated the Special Administrative Measures (Negative List) for Foreign Investment Access (2018 Version), or the 2018 Negative List, effective on July 28, 2018. The Negative List and the Industry Guidelines on Encouraged Foreign Investment (2019 Version), or the 2019 Encouraged Catalogue, were both promulgated by the NDRC and MOFCOM on June 30, 2019 and became effective on July 30, 2019. The 2020 Negative List promulgated by the NDRC and MOFCOM on June 23, 2020 and became effective on July 23, 2020, and the Industry Guidelines on Encouraged Foreign Investment (2020 Version), or the 2020 Encouraged Catalogue, promulgated on December 27, 2020 and became effective on January 27, 2021. The 2018 Negative List was repealed simultaneously by the 2019 Negative List and then by 2020 Negative List, and the “Industry Guidelines on Encouraged Foreign Investment” in the Catalogue was repealed simultaneously by the 2019 Encouraged Catalogue and then by 2020 Encouraged Catalogue. Therefore, the 2020 Negative List enumerates restricted industries and prohibited industries in relation to the foreign investment, the 2020 Encouraged Catalogue enumerates encouraged industries in relation to the foreign investment. Industries neither listed in the 2020 Negative List nor listed in the 2020 Encouraged Catalogue are generally deemed to be in the “permitted” category. Establishment of wholly foreign-owned enterprises is generally allowed in encouraged and permitted industries. Some restricted industries are limited to equity or contractual joint ventures, while in some cases Chinese partners are required to hold the majority interests in such joint ventures. In addition, foreign investment in restricted category projects is subject to government approvals. Foreign investors are not allowed to invest in industries in the prohibited category. Industries not listed in the 2020 Negative List are generally open to foreign investment unless specifically restricted by other PRC regulations. Foreign investment in value-added telecommunications services (except for e-commerce, domestic multi-party communication, store-and-forward, and call center) and Internet audio-video program service and Internet culture operation (except for music) fall within the 2020 Negative List.
On October, 2016, MOFCOM issued the Interim Measures for Record-filing Administration of the Establishment and Change of Foreign-invested Enterprises, or FIE Record-filing Interim Measures, most recently amended on June 29, 2018 and took effect on June 30, 2018. Pursuant to FIE Record-filing Interim Measures, the establishment and change of foreign-invested enterprises are subject to record-filing procedures, provided that such establishment or change does not involve special entry administration measures. If the establishment or change of foreign-invested enterprises matters involve the special entry administration measures, the approval of the MOFCOM or its local counterparts is still required. On December 30, 2019, MOFCOM and SAMR jointly promulgated the Measures for Information Reporting on Foreign Investment, or the Measures for Information Reporting, which became effective on January, 2020. The FIE Record-filing Interim Measures was repealed simultaneously by the Measures for Information Reporting. Pursuant to the Measures for Information Reporting, where a foreign investor carries out investment activities in China directly or indirectly, the foreign investor or the foreign-invested enterprise shall submit the investment information to competent commerce departments. The establishments and changes of foreign-invested enterprises are subject to information reporting procedures through Enterprise Registration System and National Enterprise Credit Information Publicity System.
Pursuant to the Provisions on Administration of Foreign-Invested Telecommunications Enterprises promulgated by the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, or the State Council on December 11, 2001 and most recently amended on February, 2016, or the FITE Regulations, the ultimate foreign equity ownership in a value-added telecommunications services provider may not exceed 50%.
Moreover, for a foreign investor to acquire any equity interest in a value-added telecommunication business in China, it must satisfy a number of stringent performance and operational experience requirements, including demonstrating good track records and experience in operating value-added telecommunication business overseas. Foreign investors that meet these requirements must obtain approvals from the MIIT and MOFCOM or their authorized local counterparts, which retain considerable discretion in granting approvals. The Ministry of Information Industry, or the MII (which is the predecessor of MIIT) issued the Circular on Strengthening the Administration of Foreign Investment in and Operation of Value-added Telecommunications Business, or the MIIT Circular, on July 13, 2006. The MIIT Circular reiterates the regulations on foreign investment in telecommunications businesses, which requires foreign investors to set up foreign invested enterprises and obtain telecommunications business operating licenses to conduct any value-added telecommunications business in China. Under the MIIT Circular, a domestic company that holds telecommunications business operating licenses is prohibited from leasing, transferring or selling the license to foreign investors in any form, and from providing any assistance, including providing resources, sites or facilities, to foreign investors that conduct value-added telecommunications business illegally in China.
To comply with PRC laws and regulations, we rely on contractual arrangements with our VIE to operate our value-added telecommunications business, Internet audio-video program service and Internet culture operation in China.
Foreign Investment Law
On March 15, 2019, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress promulgated the Foreign Investment Law, which came into effect on January, 2020 and replaced the trio of old rules regulating foreign investment in China, namely, the Sino-foreign Equity Joint Venture Enterprise Law, the Sino-foreign Cooperative Joint Venture Enterprise Law and the Wholly Foreign-invested Enterprise Law, together with their implementation rules and ancillary regulations. The existing foreign-invested enterprises established prior to the effective of the Foreign Investment Law may keep their corporate forms within five years. The implementing rules of the Foreign Investment Law will be stipulated separately by State Council. Pursuant to the Foreign Investment Law, “foreign investors” means natural person, enterprise, or other organization of a foreign country, “Foreign Invested Enterprises”, or “FIEs”, means any enterprise established under PRC law that is wholly or partially invested by foreign investors and “foreign investment” means any foreign investor’s direct or indirect investment in mainland China, including: (i)establishing FIEs in mainland China either individually or jointly with other investors; (ii)obtaining stock shares, stock equity, property shares, other similar interests in Chinese domestic enterprises; (iii)investing in new projects in mainland China either individually or jointly with other investors; and (iv)making investment through other means provided by laws, administrative regulations, or State Council provisions.
On December 26, 2019, the State Council promulgated the Implementation Rules to the Foreign Investment Law, which became effective on January 1, 2020. The Implementation Rules to the Foreign Investment Law further clarifies that the state encourages and promotes foreign investment, protects the lawful rights and interests of foreign investors, regulates foreign investment administration, continues to optimize foreign investment environment, and advances a higher-level opening. Competent investment department and commerce department of the State Council shall be responsible for proposing the Negative List for the State Council’s approval. The Negative List will be promulgated by the State Council or its investment department and commerce department, and will be amended in accordance with the social development and the wide-ranging opening up.
The Foreign Investment Law stipulates that China implements the management system of pre-establishment national treatment plus a negative list to foreign investment and the government generally will not expropriate foreign investment, except under special circumstances, in which case it will provide fair and reasonable compensation to foreign investors. Foreign investors are barred from investing in prohibited industries on the negative list and must comply with the specified requirements when investing in restricted industries on that list. When a license is required to enter a certain industry, the foreign investor must apply for one, and the government must treat the application the same as one by a domestic enterprise, except where laws or regulations provide otherwise. In addition, foreign investors or FIEs are required to file information reports and foreign investment shall be subject to the national security review.
Regulations Relating to Telecommunications Services
On September 25, 2000, the State Council issued the Regulations on Telecommunications of China, or the Telecommunications Regulations, as recently amended on February, 2016, to regulate telecommunications activities in China. The Telecommunications Regulations set out basic guidelines on different types of telecommunications business activities in China. According to the Catalog of Telecommunications Business (2015 Amendment) implemented on March, 2016 (as amended on June, 2019), Internet information services constitute a type of value-added telecommunications service. The Telecommunications Regulations require operators of value-added telecommunications services to obtain value-added telecommunications business operation licenses from MIIT, or its provincial branches prior to the commencement of such services.
The FITE Regulations regulate foreign direct investment in telecommunications companies in China. The FITE Regulations stipulate that foreign investors are generally prohibited from holding more than 50% of equity interest in a foreign-invested enterprise that provides value-added telecommunications services, including, among others, provisions of Internet content. In addition, foreign investors are required to have sufficient experience operating value-added telecommunications business when applying for the MIIT’s value-added telecommunications business operation license.
The MIIT Circular, which provides that (a)foreign investors can only operate a telecommunications business in China through telecommunications enterprises with a valid telecommunications business operation license; (b)domestic license holders may not rent, transfer or sell telecommunications business operation licenses to foreign investors in any form or provide any foreign investors with resources, venues or facilities to promote unlicensed operations of telecommunications businesses in China; (c)value-added telecommunications service providers or their shareholders must directly own the domain names and registered trademarks that are used in their daily operations; (d)each value-added telecommunications service provider must have necessary facilities for its approved business operations and maintain such facilities in the geographic regions specified in its license; and (e)all value-added telecommunications service providers should improve their network and information security, establish a relevant information safety system and set up emergency plans to ensure network and information safety.
Regulations Relating to Internet Information Services
The Administrative Measures on Internet Information Services, or the ICP Measures issued by the State Council on September 25, 2000 and amended on January, 2011, regulates provisions of Internet information services in the PRC. According to the ICP Measures, Internet information services refer to provisions of information through the Internet to online subscribers, including commercial and non-commercial services. Pursuant to the ICP Measures, commercial Internet information service providers shall obtain ICP Licenses from relevant PRC local authorities before engaging in commercial Internet information services in China. In addition, according to relevant PRC laws, administrative regulations or rules, providers of Internet information services in respect of news, publishing, education, medical treatment, health, pharmaceuticals or medical apparatuses shall obtain consent of the relevant PRC competent authority before applying for an operating permit or carrying out record-filing procedures.
Additionally, the ICP Measures and other relevant measures also prohibit publication of any content that propagates, among others, obscenity, pornography, gambling and violence, incite the commission of crimes or infringe upon the lawful rights and interests of third parties. If an Internet information services provider detects that information transmitted on its system falls under the specified prohibition, such provider must immediately terminate the transmission and delete the information and report it to the governmental authorities. Any provider’s violation of these prohibitions, in serious cases, will lead to revocation of its ICP License and shutdown of its Internet systems.
Regulations Relating to Real-Name Registration System
Pursuant to the Regulations for the Administration of Online Live-Streaming Services, or Internet Live-Streaming Services Provisions, promulgated by the CAC, on November, 2016, which came into effect on December, 2016, live streaming service providers should verify the identity of users on a live streaming platform with their information such as through their mobile phone number. Also, according to the Administrative Measures for Business Activities of Online Performances issued by Ministry of Culture on December, 2016 and in effect as of January, 2017, live streaming service providers should require streamers on a live streaming platform to make real-name registration.
On August 1, 2018, the National Office of Anti-Pornography and Illegal Publication, the MIIT, the Ministry of Public Security, the MCT, the NRTA, and the CAC jointly promulgated the Notice on Strengthening the Administration of Online Live Streaming Service, or the Online Living Streaming Service Notice. Effective on the same day, the Online Living Streaming Service Notice provides that online live streaming services providers shall implement the user real name system as required, strengthen the administration of broadcasters, establish a broadcaster blacklist system, and improve the system for monitoring and examining the content of live streaming services and the measures for dealing with illegal and harmful content.
