20-F 1 d695714d20f.htm FORM 20-F Form 20-F
Table of Contents

 

 

UNITED STATES

SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION

WASHINGTON, D.C. 20549

 

 

FORM 20-F

 

 

(Mark One)

REGISTRATION STATEMENT PURSUANT TO SECTION 12(b) OR (g) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

OR

 

ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

For the fiscal year ended December 31, 2018

OR

 

TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

OR

 

SHELL COMPANY REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934

Commission file number: 001-38511

 

 

SOHU.COM LIMITED

(Exact name of Registrant as specified in its charter)

 

 

N/A

(Translation of Registrant’s name into English)

Cayman Islands

(Jurisdiction of incorporation or organization)

Level 18, Sohu.com Media Plaza

Block 3, No. 2 Kexueyuan South Road, Haidian District

Beijing 100190

People’s Republic of China

(Address of principal executive offices)

Joanna Lv

Chief Financial Officer

Level 18, Sohu.com Media Plaza

Block 3, No. 2 Kexueyuan South Road, Haidian District

Beijing 100190

Telephone: (011) 8610-6272 6666

Email: IR@sohu-inc.com

(Name, Telephone, Email 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)

American Depositary Shares, each representing one ordinary
share, par value US$0.001 per share
  The Nasdaq Global Select Market

Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act:

None

Securities for which there is a reporting obligation pursuant to Section 15(d) of the Act:

None

  

 

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: 39,228,538 ordinary shares, par value $0.001 per share, as of December 31, 2018.

Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act.    Yes  ☐     No  ☒

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  ☐    No  ☒

Note—Checking the box above will not relieve any registrant required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 from their obligations under those Section.

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.    Yes  ☒    No  ☐

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically 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).    Yes  ☒    No  ☐

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 definition of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.

 

Large accelerated filer  ☒   Accelerated filer  ☐    Non-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 which basis of accounting the registrant has used to prepare the financial statements included in this filing.

 

U.S. GAAP  ☒

    

International Financial Reporting Standards as issued

by the International Accounting Standards Board  ☐

   Other  ☐

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.    Yes  ☐    No  ☒

(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

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

INTRODUCTION

  

PART I

  

Item 1.

 

Identity of Directors, Senior Management and Advisers

     3  

Item 2.

 

Offer Statistics and Expected Timetable

     3  

Item 3.

 

Key Information

     3  

Item 4.

 

Information on the Company

     59  

Item 4A.

 

Unresolved Staff Comments

     105  

Item 5.

 

Operating and Financial Review and Prospects

     105  

Item 6.

 

Directors, Executive Officers and Corporate Governance

     139  

Item 7.

 

Major Shareholders and Related Party Transactions

     146  

Item 8.

 

Financial Information

     151  

Item 9.

 

The Offer and Listing

     152  

Item 10.

 

Additional Information

     152  

Item 11.

 

Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk

     161  

Item 12.

 

Description of Securities Other than Equity Securities

     162  

PART II

  

Item 13.

 

Defaults, Dividend Arrearages and Delinquencies

     163  

Item 14.

 

Material Modifications to the Rights of Security Holders and Use of Proceeds

     163  

Item 15.

 

Controls and Procedures

     163  

Item 16A.

 

Audit Committee Financial Expert

     164  

Item 16B.

 

Code of Ethics

     164  

Item 16C.

 

Principal Accountant Fees and Services

     164  

Item 16D.

 

Exemptions from the Listing Standards for Audit Committees

     165  

Item 16E.

 

Purchases of Equity Securities by the Issuer and Affiliated Purchasers

     165  

Item 16F.

 

Change in Registrants’ Certifying Accountants

     165  

Item 16G.

 

Corporate Governance

     165  

Item 16H.

 

Mine Safety Disclosure

     165  

PART III

  

Item 17.

 

Financial Statements

     165  

Item 18.

 

Financial Statements

     165  

Item 19.

