ByteDance Challenges Baidu yet again by Releasing Standalone Search App
COVID-19 and China
Baidu is still by far the most favorite search engine in China since google left the country back in 2010. Image credit:John Schnobrich/Unsplash

TikTok and Douyin owner, ByteDance, had already challenged Tencent and NetEase after announcing its intention to launch two independently developed games in spring this year. Now it has launched a standalone search engine app, further challenging Baidu’s dominance in China’s online search market.

Faced with strong competition from a rival trying to grab its market share in the search engine market, Baidu has warned that its 2020 first-quarter revenue could drop 5% to 13% due to the impact of the coronavirus epidemic which has affected many of the sectors that fuel its advertising business.

As China's internet shifts from desktop to mobile, ByteDance is increasingly chipping away advertising sales from Baidu, drawing users to its news aggregation apps and short video platforms.

ByteDance started exploring the online search market in 2016, and then added a built-in search engine to its news aggregator app Toutiao. Gradually improving its search capacity, Toutiao in August 2019 launched its independent search page ‘Toutiao search,’ and now has finally launched a fully independent APP also named ‘Toutiao search.’

In September 2019, ByteDance completed the acquisition of Baike, a Chinese encyclopedia website offering knowledge to internet users, and then invested in Zhihu, a Chinese social network platform dedicated to questioning and answering, which, together with its incubated apps such as Douyin, Xigua shipin (directly translated to watermelon video) and Toutiao, provided content sources for the search business.

Baike, which was set up in 2005 in Beijing, is a major competitor of Baidu’s online encyclopedia service BaiduBaike. The two online reference platforms have long been competitors.

The launch of ‘Toutiao search’ in China’s internet search market by ByteDance is a signal to Baidu that the battle lines have officially been drawn.

Shocked by the sudden peak in competition, Baidu is also actively looking for ways to mitigate the market share loss to ByteDance.

As a newcomer in the gaming industry compared to Tencent and NetEase, which recently beat Wall Street’s target for the fourth quarter, ByteDance took full advantage of the opportunity created by the epidemic which boosted the online gaming industry and its strategy has already started paying off. The world's most highly valued startup, was reported to be on a hiring spree for talent over the past few months, and has quickly established a mature gaming department to lead it into the competitive sector. Meanwhile, it has quietly acquired several game studios and exclusive game distribution rights.

Besides gaming ByteDance has also been trying to step into the education industry. In 2018, Bytedance challenged Tencent-backed VIPKid by launching an online English teaching platform, Gogokid. However, according to 36kr, Gogokid had a massive layoff, losing more than 70% of its employees in April with the aim of cutting costs.

ByteDance might have an edge over other Chinese internet giants as it has a vast and engaged user base among the teenage demographic: it can leverage Douyin/TikTok to channel users towards its new products but it is still in a stage of exploration in industries where others have been dominating for decades. 

Editor: Edward Turkson

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