Regulations Relating to Mobile Internet Applications Information Services
In addition to the Telecommunications Regulations and other regulations above, mobile applications, or the APPs and the Internet application store, or the APP store, are specially regulated by the Regulations for the Administration of Mobile Internet Applications Information Services, or the APP Provisions, which were promulgated by the CAC, on June 28, 2016 and became effective on August, 2016.
Pursuant to the APP Provisions, the APP information service providers shall satisfy relevant qualifications required by laws and regulations, strictly carry out the information security management responsibilities and fulfill their obligations in various aspects relating to the real-name system, protection of users’ information and the examination and management of information content.
Regulations Relating to Online Transmission of Audio-Visual Programs
On April 13, 2005, the State Council promulgated the Certain Decisions on the Entry of the Private Capital into the Cultural Industry, according to which private capital was prohibited from engaging in the business of online transmission of audio-visual programs. On July, 2005, five PRC governmental authorities, including the Ministry of Culture, or the MOC (which is the predecessor of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, or the MCT), the State Administration of Radio Film and Television, or the SARFT (which is currently as the National Radio and Television Administration, or the NRTA), the General Administration of Press and Publication, or the GAPP, the NDRC and the MOFCOM, jointly adopted the Several Opinions on Canvassing Foreign Investment into the Cultural Sector. On December 20, 2007, the SARFT and the MII jointly promulgated the Administrative Provisions on Internet Audio-Visual Program Services, or the Audio-Visual Provisions, which took effect on January 31, 2008 and were subsequently amended on August 28, 2015. Under these provisions, foreign investors are prohibited from engaging in the business of distributing audio-visual programs through Internet.
On May 21, 2008, SARFT issued a Notice on Relevant Issues Concerning Application and Approval of License for the Online Transmission of Audio-Visual Programs, as amended on August 28, 2015, which further sets out detailed provisions concerning the application and approval process regarding the Audio-Visual License. The notice also stipulates that Internet audio-visual program services providers engaging in such services prior to the promulgation of the Audio-Visual Provisions are able to apply for the license so long as their violation of the laws and regulations is minor in scope and can be rectified in a timely manner and they have no records of violation during the three months prior to the promulgation of the Audio-Visual Provisions. Further, on March 30, 2009, SARFT promulgated the Notice on Strengthening the Administration of the Content of Internet
Audio-Visual Programs, which reiterates the pre-approval requirements for the audio- visual programs transmitted through the Internet, including through mobile networks, where applicable, and prohibits certain types of Internet audio-visual programs containing violence, pornography, gambling, terrorism, superstition or other similarly prohibited elements.
On March 17, 2010, the SARFT issued the Internet Audio-Visual Program Services Categories (Provisional), or the Provisional Categories, as amended on March 10, 2017, which classified Internet audio-visual program services into four categories.
In March 2018, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, or the SAPPRFT (which is the predecessor of NRTA), issued the Notice on Further Regulating the Transmission Order of Internet Audio-Visual Programs, which requires that, among others, audio-visual platforms shall: (i)not produce or transmit programs intended to parody or denigrate classic works, (ii)not re-edit, re-dub, re-caption or otherwise ridicule classic works, radio and television programs, or original Internet audio-visual programs without authorization, (iii)not transmit re-edited programs, which unfairly distort the original content, (iv)strictly monitor the adapted content uploaded by platform users and not provide transmission channels for illicit content, (v)immediately take down unauthorized content upon receipt of complaints from copyright owners, radio and television stations, or film and television production institutions, (vi)strengthen the administration of movie trailers and prevent improper broadcasting of movie clips and trailers prior to authorized release, and (vii)strengthen the administration of sponsorship and endorsement for Internet audio-visual programs. Pursuant to this notice, the provincial branches of the NRTA shall have the authority to supervise radio and television stations and websites that offer audio-visual programs within its jurisdiction and require them to further improve their content management systems and implement relevant management requirements.
In January 2019, the CNSA issued the Regulations on Administration of Network Short Video Platforms, which requires network platforms to obtain the License for Online Transmission of Audio-visual Programs and relevant qualifications to provide short video services, and to strictly operate within the scope of such license. The network short video platform is required to establish a chief-editor content management and responsibility system, and all contents of a short video, including but not limited to its title, description, bullet-chats and comments shall be reviewed in advance before the content is broadcasted. Furthermore, the content reviewer is expected to have high political awareness and professionality. These content reviewers shall be trained by the provincial or higher level radio and television management departments, and the number of content reviewers shall be sufficient considering the number of short videos uploaded and broadcasted on the platform. Furthermore, the number of content reviewers a platform is required to host should in principle be more than one one-thousandth of the number of short videos newly broadcasted on the platform per day.
In January 2019, the CNSA issued the Censoring Criteria for Network Short Video Content, which set forth certain details of content prohibited to be broadcasted, such as violence, pornography, gambling, terrorism, superstitious and other illegal or immoral content.
In March 2019, the NRTA promulgated the Provisions on the Administration of Programs for Minors, which requires the internet audio-visual program service providers to establish special channels to stream programs for minors at conspicuous places in a conspicuous manner. Internet audio-visual program services providers shall censor programs for minors prior to the broadcasting according to relevant provisions; and for the live-streaming programs, the internet audio-visual program services providers should take necessary technical measures such as delayed live-streaming or substitutions with alternative programs to ensure that the live-streaming will not contain any content prohibited by this Regulation, such as violence and terrorism. Internet audio-visual program services providers shall assign special personnel with minors protection working experience or education background to take in charge of the pre-broadcasting censorship. These service providers are also required to establish evaluation committees to review the programs for minors periodically, and to submit a written report annually about the protection of minors to the NRTA local branch. If a network user uploads programs containing the image and information of a minor without the consent of the minor’s statutory guardian(s), then the statutory guardian(s) of the minor are entitled to notify the internet audio-visual program services provider to take necessary measures such as deleting, blocking and disconnecting the link, and the internet audio-visual program services provider should take relevant measures timely upon the receipt of the notice and after the confirmation of the identity.
On November 18, 2019, the CAC, the MCT and the NRTA, jointly issued the Administrative Provisions on Online Audio-Visual Information Services, effective on January 1, 2020, which provides that online audio-visual information service providers are the principals responsible for information content security management, and should, among other things, establish and improve their internal policies in relation to user registration, scrutiny of information publication, and information safety management. Organizations and individuals are prohibited from using online audio-visual information services and related information technology to carry out illegal activities and infringe legal rights and interests of others. The Provisions further set out requirements for utilization of new applications driven by new technology (such as deep learning and virtual reality) to produce, publish and disseminate audio-visual information, for example, audio-visual information service providers are required to conduct safety evaluation, identify and label fraudulent audio-visual information, and to defeat rumors, false news and content violating user agreements.
Regulations Relating to Live Streaming Service
The Notice concerning Strengthening the Administration of the Streaming Service of Online Audio-Visual Programs, or the Notice of Streaming Service promulgated by SAPPRFT on September, 2016 emphasizes that, unless a specific license is granted, the audio-visual programs service provider is forbidden from engaging in live streaming on major political, military, economic, social, cultural and sports events. An Internet live-streaming service provider shall (i) equip personnel to review the content of the live-stream; (ii) establish the technical methods and work mechanisms in order to replace the unlawful content by using the backup program; and (iii) record the live streaming program and keep the records for at least 60 days to fulfill the inspections requirements from the competent administrative authorities.
According to the Internet Live-Streaming Services Provisions, an Internet live streaming service provider shall (a) establish a live streaming content review platform; (b) conduct authentication registration of Internet live-streaming issuers based on their identity certificates, business licenses and organization code certificates; and (c)enter into a service agreement with Internet live-streaming services user to specify both parties’ rights and obligations.
According to the Online Living Streaming Service Notice, online live streaming service providers shall fulfill the website ICP filing formalities with the competent government authorities. Online live streaming services providers involved in the operation of telecommunications services and Internet-based news information, online performances, live broadcast of internet audio-visual programs and other services shall apply to the relevant departments respectively for obtaining licenses for the operation of telecommunications services, Internet-based news information services, network cultural operations, and dissemination of audio-visual programs through information networks and shall complete record-filing formalities with the local public security authorities in accordance with the relevant regulations within 30 days of their live streaming services being launched. Online live streaming services providers shall carry out their business in strict accordance with the licensed scope, and shall not use live streaming services to produce, copy, release, or disseminate information and content prohibited by laws and regulations.
According to the Notice on Strengthening the Management of Online Show Live Streaming and E-commerce Live Streaming promulgated by the NRTA on November 12, 2020, live streaming platforms for online shows are requested to strengthen positive value guidance and enable those tasteful, meaningful, interesting and warm live-broadcasting programs to have good traffic, and to prevent the spread of the trends of wealth flaunting, money worshiping and vulgarity. In addition, the number of content reviewers of a platform is required to be no less than 1:50 of the number of live streaming rooms. Live streaming platforms for online shows need to manage the broadcasters and “virtual gifting” users based on the real-name registration system, and users who have not registered with real names or who are minors are prohibited from virtual gifting. The live streaming platforms are required to implement real-name registration system by real-name verification, face recognition, manual review and other measures to prevent minors from virtual gifting. The platform shall limit the maximum amount of virtual gifting each user may give per time, day and month. Live streaming platforms for e-commerce shall not illegally produce and broadcast, beyond their business scope of e-commerce, any commentary programs unrelated to sales of goods.
Regulations Relating to Online Cultural Activities
The MOC promulgated the Provisional Measures on Administration of Internet Culture on February 17, 2011, which took effect on April, 2011 and was recently amended in December 15, 2017, and the Notice on Issues Relating to Implementing the Newly Revised Provisional Measures on Administration of Internet Culture promulgated by the MOC on March 18, 2011, which apply to entities that engage in activities related to “online cultural products”. “Online cultural products” are classified as cultural products developed, published and disseminated through the Internet which mainly include: (i)online cultural products particularly developed for publishing through the Internet, such as, among other things, online music and video files, network games and online animation features and cartoons (including flash animation); and (ii)online cultural products converted from audio and visual products, games, performing arts, artworks and animation features and cartoons, and published on the Internet. Pursuant to this legislation, entities are required to obtain the Network Culture Operation License from the applicable provincial level counterpart of the MCT if they intend to commercially engage in any of the following types of activities:
|●||production, duplication, import, release or broadcasting of online cultural products;|
|●||publishing of online cultural products on the Internet or transmission thereof to computers, fixed-line or mobile phones, radios, television sets or game consoles for the purpose of browsing, reading, reviewing, using or downloading such products by online users; or|
|●||exhibitions or contests related to online cultural products.|
On August 12, 2013, the MOC issued the Administrative Measures for Content Self-Review by Internet Culture Business Entities, which requires Internet culture business entities to review the content of products and services to be provided prior to providing such content and services to the public. The content management system of an Internet culture business entity is required to specify the responsibilities, standards and processes for content review as well as accountability measures, and is required be filed with the provincial level counterpart of the MCT.