 

Exhibits

     166  


Table of Contents

Introduction

In this annual report, except where the context otherwise requires and for purposes of this annual report only:

 

   

“we,” “us,” “our,” “our company,” “our Group,” the “Sohu Group,” the “Group,” and “Sohu” refer to Sohu.com Limited (or our predecessor Sohu.com Inc., as applicable), and unless the context requires otherwise, include its subsidiaries and variable interest entities. Sohu.com Inc., a Delaware corporation, was dissolved on May 31, 2018 and Sohu.com Limited, which before then was a direct wholly-owned subsidiary of Sohu.com Inc., replaced Sohu.com Inc. as the top-tier, publicly-traded holding company of the Sohu Group. See “Information on the Company—History and Development of the Company” in Item 4 of this annual report.

 

   

“ADSs” refers to our American depositary shares, each of which represents one ordinary share, par value $0.001 per share;

 

   

“Changyou” refers to Changyou.com Limited, a Cayman Islands company, and unless the context requires otherwise, includes its subsidiaries and variable interest entities, or VIEs;

 

   

“China” or “PRC” refers to the People’s Republic of China, and for the purpose of this annual report, excludes Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan;

 

   

“DAU,” for active users quoted from iResearch, for any given month, refers to the average number of active users per day during that month. A user who uses the applicable product more than once in any such day is counted as one active user for that day. Each distinguishable device or application is treated as a separate user for purposes of calculating such DAU;

 

   

“HNTE” refers to high and new technology enterprises;

 

   

“IVAS” refers to our Internet value-added services;

 

   

“IPO” refers to an initial public offering;

 

   

“KNSE” refers to key national software enterprises:

 

   

“Legacy TLBB Mobile” refers to a mobile game that Changyou developed based on the title and characters of Tian Long Ba Bu, which is operated by Tencent under license from Changyou and was launched in May 2017;

 

   

“MAU,” for active users quoted from iResearch, for any given month, refers to the number of active users during that month. A user who uses the applicable product more than once in any such month is counted as one active user for that month. Each distinguishable device or application is treated as a separate user for purposes of calculating such MAU;

 

   

“Memorandum and Articles of Association” refers to our Amended and Restated Memorandum of Association and our Amended and Restated Articles of Association;

 

   

“MMORPGs” refers to massively multiplayer online role-playing games;

 

   

“Offshore” refers to nations and territories outside of Mainland China, and for this purpose includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan;

 

   

“Paid clicks” refers to the number of paid clicks, including clicks by users on advertisers promotional links displayed on Sogou’s search result pages and other Internet properties and third parties’ Internet properties;

 

   

“PC games” refers to interactive online games that may be accessed and played simultaneously by hundreds of thousands of game players through personal computers with local game client-end access software installation requirements. In previous annual reports, we have sometimes used the terms “MMOGs” and “MMORPGs” when referring to these client-end installed games played through personal computers;

 

   

“PRC GAAP” refers to generally accepted accounting principles of the PRC;

 

   

“RMB” refers to the Renminbi, which is the legal currency of China;

 

   

“Sogou” refers to Sogou Inc., a Cayman Islands company, and unless the context requires otherwise, includes its subsidiaries and variable interest entities, or VIEs;

 

   

“Sogou Pre-IPO Class A Ordinary Shares” refers to the Sogou Class A ordinary shares that were authorized and outstanding prior to the completion of Sogou’s IPO;

 

   

“Sogou Pre-IPO Class B Ordinary Shares” refers to the Sogou Class B ordinary shares that were authorized and outstanding prior to the completion of Sogou’s IPO;

 

   

“Sogou Pre-IPO Ordinary Shares” refers to the Sogou Pre-IPO Class A Ordinary Shares and the Sogou Pre-IPO Class B Ordinary Shares;

 

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“Sogou Pre-IPO Series A Preferred Shares” refers to the Sogou Series A Preferred Shares that were authorized and outstanding prior to the completion of Sogou’s IPO;

 

   

“Sogou Pre-IPO Series B Preferred Shares” refer to the Sogou Series B preferred shares that were authorized and outstanding prior to the completion of Sogou’s IPO;

 

   

“Sogou Pre-IPO Preferred Shares” refers to the Sogou Pre-IPO Series A Preferred Shares and the Sogou Pre-IPO Series B Preferred Shares, collectively;

