Sina Weibo hits 300 million users but costs rise

Chinese microblog service user base grows from 1 million to 300 million in less than 2 years, with most accessing through mobile platforms, but its rising costs a factor in group's first quarter loss.
Written by Ellyne Phneah, Contributor

Sina Weibo has hit 300 million registered users in February, growing from 1 million from the end of 2009--with majority of users accessing the microblog service over mobile platforms. However it did not indicate how many were active users.

According to statistics published by the online media company on Tuesday, 60 percent of members used the service over mobile devices. Of this segment, 28 percent were from iPhone, 27 percent from Android phones, 9 percent from Symbian and 7 percent from iPad. The remaining 29 percent had accessed Sina Weibo from wireless application protocol (WAP) and Java. Less than 1 percent of the user base were on BlackBerry, Windows Phone, and Android tablets.

Access through mobile platforms had overtaken the personal computer (PC) as early as the fourth quarter last year, and it is expected that two-thirds of access to the microblog will be from mobile platforms by the end of this year, the report noted.

It also measured the peak usage times for mobile phone users, with most of them using the service at 10pm before going to bed. This was ahead of lunchtime usage, followed by access during dinner time, and while on the way to work.

Sina Weibo costs weighs down on group earnings
However, the success of the Twitter-like service has come at a cost to the wider Sina group. In its financial results released Tuesday, it suffered a first quarter net loss of US$13.7 million, compared with a profit of US$15 million from a year ago.

Although advertising revenue rose by 9 percent, this was dragged down by rising costs. "The increase... in operating expenses was primarily due to increased personnel-related expenses, infrastructure-related spending and marketing expenditures, mostly in connection with Weibo.com," the company said in the statement.

Charles Chao, CEO of SINA, said in the release: "Our brand advertising business got off to a relatively slow start in the first quarter due to the softening of macroeconomic conditions in China."

"Although we expect macroeconomic headwinds to continue into the second quarter, we have begun test trials of Weibo brand advertising, which is powered by a social interest graph recommendation engine, and expect this new product offering to have a meaningful impact on our brand advertising business in the second half of this year," Chao added.

Sina Weibo's service was in the news last month after it was temporarily suspended for three days, following rumors online over the scandal involving Chinese politician Bo Xilai.

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