On May, 2019, the General Office of MCT promulgated the Notice on Adjustments on the Scope of Approval in relation to the Network Culture Operation License and Further Regulating the Approval Work, or the Notice on Adjustment of the Network Culture Operation License, according to which any activities in relation to chatting, e-commerce, education, training, sports, traveling, etc. shall not be deemed as a network performance which has been adjusted as a specific item in the business scope under Notice on Adjustment of the Network Culture Operation License.
Regulations Relating to Virtual Currency
On January 25, 2007, the Ministry of Public Security, the MOC, the MII and the GAPP jointly issued a circular regarding online gambling which has implications on the issuance and use of virtual currency. To curtail online games that involve gambling while addressing concerns that virtual currency might be used for money laundering or illicit trade, the circular (a)prohibits online game operators from charging commissions in the form of virtual currency in connection with the winning or losing of games; (b)requires online game operators to impose limits on use of virtual currency in guessing and betting games; (c)bans the conversion of virtual currency into real currency or property; and (d)prohibits services that enable game players to transfer virtual currency to other players. To comply with the relevant section of the circular that bans the conversion of virtual currency into real currency or property, in relation to online music and entertainment, our virtual currency currently can only be used by viewers to exchange for virtual items to be used to show support for performers or gain access to privileges and special features in the channels which are services in nature instead of “real currency or property.” Once the virtual currency is exchanged by viewers for virtual items or the relevant privileged services, the conversion transaction is completed and we immediately cancel the virtual item in our internal system.
In February 2007, fourteen PRC regulatory authorities jointly issued a circular to further strengthen the oversight of Internet cafes and online games. In accordance with the circular, the People’s Bank of China, or the PBOC, has the authority to regulate virtual currency, including: (a)setting limits on the aggregate amount of virtual currency that can be issued by online game operators and the amount of virtual currency that can be purchased by an individual; (b)stipulating that virtual currency issued by online game operators can only be used for purchasing virtual products and services within the online games and not for purchasing tangible or physical products; (c)requiring that the price for redemption of virtual currency shall not exceed the respective original purchase price; and (d)banning the trading of virtual currency.
On June, 2009, the MOC and the MOFCOM jointly issued the Notice to Strengthen the Administration of Online Game Virtual Currency, or the Virtual Currency Notice. The Virtual Currency Notice requires businesses that (a)issue online game virtual currency (in the form of prepaid cards and/or pre-payment or prepaid card points), or (b)offer online game virtual currency transaction services to apply for approval from the MCT through its provincial branches within three months after the issuance of the notice. The Virtual Currency Notice requires businesses that issue virtual currency for online games are prohibited from offering services that can trade virtual currency. Any company that fails to file the necessary application will be subject to sanctions, including but not limited to, mandatory corrective actions and fines.
Under the Virtual Currency Notice, online games virtual currency trading service provider refers to the business that provides platform services related to virtual trading in online games among game users. The Virtual Currency Notice further requires an online game virtual currency transaction service provider to comply with relevant e-commerce regulations issued by the MOFCOM. According to the Guiding Opinions on Online Trading (Interim) issued by the MOFCOM on March, 2007, online platform services are trading services provided to online buyers and sellers through a computer information system operated by the service provider.
The Virtual Currency Notice regulates, among others, the amount of virtual currency a business can issue, the retention period of user records, the function of virtual currency and the return of unused virtual currency upon the termination of online services. Online game operators are prohibited from distributing virtual items or virtual currencies to players through random selection methods such as lottery or betting when the player directly pays cash or virtual currency. Game operators are prohibited from issuing virtual currency to game players in any way other than legal tender purchases. Any business that provides online game virtual currency transaction services is required to adopt technical measures to prohibit the illegal transactions. For game operators do not support online game virtual currency transaction service, technical measures shall be adopted to restrict the transfer of online game virtual currency among accounts of different game players.
Currently, the PRC government has not promulgated any specific rules, laws or regulations to directly regulate virtual currency, except for the above-mentioned online game virtual currency. Although we do not think the Virtual Currency Notice applies to the operation of our live streaming business, given the wide discretion of the governmental authorities and uncertainties in the regulatory environment, there is no assurance that the governmental authorities will not in the future interpret the Virtual Currency Notice in a different way and subject our operation of live streaming business to its scope of regulation.
Regulations Relating to Internet Information Security and Privacy Protection
Internet information in China is regulated from a national security standpoint. The National People’s Congress, or the NPC, has enacted the Decisions on Preserving Internet Security on December 28, 2000 and amended on August 27, 2009, which subject violators to potential criminal punishment in China for any attempt to: (i) gain improper entry into a computer or system of strategic importance; (ii) disseminate politically disruptive information; (iii) leak state secrets; (iv) spread false commercial information; or (v) infringe intellectual property rights. The Ministry of Public Security of the PRC, or the MPS, has promulgated measures that prohibit use of the internet in ways which, among other things, result in a leak of state secrets or a spread of socially destabilizing content. If an internet information service provider violates these measures, the MPS and its local branches may revoke its operating license and shut down its websites.
In recent years, PRC governmental authorities have enacted laws and regulations on internet use to protect personal information from any unauthorized disclosure. Under the Several Provisions on Regulating the Market Order of Internet Information Services, issued by the MIIT on December 29, 2011 and effective on March 15, 2012, an internet information service provider may not collect any user personal information or provide any such information to third parties without the consent of the user. An internet information service provider must expressly inform the users of the method, content and purpose of the collection and processing of such user personal information and may only collect such information necessary for the provision of its services. An internet information service provider is also required to properly maintain the user’s personal information, and in case of any leak or likely leak of the user’s personal information, the internet information service provider must take immediate remedial measures and, in severe circumstances, immediately report to the telecommunications authority. Moreover, pursuant to the Ninth Amendment to the Criminal Law issued by the Standing Committee of the NPC on August 29, 2015 which became effective on November 1, 2015, any internet service provider that fails to fulfill the obligations related to internet information security administration as required by applicable laws and refuses to rectify upon orders, shall be subject to criminal penalty for the result of (i) any dissemination of illegal information in large scale; (ii) any severe effect due to the leakage of the client’s information; (iii) any serious loss of criminal evidence; or (iv) other severe situation. Any individual or entity that (i) sells or provides personal information to others in a way violating the applicable law, or (ii) steals or illegally obtains any personal information, shall be subject to criminal penalty in severe situation. In addition, the Interpretations of the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procuratorate of the PRC on Several Issues Concerning the Application of Law in Handling Criminal Cases of Infringing Personal Information, issued on May 8, 2017 and effective in June 1, 2017, clarified certain standards for the conviction and sentencing of the criminals in relation to personal information infringement. Further, the NPC promulgated a new National Security Law, effective on July 1, 2015, to replace the former National Security Law and covers various types of national security including technology security and information security.
In addition, the Standing Committee of the NPC promulgated the Cyber Security Law of the People’s Republic of China, or the Cyber Security Law, effective on June, 2017, to protect cyberspace security and order. Pursuant to the Cyber Security Law, any individual or organization using the network must comply with the constitution and the applicable laws, follow the public order and respect social moralities, and must not endanger cyber security, or engage in activities by making use of the network that endanger the national security, honor and interests, or infringe on the fame, privacy, intellectual property and other legitimate rights and interests of others. The Cyber Security Law sets forth various security protection obligations for network operators, which are defined as “owners and administrators of networks and network service providers”, including, among others, complying with a series of requirements of tiered cyber protection systems, verifying users’ real identity, localizing the personal information and important data gathered and produced by key information infrastructure operators during operations within the PRC, and providing assistance and support to governmental authorities where necessary for protecting national security and investigating crimes. Furthermore, MIIT’s Rules on Protection of Personal Information of Telecommunications and Internet Users promulgated on July 16, 2013, effective on September, 2013, contain detailed requirements on the use and collection of personal information as well as security measures required to be taken by telecommunications business operators and internet information service providers.
Pursuant to the Announcement of Conducting Special Activities Against Illegal Collection and Use of Personal Information by APPs, which was jointly released by the CAC, MIIT, MPS and SAMR on January 23, 2019 and became effective on the same date, to further implement and strengthen the Cyber Security Law, (i) the app operators shall strictly fulfill their obligations under the Cyber Security Law and shall be responsible for the personal information collected by them as well as implement effective measures to strengthen the protection of personal information, (ii) competent government authorities shall strengthen its regulations and punishments on illegal collection and use of personal information in accordance with the Cyber Security Law and the Law on the Protection of Consumer Rights and Interests, and (iii) the MPS will initiate targeted activities against illegal collection and use of personal information online. On November 28, 2019, the CAC, MIIT, MPS and SAMR jointly issued the Notice on Identification of the Illegal Collection and Use of Personal Information by APPs, effective on the same date, to provide detailed methods on identifying illegal collection and use of personal information by APPs. Provisions on the Necessary Personal Information Scope for Common Types of Mobile Internet Applications, which was jointly released by the CAC, MIIT, MPS and SAMR on March 12, 2021 and will become effective on May 1, 2021, specified the scope of necessary personal information for different types of mobile apps, and provided that the mobile apps must not refuse to provide their basic functions to users who disagree to provide information that are out of the scope of necessary personal information.
Pursuant to the draft Data Security Law, a classified data protection system will be applied based on the level of importance of the data and at the national level a centralized mechanism for risk assessment, monitoring, and early warning of potential data security risks and emergency response will be established. The draft Data Security Law also provides for the data security and privacy obligations on entities and individuals carrying out data activities. In addition, the Anti-monopoly Guide for the Internet Platform Economy Sector, or Anti-monopoly Guide, also prohibits us from collection of user information without users’ consents.
Pursuant to the Civil Code, the personal information of a natural person shall be protected by the law. Any organization or individual shall legally obtain such personal information of others when necessary and ensure the safety of such information, and shall not illegally collect, use, process or transmit personal information of others, or illegally purchase or sell, provide or make public personal information of others.