 

   

“Sogou Class A Ordinary Shares” refers to the Sogou Class A Ordinary Shares, which carry one vote per share;

 

   

“Sogou Class B Ordinary Shares” refers to the Sogou Class B Ordinary Shares which carry ten votes per share;

 

   

“Tencent” refers to Tencent Holdings Limited and its subsidiaries under International Financial Reporting Standards;

 

   

“Tian Long Ba Bu,” refers to the popular novel of that name by the famous Chinese writer Louis Cha, from whom Changyou has obtained an exclusive license to develop and operate PC games and mobile games based on the title and characters of that novel;

 

   

“TLBB” refers to the PC game developed based on the title and characters of Tian Long Ba Bu;

 

   

“TLBB 3D” refers to a mobile game that were developed based on the title and characters of Tian Long Ba Bu;

 

   

“U.S. GAAP” refers to generally accepted accounting principles in the United States;

 

   

“U.S. TCJA” refers to the U.S. Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law on December 22, 2017; and

 

   

“VIE” refers to an entity that is a variable interest entity under U.S. GAAP, including a subsidiary of an entity that is a variable interest entity under U.S. GAAP.

This annual report on Form 20-F includes our audited consolidated statements of comprehensive income for the years ended December 31, 2016, 2017 and 2018 and audited consolidated balance sheets as of December 31, 2017, and 2018.

Our predecessor Sohu.com Inc. completed an IPO of shares of its common stock on NASDAQ on July 17, 2000. Following the dissolution of Sohu.com Inc. on May 31, 2018, our ADSs began trading on NASDAQ in place of the shares of common stock of Sohu.com Inc. under the same “SOHU” symbol under which Sohu.com Inc.’s shares had previously traded. Sogou completed its IPO on the New York Stock Exchange (the “NYSE”) in November 2017, trading under the symbol “SOGO.” Changyou completed its IPO on NASDAQ in April 2009, trading under the symbol “CYOU.”

FORWARD-LOOKING INFORMATION

This annual report on Form 20-F contains “forward looking statements.” These statements are made under the “safe harbor” provisions of the U.S. Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. You can identify these forward-looking statements by terms such as “may,” “will,” “expects,” “anticipates,” “future,” “intend,” “plan,” “believe,” “estimate,” “is/are likely to” and similar expressions. These statements involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors that may cause our actual results, performance, or achievements to be materially different from those expressed or implied by the forward-looking statements. The forward-looking statements made in this annual report relate only to events as of the date on which the statements are made. We undertake no obligation, beyond any that is required by law, to update any forward-looking statement to reflect events or circumstances after the date on which the statement is made, even though our situation will change in the future.

These forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, the following:

 

   

our ability to maintain and strengthen our position as a leading Chinese online media, search and game service group in China;

 

   

our expected development, launch and market acceptance of our products and services;

 

   

our various initiatives to implement our business strategies to expand our business;

 

   

our future business development, results of operations and financial condition;

 

   

the expected growth of and change in the online media, search and game industries in China; and

 

   

the PRC government policies relating to the Internet and Internet content providers, including online media, search and game developers and operators.

We operate in an emerging and evolving environment. New risk factors emerge from time to time and it is impossible for our management to predict all risk factors, nor can we assess the impact of all factors on our business or the extent to which any factor, or combination of factors, may cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in any forward-looking statement.

We would like to caution you not to place undue reliance on forward-looking statements and you should read these statements in conjunction with all other parts of this annual report, including the risk factors set forth in Item 3. See “Key Information—Risk Factors”

 

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Table of Contents

PART I

 

ITEM 1.

IDENTITY OF DIRECTORS, SENIOR MANAGEMENT AND ADVISERS

Not Applicable.

 

ITEM 2.

OFFER STATISTICS AND EXPECTED TIMETABLE

Not Applicable.

 

ITEM 3.