Regulations Relating to Internet Advertising Business
On July, 2016, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, or the SAIC (which is the predecessor of the SAMR) issued the Interim Measures for the Administration of Internet Advertising, or the Internet Advertising Interim Measures to regulate internet advertising activities, which became effective on September 1, 2016, defining internet advertising as any commercial advertising that directly or indirectly promotes goods or services through websites, webpages, internet applications and other internet media in the forms of words, picture, audio, video or others, including promotion through emails, texts, images, video with embedded links and paid-for search results. According to the Internet Advertising Interim Measures, no advertisement of any medical treatment, medicines, food for special medical purpose, medical apparatuses, pesticides, veterinary medicines, dietary supplement or other special commodities or services subject to examination by an advertising examination authority as stipulated by laws and regulations may be published unless the advertisement has passed such examination. On December 13, 2019, the SAMR issued the Interim Measures for the Administration of Medicines, Medical Apparatuses and Food for Special Medical Purpose, effective on March 1, 2020, clarifying certain issues in the examination of medicines, medical apparatuses and food for special medical purpose. In addition, no entity or individual may publish any advertisement of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines or tobacco on the internet. An internet advertisement must be identifiable and clearly identified as an “advertisement” to the consumers. Paid search advertisements are required to be clearly distinguished from natural search results. In addition, the following internet advertising activities are prohibited: providing or using any applications or hardware to intercept, filter, cover, fast forward or otherwise restrict any authorized advertisement of other persons; using network pathways, network equipment or applications to disrupt the normal data transmission of advertisements, alter or block authorized advertisements of other persons or load advertisements without authorization; or using fraudulent statistical data, transmission effect or matrices relating to online marketing performance to induce incorrect quotations, seek undue interests or harm the interests of others. Internet advertisement publishers are required to verify relevant supporting documents and check the content of the advertisement and are prohibited from publishing any advertisement with unverified content or without all the necessary qualifications. Internet information service providers that are not involved in internet advertising business activities but simply provide information services are required to block any attempt to publish an illegal advisement that they are aware of or should reasonably be aware of through their information services. The administration for industry and commerce shall order the offender to stop publishing advertisement, order the advertiser to eliminate impact within the corresponding scope, and impose a fine ranging from three to five times the amount of the advertising fee if publish advertisements without examination. The administration for industry and commerce shall order the offender to stop publishing advertisement, impose a fine ranging from RMB200,000 to RMB1 million, and in serious cases may also cancel the business license, if publish advertisement of OTC medicines. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Industry— We may be adversely affected by the complexity, uncertainties and changes in PRC laws and regulation, and any lack of requisite approvals, licenses or permits applicable to our business may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial conditions and results of operations.”
Regulations Relating to Payment Services
On June 14, 2010, the PBOC issued the Administrative Measures for the Payment Services of Non-Financial Institutions, or the Payment Services Measures, effective on September 1, 2010. Under the Payment Services Measures, a non-financial institution must obtain a payment business license, or Payment License, to provide payment services and qualifies as a paying institution. With the Payment License, a non-financial institution may serve as an intermediary between payees and payers and provide some or all of the following services: online payment, issuance and acceptance of prepaid card, bank card acceptance, and other payment services as specified by PBOC. Without PBOC’s approval, no non-financial institution or individual may engage in payment business whether explicitly or in a disguised form.
In November 2017, PBOC published a notice, or the PBOC Notice, on the investigation and administration of illegal offering of settlement services by financial institutions and third-party payment service providers to unlicensed entities. The PBOC Notice intended to prevent unlicensed entities from using licensed payment service providers as a conduit for conducting the unlicensed payment settlement services, so as to safeguard the fund security and information security.
Regulations Relating to Pharmaceutical Operation and Service
In September 1984, the Standing Committee of the NPC issued the Drug Administration Law of the People’s Republic of China, or the Drug Administration Law, which was amended in 2001, 2013, 2015 and 2019 respectively to regulate all entities or individuals engaging in research, manufacture, operation, use, supervision and management of drugs within the PRC. According to the Drug Administration Law, no pharmaceutical operation, including pharmaceutical whole-sale and pharmaceutical retail business, is permitted without obtaining the Pharmaceutical Operation License. The Implementation Rules for the Drug Administration Law, was promulgated by the State Council on August 4, 2002 and was recently amended on March 2, 2019, which emphasized the detailed implementation rules of drugs administration. The CFDA promulgated the Measures for the Administration of Pharmaceutical Operation License on February 4, 2004 as amended on November 17, 2017, which stipulate the procedures for applying the Pharmaceutical Operation License and the requirements and qualifications for pharmaceutical wholesalers or pharmaceutical retailers with respect to their management system, personnel, facilities and etc. The valid term of the Pharmaceutical Operation License is five years and shall be renewed six months prior to its expiration date.
According to the Measures on Prescription Drugs and OTC Drugs Classification Management and the Interim Provisions on the Circulation of Prescription and OTC Drugs (Trial), which were both promulgated by the State Drug Administration, which was restructured and integrated into the CFDA, in 1999 and became effective in January 2000, drugs are divided into prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs, or OTC drugs. For prescription drugs, the dispensing, purchase and use can only be based on the prescription issued by the certified medical practitioner or certified medical assistant practitioner. In addition, the prescription drugs can only be advertised and promoted in professional medical magazines. OTC drugs, on the other hand, are further divided into Class A and Class B and they both can be purchased and used without a prescription and promoted in public upon approval by the relevant governmental authorities. The pharmaceutical wholesale enterprises distributing prescription drugs and/or OTC drugs, as well as pharmaceutical retail enterprises selling prescription drugs and/or Class A OTC drugs are required to obtain the Pharmaceutical Operation License.
Medical Devices Operation
According to the Regulations on the Supervision and Administration of Medical Devices, which was promulgated by the State Council in January 2000 and amended in 2014 and 2017, respectively, and the Supervision and Management Measures on Medical Devices Operation, which was promulgated by the CFDA in July 2014 and amended in 2017, business operations of medical devices are regulated based on the degree of risks involving the medical devices, which are divided into three categories. Operation of Class I medical devices does not require a license or record-filing, while operations of Class II medical devices and Class III medical devices are subject to record-filing and licensing requirements, respectively. An entity engaging in the operation of medical devices shall meet certain requirements with respect to its management system, personnel, facilities etc., and shall apply for approval to operate Class III medical devices and make record-filing with relevant governmental authority to operate Class II medical devices. The valid term of medical devices operation permit is five years.
Pursuant to the Supervision and Management Measures on Medical Devices Operation, an alteration to items borne on a License for Business Operations of Medical Devices includes alteration to licensed items and alteration to registered items. An alternation of business model, business scope is an alternation to licensed items, to which, an enterprise shall apply to the administration that issued the License for Business Operations of Medical Devices and submit altered documents. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Industry—We may be adversely affected by the complexity, uncertainties and changes in PRC laws and regulation, and any lack of requisite approvals, licenses or permits applicable to our business may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial conditions and results of operations.”
Regulations Relating to Online Operation of Drugs and Medical Devices
Internet Drug Information Service
The Administrative Measures on Internet Drug Information Service, or Internet Drug Measures, was promulgated by the CFDA on July 8, 2004 and amended on November 17, 2017, pursuant to which the internet drug information services is to provide drug (including medical device) information services to online users, which is divided into commercial internet drug information services and non-commercial internet drug information services. The website operator that provides drugs (including medical devices) information services must obtain an Internet Drug Information Service Qualification Certificate from the competent counterpart of the CFDA. The valid term for an Internet Drug Information Service Qualification Certificate is five years and may be renewed at least six months prior to its expiration date upon a re-examination by the relevant governmental authorities.
Furthermore, as requested by Internet Drug Measures, the information relating to drugs shall be accurate and scientific in nature, and its provision shall comply with the relevant laws and regulations. No product information of stupefacient, psychotropic drugs, medicinal toxic drugs, radiopharmaceutical, detoxification drugs and pharmaceutics made by medical institutes shall be distributed on the website. In addition, advertisements relating to drugs (including medical devices) shall be approved by the CFDA or its competent counterparts.
Internet Medical Services
According to the Opinion Concerning the Promotion of the Development of Internet Plus Medical and Health, promulgated and implemented on April 25, 2018 by the General Office of the State Council, third-party organizations such as the internet medical health service platform shall ensure that the qualifications of their medical service staffs are in compliance with the relevant regulation provisions and bear the responsibilities for the services provided. The internet medical health service platform shall also be strictly in accordance with the relevant regulation provisions regarding information security and confidentiality obligations for health and medical data, and establish or improve its privacy information protection system.
According to the Notice of Publishing of the Measures on the Administration of the Internet Diagnosis and Treatment (For Trial Implementation) and Other Two Documents, which was promulgated and implemented on July 17, 2018 by the National Health Commission and State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Internet diagnosis and treatment refers to the use of doctors registered in the institution using the Internet and other information technology to carry out diagnosis of some common diseases, chronic diseases re-diagnosis and “Internet Plus” family doctor contract services. Internet diagnosis and treatment activity shall be provided by medical institution that has obtained the Medical Institution Practicing License and the medical institution shall apply for registration of Internet diagnosis and treatment activity. Medical institutions carrying out Internet diagnosis and treatment activities should be consistent with their diagnosis and treatment subjects. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Industry—We may be adversely affected by the complexity, uncertainties and changes in PRC laws and regulation, and any lack of requisite approvals, licenses or permits applicable to our business may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial conditions and results of operations.”
Internet Drug Transaction Services
The Interim Provisions on the Examination and Approval of Internet Drug Transaction Services, or Interim Provisions of Internet Drug Transaction, were promulgated by the CFDA on September 29, 2005 and became effective on December 1, 2005, and regulate transaction of drugs (including medical devices and packing materials and containers that are in direct contact with drugs) over internet, including the provision of transaction services among pharmaceutical manufacturers, pharmaceutical operation enterprises and medial institutes, the services provided by pharmaceutical manufacturers and pharmaceutical wholesale enterprises to other third parties via their own websites and services provided by pharmaceutical retail chain enterprises to individual consumers. According to Interim Provisions of Internet Drug Transaction, enterprises engaging in providing drug transaction services over the internet must obtain an Internet Drug Transaction Qualification Certificate. Such certificates have a term of five years and have three types: A certificate, B certificate and C certificate. They are only issued to three kinds of enterprises: (i)enterprises that provide drug transaction services to pharmaceutical manufacturers, pharmaceutical operation enterprises and medical institutions, but do not participate in pharmaceutical manufacture and operation and do not own, have no property relationship or other economic interest with the administrative organizations, medical institutions or pharmaceutical manufacture and operation enterprises; (ii)pharmaceutical manufacturers and pharmaceutical wholesale enterprises that deal with other third-party enterprises via their own websites; (iii)the pharmaceutical retail chain enterprises that provide OTC drug transaction services for individual consumers via the internet.