KEY INFORMATION

Selected Consolidated Financial Data

The following tables present the selected consolidated financial information for our company. The selected consolidated statements of comprehensive income data for the years ended December 31, 2016, 2017, and 2018 and the consolidated balance sheets data as of December 31, 2017 and 2018 have been derived from our audited consolidated financial statements included in this annual report beginning on page F-1. The selected consolidated statements of comprehensive income data for the years ended December 31, 2014 and 2015 and our consolidated balance sheets data as of December 31, 2014, 2015, and 2016 have been derived from audited consolidated financial statements that are not included in this annual report. Our consolidated financial statements are prepared and presented in accordance with U.S. GAAP. The selected consolidated financial data should be read in conjunction with, and are qualified in their entirety by reference to, our audited consolidated financial statements and related notes and “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects” below. Our historical results do not indicate the results that may be expected for any future periods.

Selected Consolidated Statement of Comprehensive Income /(Loss) Data

 

     Year Ended December 31,  
     2014     2015     2016     2017     2018  
     (In thousands, except per ADS data)  

Statements of Comprehensive Income Data:

          

Revenues:

          

Online advertising:

          

Brand advertising

   $ 541,158     $ 577,114     $ 447,956     $ 314,066     $ 231,945  

Search and search-related advertising

     357,839       539,521       597,133       801,199       1,022,456  

Subtotal of online advertising revenues

     898,997       1,116,635       1,045,089       1,115,265       1,254,401  

Online games

     652,008       636,846       395,709       449,533       389,788  

Others

     122,072       183,610       209,633       296,164       238,840  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total revenues

     1,673,077       1,937,091       1,650,431       1,860,962       1,883,029  

Cost of revenues(1):

          

Online advertising:

          

Brand advertising

     307,708       383,187       371,085       363,592       184,474  

Search and search-related advertising

     163,918       238,944       290,158       412,904       664,164  

Subtotal of cost of online advertising revenues

     471,626       622,131       661,243       776,496       848,638  

Online games

     142,552       156,315       96,168       62,775       60,981  

Others

     71,456       80,618       102,389       195,895       162,102  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total cost of revenues

     685,634       859,064       859,800       1,035,166       1,071,721  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Gross profit

     987,443       1,078,027       790,631       825,796       811,308  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Operating expenses:

          

Product development(1)

     409,285       398,143       353,144       412,173       441,161  

Sales and marketing(1)

     526,514       383,931       434,780       413,045       400,579  

General and administrative(1)

     204,325       173,160       119,841       122,874       113,724  

Goodwill impairment and impairment of intangible assets acquired as part of business acquisitions

     52,282       40,324       —         86,882       16,369  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total operating expenses

     1,192,406       995,558       907,765       1,034,974       971,833  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Operating profit /(loss)

     (204,963     82,469       (117,134     (209,178     (160,525
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Other income /(expense), net

     9,959       74,526       (10,713     6,658       64,167  

Interest income

     37,560       30,643       22,499       24,138       24,079  

Interest expense

     (6,583     (7,184     (1,356     (4,088     (17,538

Exchange difference

     (1,142     5,337       12,803       (14,385     9,026  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Income /(loss) before income tax expense /(benefit)

     (165,169     185,791       (93,901     (196,855     (80,791

Income tax expense /(benefit)

     6,050       76,936       21,072       273,148       (13,432
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Net income /(loss)

     (171,219     108,855       (114,973     (470,003     (67,359

Less: Net income /(loss) attributable to the noncontrolling interest shareholders

     (32,309     146,542       109,048       84,523       92,723  

Dividend or deemed dividend to noncontrolling Sogou Pre-IPO Series A Preferred shareholders

     27,747       11,911       —         —         —    
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Net loss attributable to Sohu.com Limited.

   $ (166,657   $ (49,598   $ (224,021   $ (554,526   $ (160,082
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Net income /(loss)

   $ (171,219   $ 108,855     $ (114,973   $ (470,003   $ (67,359

Other comprehensive income /(loss)

     (8,390     (87,655     (77,155     68,429       (37,339
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Comprehensive income /(loss)

     (179,609     21,200       (192,128     (401,574     (104,698
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Less: Comprehensive income /(loss) attributable to noncontrolling interest shareholders

     (33,797     118,138       78,824       117,960       61,376  

Dividend or deemed dividend to noncontrolling Sogou Pre-IPO Series A Preferred shareholders

     27,747       11,911       0       0       —    
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Comprehensive loss attributable to Sohu.com Limited.