However, according to the Decision on the Cancellation of the Third Batch of Items Subject to Administrative Permission by Local Governments Designated by the Central Government, promulgated by the State Council on January 12, 2017, except for third-party platforms, all approvals of internet drug transaction service enterprises implemented by counterparts of CFDA at the provincial level are cancelled. In April 2017, the General Office of the CFDA promulgated a notice on implementing the above mentioned decision, pursuant to which pharmaceutical manufacture enterprises and pharmaceutical wholesale enterprises may carry out internet drug (including medical device) transactions with other enterprises through their own websites, but shall not provide internet drug (including medical device) transaction services to individual consumers. In addition, pharmaceutical retail chain enterprises may provide internet drug (including medical device) transaction services to individual consumers, but they shall not exceed the business scope permitted by license and filings and display information of prescription drugs on related transaction webpages, or sell prescription drugs or the OTC drugs under special administrative requirements; as indicated in such decision, the CFDA will promulgate subsequently the relevant rules on supervision of internet drug (including medical device) transaction.
Furthermore, according to the Decision on the Cancellation of Various Items Subject to Administrative Permission promulgated by the State Council on September 22, 2017, the enterprises engaging in internet drug transaction service as a third-party platform shall no longer be subject to the examination and approval of the CFDA before carrying out such business. In November 2017 the General Office of the CFDA promulgated a Notice on Strengthening the Administration and Supervision of Internet Drug and Medical Devices Transaction, which specify the approval to conduct internet drug transaction service as the third-party platform is cancelled, but enterprises carrying out internet drug (including medical) transaction services shall establish a comprehensive supervision system in general and also request local counterparts of CFDA to implement day-to-day supervision and examination with respect to qualification access examination, products inspection, storage of transaction data and legal liabilities etc.
Online Sales of Drugs and Medical Device
On February 9, 2018, the CFDA released the draft Administrative Measures for Supervision and Regulation of Online Drug Sales for comments. The draft stipulates that sellers and online platforms engaging in this business shall obtain relevant certificates and have sufficient medical staff and operating systems to guarantee the safety and quality of the drugs. Furthermore, these entities shall make record-filing with the counterparts of CFDA at provisional level. In particular, the transaction webpages for sale of prescription drugs to individuals are not allowed to display prescription drugs information via the internet. As of the date of this annual report, the draft has not come into effect and there are substantial uncertainties with respect to its enactment timetable and final provisions.
On August 26, 2019, the Standing Committee of the NPC promulgated the Administrative Law of the Pharmaceutical, or the Pharmaceutical Law, which became effective on December 1, 2019. The Pharmaceutical Law does not include prescription drugs as an item that are prohibited to be sold online definitely. Further, detailed administrative measures shall be promulgated by corresponding governmental authorities in relation to a company engaging in sales of pharmaceutical online. However, as of the date of this annual report, no further administrative measure has been promulgated.
On December 20, 2017, the CFDA promulgated the Administration and Supervision Measures of Online Sales of Medical Devices, or the Online Medical Devices Sales Measures, which became effective on March 1, 2018. According to the Online Medical Devices Sales Measures, enterprises engaged in online sales of medical devices must be medical device manufacture and operation enterprises with medical devices production licenses or operation licenses or being filed for record in accordance with laws, unless such licenses or record-filing is not required by laws and regulations, and the third-party platform for provision of online medical devices transaction services shall obtain an Internet Drug Information Services Qualification License. Either enterprises for online sales of medical devices or enterprises for provision of medical devices online transaction services shall take technical measures to ensure the data and materials of medical devices online sales are authentic, completed and retrospective, for example the records of sale information of medical devices shall be kept for two years after the valid period of the medical devices, and for no less than five years in case of no valid period, or be kept permanently in case of implanted medical devices.
Regulations Relating to Human Assisted Reproductive Technology
The Ministry of Health promulgated the Management Measures on Human Assisted Reproductive Technology on February 20, 2001 and it became effective on August 1, 2001. It stipulates that human assisted reproductive procedures should only be carried out in approved and registered medical institutions. No entity or individual should carry out human assisted reproductive procedures without the approval of competent health authority. Furthermore, medical institutions must obtain human assisted reproductive technology licenses, which are subject to regular examinations by the governmental approval authority. In the event the medical institution fails to pass the examination, the human assisted reproductive technology licenses would be revoked.
On April 3, 2015, twelve departments promulgated the Work Plan for Combating Surrogacy, or the Work Plan. According to the Work Plan, a national leading group will be established to combat surrogacy activities, any intermediaries that carry out surrogacy activities and any networks, television broadcasts, newspapers and magazines, etc. for the promotion and service of surrogacy activities shall be cleaned up. On June 8, 2017, twelve departments promulgated Work Plan for Investigating and Handling Illegal and Irregular Use of Human Assisted Reproductive Technology, according to which relevant departments shall strengthen supervision on the advertisement in relation to human assisted reproductive technology and any websites with illegal information and advertisement with respect to human assisted reproductive technology shall be cleaned-up.
Regulations Relating to Intellectual Property in the PRC
Pursuant to the Copyright Law of the PRC, as amended in 2020, which will take into effect on June 1, 2021, copyrights include personal rights such as the right of publication and that of attribution as well as property rights such as the right of production and that of distribution. Reproducing, distributing, performing, projecting, broadcasting or compiling a work or communicating the same to the public via an information network without permission from the owner of the copyright therein, unless otherwise provided in the Copyright Law of the PRC, shall constitute infringements of copyrights. The infringer shall, according to the circumstances of the case, undertake to cease the infringement, take remedial action, and offer an apology, pay damages, etc.
Pursuant to the Trademark Law of the PRC, as most recently amended in 2019, the right to exclusive use of a registered trademark shall be limited to trademarks which have been approved for registration and to goods for which the use of such trademark has been approved. The period of validity of a registered trademark shall be ten years, counted from the day the registration is approved. According to this law, using a trademark that is identical to or similar to a registered trademark in connection with the same or similar goods without the authorization of the owner of the registered trademark constitutes an infringement of the exclusive right to use a registered trademark. The infringer shall, in accordance with the regulations, undertake to cease the infringement, take remedial action, and pay damages, etc.
Pursuant to the Patent Law of the PRC, as amended in 2020, which will take into effect on June 1, 2021, after the grant of the patent right for an invention or utility model, except where otherwise provided for in the Patent Law, no entity or individual may, without the authorization of the patent owner, exploit the patent, that is, make, use, offer to sell, sell or import the patented product, or use the patented process, or use, offer to sell, sell or import any product which is a direct result of the use of the patented process, for production or business purposes. After a patent right is granted for a design, no entity or individual shall, without the permission of the patent owner, exploit the patent, that is, for production or business purposes, manufacture, offer to sell, sell, or import any product containing the patented design. Once the infringement of patent is confirmed, the infringer shall, in accordance with the regulations, undertake to cease the infringement, take remedial action, and pay damages, etc.
Pursuant to the Measures for the Administration of Internet Domain Names of China promulgated in November 2004 and effective December 2004, or the 2004 Domain Names Measures, and the Measures for the Administration of Internet Domain names promulgated in August 2017 and effective November 2017 to replace the 2004 Domain Names Measures, “domain name” shall refer to the character mark of hierarchical structure, which identifies and locates a computer on the internet and corresponds to the internet protocol (IP) address of that computer. The principle of “first come, first serve” is followed for the domain name registration service. After completing the domain name registration, the applicant becomes the holder of the domain name registered by him/it. Any organization or individual may file an application for settlement with the domain names dispute resolution institution or file a lawsuit in the people’s court in accordance with the law, if such organization or individual consider its/his legal rights and interests to be infringed by domain names registered or used by others.
Regulations Relating to Internet Infringement
Pursuant to the Civil Code and the Regulations on Protection of Information Network Transmission Right, which was promulgated by the State Council on May 18, 2006, effective on July 1, 2006 and was last amended on January 30, 2013, an Internet user or an Internet service provider that infringes upon the civil rights or interests of others through using the Internet assumes tort liability. If an Internet user infringes upon the civil rights or interests of another through using the Internet, the person being infringed upon has the right to notify and request the Internet service provider whose Internet services are facilitating the infringement to take necessary measures including the deletion, blocking or disconnection of an Internet link. If, after being notified, the Internet service provider fails to take necessary measures in a timely manner to end the infringement, it will be jointly and severally liable for any additional harm caused by its failure to act.
Regulations Relating to Labor Protection in the PRC
According to the Labor Law of the PRC, or the Labor Law, which was promulgated by the Standing Committee of the NPC in July 1994, effective in January 1, 1995, and most recently amended in December 2018, an employer shall develop and improve its rules and regulations to safeguard the rights of its workers. An employer shall develop and improve its labor safety and health system, stringently implement national protocols and standards on labor safety and health, conduct labor safety and health education for workers, guard against labor accidents and reduce occupational hazards.
The Labor Contract Law of the PRC, which was promulgated by the NPC Standing Committee on June 29, 2007, effective on January 1, 2008, and most recently amended in December 2012, and the Implementation Regulations on Labor Contract Law, promulgated and became effective on September 18, 2008, regulate both parties to a labor contract, namely the employer and the employee, and contain specific provisions involving the terms of the labor contract. It is stipulated by the Labor Contract Law and the Implementation Regulations on Labor Contract Law that a labor contract must be made in writing. An employer and an employee may enter into a fixed-term labor contract, an un-fixed term labor contract, or a labor contract that concludes upon the completion of certain work assignments, after reaching agreement upon due negotiations. An employer may legally terminate a labor contract and dismiss its employees after reaching agreement upon due negotiations with the employee or by fulfilling the statutory conditions. Labor contracts concluded prior to the enactment of the Labor Contract Law and subsisting within the validity period thereof shall continue to be honored. With respect to a circumstance where a labor relationship has already been established but no formal contract has been made, a written labor contract shall be entered into within one month from the date of the establishment of the labor relationship.
According to the Interim Regulations on the Collection and Payment of Social Insurance Premiums, the Regulations on Workplace Injury Insurance, the Regulations on Unemployment Insurance and the Trial Measures on Employee Maternity Insurance of Enterprises, enterprises in the PRC shall provide benefit plans for their employees, which include basic pension insurance, unemployment insurance, maternity insurance, workplace injury insurance and basic medical insurance. An enterprise must provide social insurance by processing social insurance registration with local social insurance agencies, and shall pay or withhold relevant social insurance premiums for or on behalf of employees. The Law on Social Insurance of the PRC, which was promulgated in October 2010, effective July 2011, and most recently amended in December 2018, has consolidated pertinent provisions for basic pension insurance, unemployment insurance, maternity insurance, workplace injury insurance and basic medical insurance, and has elaborated in detail the legal obligations and liabilities of employers who do not comply with relevant laws and regulations on social insurance.
According to the Interim Measures for Participation in the Social Insurance System by Foreigners Working within the Territory of China, promulgated by the MOHRSS in September 2011, and effective October 2011, employers who employ foreigners shall participate in the basic pension insurance, unemployment insurance, basic medical insurance, occupational injury insurance, and maternity leave insurance in accordance with the relevant law, with the social insurance premiums to be contributed respectively by the employers and foreigner employees as required. In accordance with such Interim Measures, the social insurance administrative agencies shall exercise their right to supervise and examine the legal compliance of foreign employees and employers, and the employers who do not pay social insurance premiums in conformity with the laws shall be subject to the administrative provisions provided in the Social Insurance Law and other relevant regulations and rules.
According to the Regulations on the Administration of Housing Provident Fund, which was promulgated in and effective April 1999, and was most recently amended in March 2019, housing provident fund contributions by an individual employee and housing provident fund contributions by his or her employer shall belong to the individual employee.
The employer shall timely pay up and deposit housing provident fund contributions in full amount and late or insufficient payments shall be prohibited. The employer shall process housing provident fund payment and deposit registrations with the housing provident fund administration center. With respect to companies who violate the above regulations and fail to process housing provident fund payment and deposit registrations or open housing provident fund accounts for their employees, such companies shall be ordered by the housing provident fund administration center to complete such procedures within a designated period. Those who fail to process their registrations within the designated period shall be subject to a fine ranging from RMB10,000 to RMB50,000. When companies violate these regulations and fail to pay up housing provident fund contributions in full amount as due, the housing provident fund administration center shall order such companies to pay up within a designated period, and may further apply to the People’s Court for mandatory enforcement against those who still fail to comply after the expiry of such period. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Industry—We may be adversely affected by the complexity, uncertainties and changes in PRC laws and regulation, and any lack of requisite approvals, licenses or permits applicable to our business may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial conditions and results of operations.”
Regulations Relating to Tax in the PRC
The PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law was promulgated in March 2007 and was most recently amended in December 2018. The PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law applies a uniform 25% enterprise income tax rate to both foreign-invested enterprises and domestic enterprises, except where tax incentives are granted to special industries and projects. Under the PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law, an enterprise established outside of China with a “de facto management body” within China is considered a “resident enterprise” for PRC enterprise income tax purposes and is generally subject to a uniform 25% enterprise income tax rate on its worldwide income. Under the implementation regulations to the PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law, a “de facto management body” is defined as the body that exercises full and substantial control and overall management over the business, productions, personnel, accounts and properties of an enterprise.
In January 2009, the SAT promulgated the Provisional Measures for the Administration of Withholding of Enterprise Income Tax for Non-resident Enterprises, or the Non-resident Enterprises Measures, pursuant to which entities that have the direct obligation to make certain payments to a nonresident enterprise shall be the relevant tax withholders for such non-resident enterprise. Further, the Non-resident Enterprises Measures provide that, in case of an equity transfer between two non-resident enterprises occurring outside of China, which is indirectly related to the transfer of equity interests of a PRC resident enterprise, the non-resident enterprise which receives the equity transfer payment shall, by itself or engage an agent to, file a tax declaration with the PRC tax authority located at the place of the PRC company whose equity has been transferred, and the PRC company whose equity has been transferred shall assist the tax authorities to collect taxes from the relevant non-resident enterprise. In April 2009, the Ministry of Finance, or the MOF, and the SAT jointly issued the Notice on Issues Concerning Process of Enterprise Income Tax in Enterprise Restructuring Business, or Circular 59. In December 2009, the SAT issued the Notice on Strengthening Administration of Enterprise Income Tax for Share Transfers by Non-PRC Resident Enterprises, or Circular 698. Both Circular 59 and Circular 698 became effective retroactively as of January 2008. In February 2011, the SAT issued the Notice on Several Issues Regarding the Income Tax of Non-PRC Resident Enterprises, or SAT Circular 24, effective April 2011. By promulgating and implementing these circulars, the PRC tax authorities have enhanced their scrutiny over the direct or indirect transfer of equity interests in a PRC resident enterprise by a non-resident enterprise.
In January 2014, the Notice on Issues Relating to Handling Enterprise Income Tax in Promoting Enterprise Restructuring promulgated by MOF and the SAT took effect and partly superseded provisions in Circular 59. In February 2015, the SAT issued the Notice on Certain Corporate Income Tax Matters on Indirect Transfer of Properties by Non-PRC Resident Enterprises, or SAT Circular 7, to supersede existing provisions in relation to the indirect transfer as set forth in Circular 698, while the other provisions of Circular 698 remain in force. SAT Circular 7 introduces a new tax regime that is significantly different from that under Circular 698. SAT Circular 7 extends its tax jurisdiction to capture not only indirect transfers as set forth under Circular 698 but also transactions involving transfer of immovable property in China and assets held under the establishment, and placement in China, of a foreign company through the offshore transfer of a foreign intermediate holding company. SAT Circular 7 also addresses transfer of the equity interest in a foreign intermediate holding company broadly. In addition, SAT Circular 7 provides clearer criteria than Circular 698 on how to assess reasonable commercial purposes and introduces safe harbor scenarios applicable to internal group restructurings and the purchase and sale of equity through a public securities market. However, it also brings challenges to both the foreign transferor and transferee of the indirect transfer as they have to determine whether the transaction should be subject to PRC tax and to file or withhold the PRC tax accordingly. In October 2017, the SAT issued the Announcement on Issues Relating to Withholding at Source of Income Tax of Non-resident Enterprises, or SAT Circular 37. SAT Circular 37, effective December 2017, superseded the Non-resident Enterprises Measures and SAT Circular 698 as a whole and partially amended some provisions in SAT Circular 24 and SAT Circular 7. SAT Circular 37 purports to clarify certain issues in the implementation of the above regime, by providing, among others, the definition of equity transfer income and tax basis, the foreign exchange rate to be used in the calculation of withholding amount, and the date of occurrence of the withholding obligation. Specifically, SAT Circular 37 provides that where the transfer income subject to withholding at source is derived by a non-PRC resident enterprise in instalments, the instalments may first be treated as recovery of costs of previous investments. Upon recovery of all costs, the tax amount to be withheld must then be computed and withheld.
According to the Temporary Regulations on Value-added Tax, amended in November 2017, and the Detailed Implementing Rules of the Temporary Regulations on Value- added Tax, amended in October 2011, all taxpayers selling goods, providing processing, repair or replacement services or importing goods within the PRC shall pay value- added tax. The tax rate of 17% shall be levied on general taxpayers selling or importing various goods; the tax rate of 17% shall be levied on the taxpayers providing processing, repairing or replacement service; the applicable rate for the export of goods by taxpayers shall be nil, unless otherwise stipulated.
Furthermore, according to the Trial Scheme for the Conversion of Business Tax to Value-added Tax, promulgated by the Ministry of Finance and the SAT in November 2011, the State Council began to launch taxation reforms in a gradual manner in January 2012, whereby the collection of value-added tax in lieu of business tax items was implemented on a trial basis in regions showing significant radiating effects in economic development and providing outstanding reform examples, beginning with production service industries such as transportation and certain modern service industries.
In accordance with a SAT circular that took effect in May 2016, upon approval of the State Council, the pilot program of the collection of value-added tax in lieu of business tax shall be promoted nationwide in a comprehensive manner starting from May 2016, and all taxpayers of business tax engaged in the construction industry, the real estate industry, the financial industry and the life science industry shall be included in the scope of the pilot program with regard to payment of value-added tax instead of business tax.
In April 2018, MOF and the SAT jointly promulgated the Circular of the Ministry of Finance and the State Administration of Taxation on Adjustment of Value-Added Tax Rates, or Circular 32, according to which (i)for VAT taxable sales acts or importation of goods originally subject to value-added tax rates of 17% and 11% respectively, such tax rates shall be adjusted to 16% and 10%, respectively; (ii)for purchase of agricultural products originally subject to deduction rate of 11%, such deduction rate shall be adjusted to 10%; (iii) for purchase of agricultural products for the purpose of production and sales or consigned processing of goods subject to tax rate of 16%, such tax shall be calculated at the deduction rate of 12%; (iv) for exported goods originally subject to tax rate of 17% and export tax refund rate of 17%, the export tax refund rate shall be adjusted to 16%; and (v)for exported goods and cross-border taxable acts originally subject to tax rate of 11% and export tax refund rate of 11%, the export tax refund rate shall be adjusted to 10%. Circular 32 became effective on May 1, 2018 and shall supersede existing provisions which are inconsistent with Circular 32.
In March 2019, MOF, the SAT and General Administration of Customs jointly promulgated the Announcement on Policies for Deepening the VAT Reform, or Circular 39, according to which (i)for VAT taxable sales acts or importation of goods originally subject to value-added tax rates of 16% and 10% respectively, such tax rates shall be adjusted to 13% and 9%, respectively; (ii)for purchase of agricultural products originally subject to deduction rate of 10%, such deduction rate shall be adjusted to 9%; (iii) for purchase of agricultural products for the purpose of production and sales or consigned processing of goods subject to tax rate of 13%, such tax shall be calculated at the deduction rate of 10%; (iv) for exported goods originally subject to tax rate of 16% and export tax refund rate of 16%, the export tax refund rate shall be adjusted to 13%; and (v)for exported goods and cross-border taxable acts originally subject to tax rate of 10% and export tax refund rate of 10%, the export tax refund rate shall be adjusted to 9%. Circular 39 became effective on April 1, 2019 and shall supersede existing provisions which are inconsistent with Circular 39.
Regulations Relating to Dividend Distributions
The principal regulations governing distribution of dividends of wholly foreign-owned enterprise, or WFOE, include the Company Law, the Foreign Investment Law and the Implementation Regulations. Under these regulations, foreign investment enterprises in China may pay dividends only out of their accumulated profits, if any, as determined in accordance with PRC accounting standards and regulations. In addition, a foreign investment enterprises in China is required to set aside at least 10% of its after-tax profit based on PRC accounting standards each year to its general reserves until its cumulative total reserve funds reaches 50% of its registered capital. These reserve funds, however, may not be distributed as cash dividends. The proportional ratio for withdrawal of rewards and welfare funds for employees shall be determined at the discretion of the WFOE. Profits of a WFOE shall not be distributed before the losses thereof before the previous accounting years have been made up. Any undistributed profit for the previous accounting years may be distributed together with the distributable profit for the current accounting year.
Regulations Relating to Foreign Exchange
Regulations Relating to Foreign Exchange Registration of Overseas Investment by PRC Residents
Circular on Relevant Issues Concerning Foreign Exchange Control on Domestic Residents’ Offshore Investment and Financing and Roundtrip Investment Through Special Purpose Vehicles, or Circular 37, issued by SAFE in and effective in July 2014, regulates foreign exchange matters in relation to the use of special purpose vehicles, or SPVs, by PRC residents or entities to seek offshore investment and financing and conduct round trip investment in China. Under Circular 37, a SPV refers to an offshore entity established or controlled, directly or indirectly, by PRC residents or entities for the purpose of seeking offshore financing or making offshore investment, using legitimate domestic or offshore assets or interests, while “round trip investment” refers to the direct investment in China by PRC residents or entities through SPVs, namely, establishing foreign-invested enterprises to obtain the ownership, control rights and management rights. Circular 37 requires that, before making contribution into an SPV, PRC residents or entities are required to complete foreign exchange registration with SAFE or its local branch. Circular 37 further provides that option or share- based incentive tool holders of a non-listed SPV can exercise the options or share incentive tools to become a shareholder of such non-listed SPV, subject to registration with SAFE or its local branch.
PRC residents or entities who have contributed legitimate domestic or offshore interests or assets to SPVs but have yet to obtain SAFE registration before the implementation of the Circular 37 shall register their ownership interests or control in such SPVs with SAFE or its local branch. An amendment to the registration is required if there is a material change in the registered SPV, such as any change of basic information (including change of such PRC resident’s name and operation term), increases or decreases in investment amounts, transfers or exchanges of shares, or mergers or divisions. Failure to comply with the registration procedures set forth in Circular 37, or making misrepresentation or failure to disclose controllers of foreign-invested enterprise that is established through round-trip investment, may result in restrictions on the foreign exchange activities of the relevant foreign-invested enterprises, including payment of dividends and other distributions, such as proceeds from any reduction in capital, share transfer or liquidation, to its offshore parent or affiliate, and the capital inflow from the offshore parent, and may also subject relevant PRC residents or entities to penalties under PRC foreign exchange administration regulations. In February 2015, SAFE further promulgated the Circular on Further Simplifying and Improving the Administration of the Foreign Exchange Concerning Direct Investment, or SAFE Circular 13, became effective on June 1, 2015. This SAFE Circular 13 has amended SAFE Circular 37 by requiring PRC residents or entities to register with qualified banks rather than SAFE or its local branch in connection with their establishment or control of an offshore entity established for the purpose of overseas investment or financing. Circular 37 is applicable to our shareholders who are PRC residents and may be applicable to any offshore acquisitions that we make in the future. All of our shareholders who, to our knowledge, are subject to the above SAFE regulations have completed the necessary registrations with the local SAFE branch or qualified banks as required by SAFE Circular 37.
According to the SAFE Circular 13, those who fails to comply with the requirements set forth in the preceding paragraph, the foreign exchange control authorities shall conduct business control over them in the capital account information system, and banks shall not carry out foreign exchange businesses under the capital account for them. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Our Business and Industry—We may be adversely affected by the complexity, uncertainties and changes in PRC laws and regulation, and any lack of requisite approvals, licenses or permits applicable to our business may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial conditions and results of operations.”
On March 30, 2015, SAFE promulgated the Circular on Reforming the Management Approach regarding the Settlement of Foreign Exchange Capital of Foreign-invested Enterprises, or Circular 19, effective on June 1, 2015. According to Circular 19, the foreign exchange capital of foreign-invested enterprises shall be subject to the Discretional Foreign Exchange Settlement. The Discretional Foreign Exchange Settlement refers to the foreign exchange capital in the capital account of a foreign-invested enterprise for which the rights and interests of monetary contribution has been confirmed by the local foreign exchange bureau (or the book-entry registration of monetary contribution by the banks) can be settled at the banks based on the actual operational needs of the foreign-invested enterprise. The proportion of Discretional Foreign Exchange Settlement of the foreign exchange capital of a foreign-invested enterprise is temporarily determined to be 100%. The Renminbi converted from the foreign exchange capital will be kept in a designated account and if a foreign-invested enterprise needs to make further payment from such account, it still needs to provide supporting documents and go through the review process with the banks.
SAFE issued the Circular on Reforming and Regulating Policies on the Control over Foreign Exchange Settlement of Capital Accounts, or Circular 16, in June 2016, which became effective simultaneously, which among other things, amends certain provisions of the Circular 19. Pursuant to Circular 16, enterprises registered in the PRC may also convert their foreign debts from foreign currency to Renminbi on a discretionary basis. Circular 16 provides an integrated standard for conversion of foreign exchange under capital account items (including but not limited to foreign currency capital and foreign debts) on a discretionary basis which applies to all enterprises registered in the PRC. Circular 16 reiterates the principle that Renminbi converted from foreign currency-denominated capital of a company may not be directly or indirectly used for purposes beyond its business scope or prohibited by PRC laws or regulations, while such converted Renminbi shall not be provided as loans to its non-affiliated entities. As Circular 16 is newly issued, and SAFE has not provided detailed guidelines with respect to its interpretation or implementations, it is uncertain how these rules will be interpreted and implemented.
In January 2017, SAFE promulgated the Circular on Further Improving Reform of Foreign Exchange Administration and Optimizing Genuineness and Compliance Verification, or Circular 3, which took effect on the same day. Circular 3 sets out various measures to tighten genuineness and compliance verification of cross-border transactions and cross-border capital flow, which include without limitation requiring banks to verify board resolutions, tax filing form, and audited financial statements before wiring foreign invested enterprises’ foreign exchange distribution above US$50,000, and strengthening genuineness and compliance verification of foreign direct investments. Our WFOE’s distributions to its offshore parents are required to comply with the requirements as described above.
Regulations on Stock Incentive Plans
Pursuant to the Notice on Issues Concerning the Foreign Exchange Administration for Domestic Individuals Participating in Stock Incentive Plan of Overseas Publicly Listed Company, or Circular 7, issued by SAFE in February 2012, employees, directors, supervisors and other senior management participating in any stock incentive plan of an overseas publicly listed company who are PRC citizens or who are non-PRC citizens residing in China for a continuous period of not less than one year, subject to a few exceptions, are required to register with SAFE through a domestic qualified agent, which could be a PRC subsidiary of such overseas listed company, and complete certain other procedures. We and our directors, executive officers and other employees who are PRC citizens or who reside in the PRC for a continuous period of not less than one year and who have been granted options are subject to these regulations as our company is an overseas-listed company. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—Any failure to comply with PRC regulations regarding the registration requirements for employee stock incentive plans may subject the PRC plan participants or us to fines and other legal or administrative sanctions.”
In addition, the SAT has issued certain circulars concerning employee share options or restricted shares. Under these circulars, the employees working in the PRC who exercise share options or are granted restricted shares will be subject to PRC individual income tax. The PRC subsidiaries of such overseas listed company have obligations to file documents related to employee share options or restricted shares with relevant tax authorities and to withhold individual income taxes of those employees who exercise their share options. If the employees fail to pay or the PRC subsidiaries fail to withhold their income taxes according to relevant laws and regulations, the PRC subsidiaries may face sanctions imposed by the tax authorities or other PRC governmental authorities.
M&A Rule and Overseas Listing
Under the Regulations on Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors, or the M&A Rule, were jointly adopted by six PRC regulatory authorities, including CSRC, in August 2006, and effective September 2006, and most recently amended in June 2009, a foreign investor is required to obtain necessary approvals when (i)a foreign investor acquires equity in a domestic non-foreign invested enterprise thereby converting it into a foreign-invested enterprise, or subscribes for new equity in a domestic enterprise via an increase of registered capital thereby converting it into a foreign-invested enterprise; or (ii)a foreign investor establishes a foreign- invested enterprise which purchases and operates the assets of a domestic enterprise, or which purchases the assets of a domestic enterprise and injects those assets to establish a foreign-invested enterprise. According to the M&A Rule, where a domestic company or enterprise, or a domestic natural person, through an overseas company established or controlled by it/him, acquires a domestic company which is related to or connected with it/him, approval from MOFCOM is required. In addition, on December 19, 2020, the NDRC and the MOFCOM promulgated the Measures for Security Review of Foreign Investment, or the Foreign Investment Security Review Measures, which took effect on January 18, 2021. Under the Foreign Investment Security Review Measures, investment in certain key areas which results in acquiring the actual control of the assets is required to obtain approval from designated governmental authorities in advance.
Our PRC legal counsel, King & Wood Mallesons, has advised us that, based on its understanding of the current PRC laws and regulations, we will not be required to submit an application to the CSRC for the approval of the listing and trading of our ADSs on the Nasdaq Global Market. However, our PRC legal counsel has further advised us that there remains some uncertainty as to how the M&A Rules will be interpreted or implemented in the context of an overseas offering, and its opinions summarized above are subject to any new laws, rules and regulations or detailed implementations and interpretations in any form relating to the M&A Rules.
The following diagram illustrates our corporate structure, including our principal subsidiaries and consolidated affiliated entities, as of the date of this annual report:
Contractual Arrangements with our VIE and Its Shareholders
The following is a summary of the currently effective contractual arrangements relating to our WFOE and our VIE.
Agreements that provide us with effective control over our VIE
Powers of Attorney. Pursuant to the Powers of Attorney, dated June 26, 2018, between Mr. Baoli Ma and Mr. Changyou Ma, the shareholders of our VIE collectively executed powers of attorney to irrevocably authorize our WFOE to act as their attorney-in-fact to exercise all of their rights as shareholders of our VIE, including but not limited to, the right to attend shareholders meetings, to vote, to dispose equity interests under their names, and to recommend and appoint directors, chief managers and other senior management of the VIE as authorized representatives of the shareholders. The powers of attorney will remain permanently effective as long as Mr. Baoli Ma and Mr. Changyou Ma remain as shareholders of our VIE, unless otherwise terminated by our WFOE.
Equity Interest Pledge Agreement. Pursuant to the equity interest pledge agreement, dated June 26, 2018, among our WFOE and the shareholders of our VIE, the shareholders of our VIE have collectively pledged 100% equity interests in our VIE to our WFOE to guarantee the performance by our VIE of its obligations under the Exclusive Consulting and Services Agreement. In the event of a breach by our VIE of contractual obligations under these contractual arrangements, our WFOE, as pledgee, will have the right to dispose of the pledged equity interests in our VIE and will have priority in receiving the proceeds from such disposal. The shareholders of our VIE also covenant that, without the prior written consent of our WFOE, they will not dispose of, create or allow any encumbrance on the pledged equity interests. The equity interest pledge agreement will remain effective until (i) the termination of the Exclusive Consulting and Services Agreement with all service fees under the Exclusive Consulting and Services Agreement have been paid and no further obligation shall be undertaken by BlueCity Culture Media; or (ii) the equity interests of BlueCity Culture Media have been transferred to BlueCity Information Technology or any third party designated by it.
We have filed the registration of the equity interest pledge under the equity interest pledge agreement in relation to our VIE with the relevant office of the State Administration of Market Regulation in accordance with the PRC Property Rights Law.
Spouse Consent Letters. Pursuant to the spouse consent letter, dated June 26, 2018, the spouse of Mr. Changyou Ma, confirmed that she can perform the obligations under the contractual arrangements. The spouse of Mr. Changyou Ma agreed that the equity interest in VIE held by Mr. Changyou Ma and registered in the name of Mr. Changyou Ma will be disposed of pursuant to the exclusive consulting and service agreement, exclusive option agreement, equity interest pledge agreement and the powers of attorney. In addition, in the event that the spouse of Mr. Changyou Ma obtains any equity interest in the VIE for any reason, she agreed to be bound by the contractual arrangements.
Agreements that allow us to receive economic benefits from our VIE
Exclusive Consulting and Services Agreement. Pursuant to the exclusive consulting and services agreement, dated June 26, 2018, between our WFOE and our VIE, our WFOE has the exclusive right to provide consulting and services required by our VIE’s business. Without our WFOE’s prior written consent, our VIE may not accept the consulting and services provided by any third party, including its shareholders, during the term of the agreement. Our VIE agrees to pay our WFOE quarterly service fees at an amount confirmed by WFOE and all of its subsidiaries, which amount and percentage may be adjusted by, which should be paid within 10 business days upon receipt of invoice from our WFOE. Our WFOE has the exclusive ownership of all the intellectual property rights created under the Exclusive Consulting and Services Agreement, and both parties will further negotiated on the license of such intellectual properties. The exclusive consulting and services agreement will remain effective, unless otherwise terminated by our WFOE.
Agreements that provide us with the option to purchase the equity interests in our VIE
Exclusive Option Agreement. Pursuant to the exclusive option agreement, dated June 26, 2018, among our WFOE and shareholders of our VIE, the shareholders of our VIE have irrevocably granted our WFOE an exclusive option to purchase all or part of their equity interests in our VIE and/or the assets in our VIE. Our WFOE may exercise such options at the lowest price as permitted by PRC laws and regulations, which price may be adjusted based on the valuation of the equity interests of the assets, if required by PRC laws and regulations. The equity holders should remit to our company any amount that is paid by our company or its designated person(s) in connection with the purchased equity interest. Our VIE and the shareholders of covenant that, without our WFOE’s prior written consent, they will not, among other things, (i) transfer or otherwise dispose of, or create any pledge or encumbrance on their equity interests in our VIE, (ii) change our VIE’s registered capital, or increase or decrease our VIE’s current equity interests owners, (iii) dispose or make our VIE’s management to dispose any assets of our VIE, other than in the ordinary course of business, or (iv) amend our VIE’s articles of association. The exclusive options agreement will remain effective until shareholders of our VIE have transferred all of their equity interests and/or assets in our VIE to our WFOE or any third party so designated, unless otherwise terminated by our WFOE immediately in its sole discretion with written notice.
In the opinion of King & Wood Mallesons, our PRC legal counsel:
|●||the ownership structures of our VIE in China and our WFOE, both currently and immediately after giving effect to the initial public offering, are not in violation of applicable PRC laws and regulations currently in effect; and|
|●||the contractual arrangements between our WFOE, our VIE and its shareholders governed by PRC law are legal, valid, binding and enforceable against each party thereto in accordance with their terms and applicable PRC laws and regulations currently in effect.|
However, our PRC legal counsel has also advised us that there are substantial uncertainties regarding the interpretation and application of current and future PRC laws, regulations and rules. Accordingly, the PRC regulatory authorities may take a view that is contrary to the opinion of our PRC legal counsel. It is uncertain whether any new PRC laws or regulations relating to variable interest entity structures will be adopted or if adopted, what they would provide. If we or our VIE are found to be in violation of any existing or future PRC laws or regulations, or fail to obtain or maintain any of the required permits or approvals, the relevant PRC regulatory authorities would have broad discretion to take action in dealing with such violations or failures. See “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Relating to Our Corporate Structure—If the PRC government finds that the agreements that establish the structure for operating some of our operations in China do not comply with PRC regulations relating to the relevant industries, or if these regulations or the interpretation of existing regulations change in the future, we could be subject to severe penalties or be forced to relinquish our interests in those operations” and “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors—Risks Related to Doing Business in China—Uncertainties with respect to the PRC legal system and changes in laws and regulations in China could adversely affect us.”
D.Property, Plant and Equipment
As of December 31, 2020, we leased an aggregate gross floor area of properties totaling approximately 6,391 square meters, including approximately 4,789 square meters in Beijing, China for our principal office in China and approximately 1,602 square meters in other regions of China, and approximately 80 square meters outside of China.
We believe that our existing facilities are generally adequate in meeting our current needs, but we may seek additional space as needed to accommodate future growth.
ITEM 4A. UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS
ITEM 5. OPERATING AND FINANCIAL REVIEW AND PROSPECTS
You should read the following discussion and analysis of our financial condition and results of operations in conjunction with our consolidated financial statements and the related notes included elsewhere in this annual report. This discussion contains forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties. Our actual results and the timing of selected events could differ materially from those anticipated in these forward-looking statements as a result of various factors, including those set forth under “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors” and elsewhere in this annual report. See “Forward-Looking Statements”
Key Factors Affecting Our Results of Operations
User growth and engagement
We generate revenue primarily through (i) live streaming services, (ii) membership services, (iii) advertising services, (iv) merchandise sales and (v) others including family planning services (stopped from accepting new orders in March 2021). Our revenues are driven by and highly dependent on the growth in our active user base, which includes our users on both domestic and international versions of our mobile app and users of our various products and services. We have experienced rapid user growth since our inception. Strategies that we pursue to achieve active user growth may affect our costs and expenses and results of operations.
Average MAUs of BlueCity’s portfolio apps grew from 5.9 million in the three month ended December 2019 to 7.6 million in the three month ended December 2020. The following table sets forth our average MAUs and DAUs of BlueCity’s portfolio apps for each of the quarters indicated:
For the Three Months Ended
We have generally achieved continuous growth in our user base throughout these periods.
Changes in user engagement could affect our revenues and financial results. Our average next-month retention rate of Blued slightly decreased from 71.0% in 2019 to 66.3% in 2020, primarily attributable to the fact that our overseas MAUs grew substantially while we were in the early stage of solidifying our user bases outside China. In 2020, Blued had an average daily time spent per active user of over 50 minutes compared to 60 minutes in 2019 and average daily sessions per active user of over 21 times compared to 16 times in 2019, according to the Frost & Sullivan Report. Active user engagement powered by diverse functionalities and rich content enables us to secure an abundant supply of user profiles and behavioral data, which is essential for our advertising services and our ability to improve our service features, including our membership subscription packages.
Monetization of our user base
Our revenues and results of operations depend on our ability to monetize our user base, to convert more users to paying users and to increase the spending of our paying users. Paying users on our platform include users who make payments for various products and services offered on our platform, including payments for virtual currency which can be used to purchase and send virtual gifts in live streaming, purchase membership services, payment for health-related services and family planning services (stopped from accepting new orders in March 2021). Currently, revenues generated from live streaming is the largest component of our revenues, and we expect revenues generated from our membership services and health-related services will grow at a faster pace.
Our paying users for live streaming services increased from 326 thousand in 2019 to 409 thousand in 2020, primarily due to the increased user activity and willingness to pay mainly as a result of improved interactive features and promotion events. Our ARPPU for live streaming services increased slightly from approximately RMB2,059 in 2019 to RMB2,123 in 2020, primarily due to our continuous efforts to enhance our live streaming services. We launched our membership services in June 2018, and our paying users for membership services increased from approximately 457 thousand in 2019 to 780 thousand in 2020, benefited from the continued enhancement of various features of our membership services in both domestic and overseas markets. Our ARPPU for membership services increased from RMB80 in 2019 to RMB91 in 2020, primarily due to the contribution from pay-per-use services. We launched subscription-based membership services for the international version of Blued in the fourth quarter of 2019. We are committed to continually developing innovative membership services tailored to the needs of our users.
We will continue to diversify our product and service offerings and expand our monetization channels without compromising user experience. We seek to strengthen our capability to generate revenue from live streaming by optimizing matching of broadcasters and viewers and adopting additional creative ways of virtual gifting. We also plan to curate more premium content and attract more high-quality influencers to our platform, in order to increase viewers’ willingness to pay. Meanwhile, we will gradually expand our advertising revenue through development of more innovative advertising formats and comprehensive mobile marketing solutions for both China’s and global advertisers. Furthermore, we plan to test our offerings in selected global markets with localized functionalities and features. We are also testing new features and geography for our membership services. Our revenue growth will be affected by our ability to effectively execute our monetization strategies and expand our paying user base.
Our brand recognition and market leadership
BlueCity is a spiritual home for LGBTQ people, encouraging them to be themselves, feel good about themselves and embrace the community. Average MAUs of BlueCity’s portfolio apps grew from 5.9 million in the three month ended 2019 to 7.6 million in the three month ended 2020. The prominent market leadership and brand recognition of BlueCity’s portfolio apps is key to our ability to maintain and enhance relationships with our users, broadcasters, advertisers, and other business partners, and increase our revenues. In addition, the reputation and attractiveness of our platform among the LGBTQ community also serves as a highly efficient marketing channel for our products and services.
Our ability to further improve cost efficiency
Our results of operations depend on our ability to manage our costs and expenses. Our cost of revenues consists primarily of revenue-sharing costs, staff costs and processing fees and service charges payable to third-party business partners. It is critical for us to manage our costs and expenses effectively and improve operational efficiency. We expect the absolute amount of our staff costs to increase as we grow our business. We will also invest in the growth of our platform by incurring selling and marketing expenses as we expand into global markets and promote more diversified services for the LGBTQ community.
Investment in technology and talent
Our technology is critical for us to retain and attract users and business partners. We must continue to innovate to keep pace with the growth of our industry. Our current technology and development efforts are primarily focused on enhancing our artificial intelligence technology and big data analytics capabilities, which we believe are crucial for us to scale our products and services and improve user experience. For example, leveraging both big data analytics and artificial intelligence technologies, we were able to enhance the accuracy of content monitoring and user profiling, and optimize our operation, targeted content and user experience. To keep up with the pace of our global expansion, we must recruit, retain and motivate talented employees both in managerial and operational levels who are equipped with relevant industry insights and experience, while controlling our personnel-related expenses.
Successful implementation of globalization strategies
We have successfully replicated our business model in China to other markets. We are rapidly expanding into new markets, and have Blued users spanning over 170 countries and regions as of December 31, 2020. Users from countries and regions outside of China represented over 41.5% of our total portfolio MAUs in December 2020. Despite our global footprint, approximately 3.4%, 6.6% and 10.0% of our total revenues for 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively, were contributed by users outside China. We are still in the early stage of generating revenue from our users outside China and are continuing to introduce diversified service offerings to cater to their different needs. We believe that our expansion and penetration into selected global markets will not only drive our revenue growth but also diversify our revenue streams across geographic regions.
Key Components of Results of Operations
The following table sets forth the components of our revenues by amounts and percentages of our total revenues for the years presented:
For the Years Ended December 31,