     (173,559     (108,849     (270,952     (519,534     (166,074

Basic net loss per ADS

   $ (4.33   $ (1.28   $ (5.79   $ (14.27   $ (4.11
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Shares used in computing basic net loss per ADS

     38,468       38,598       38,706       38,858       38,959  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Diluted net loss per ADS

   $ (4.43   $ (1.32   $ (5.83   $ (14.30   $ (4.13
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Shares used in computing diluted net loss per ADS

     38,468       38,598       38,706       38,858       38,959  
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

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(1)

Share-based compensation expenses are included in the following financial statements line items:

 

     Year Ended December 31,  
     2014      2015      2016      2017      2018  
     (In thousands)  

Cost of revenues

   $ 1,973      $ 1,748      $ 366      $ 198      $ (69

Product development expenses

     24,982        19,344        9,184        23,547        6,131  

Sales and marketing expenses

     5,645        3,054        2,394        5,915        405  

General and administrative expenses

     41,843        29,297        7,176        15,817        (4,372

The negative amounts in the table above resulted from re-measured compensation expense based on the then-current fair value of the awards on the reporting date.

Selected Consolidated Balance Sheet Data

 

     As of December 31,  
     2014      2015      2016      2017      2018  
     (In thousands)  

Balance Sheets Data:

              

Cash and cash equivalents

   $ 876,340      $ 1,245,205      $ 1,050,957      $ 1,364,096      $ 819,713  

Restricted cash

     0        0        0        3,928        5,974  

Restricted time deposits

     426,748        227,285        269        271        244,179  

Working capital

     902,923        814,933        918,520        1,474,699        1,133,680  

Total assets

     2,867,009        3,042,194        2,563,690        3,389,239        3,389,239  

Short-term bank loans

     25,500        344,500        0        61,216        129,677  

Long-term bank loans

     344,500        0        0        122,433        302,323  

Total liabilities

     1,178,103        1,311,442        1,005,895        1,572,002        1,745,558  

Ordinary Shares: $0.001 par value per share (75,400 shares authorized; 38,507 shares, 38,653 shares, 38,742 shares, 38,898 shares, and 39,229 shares, respectively, issued and outstanding as of December 31, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018)

     44        45        45        45        39  

Total Sohu.com Limited shareholders’ equity

     1,201,661        1,241,022        993,580        750,634        588,840  

Noncontrolling interest

     487,245        489,730        564,215        1,066,603        964,111  

Total shareholders’ equity

     1,688,906        1,730,752        1,557,795        1,817,237        1,552,951  

 

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Table of Contents

Risk Factors

Risks Related to Our Business

We are subject to the risks associated with operating in an evolving market.

As a company operating in the rapidly evolving PRC Internet market, we face numerous risks and uncertainties. Some of these risks relate to our ability to:

 

   

continue to attract users to remain with us and use our products and services as the primary means of surfing the Internet switches from traditional PCs to mobile phones and other portable devices;

 

   

continue to attract a large audience to our matrices of Chinese language content and services by expanding the type and technical sophistication of the content and services we offer;

 

   

maintain and develop a sufficiently large advertiser base for our brand advertising and search and search-related advertising businesses;

 

   

maintain and attract online game users by periodically updating our existing online games and developing and launching new online games;

 

   

increase the revenues derived from our fee-based services and products we offer online;

 

   

build our businesses such as Sohu Media Portal, Sohu Video, Focus, search and search-related, online game and other businesses successfully;

 

   

attract and retain qualified personnel; and

 

   

effectively control our increased costs and expenses as we expand our business.

Our operating results are likely to fluctuate significantly and may differ from market expectations.

Our annual and quarterly operating results have varied significantly in the past, and may vary significantly in the future, due to a number of factors which could have an adverse impact on our business. Our online advertising revenue often fluctuates as our advertisers adjust their online marketing spending as their industries go through business and economic cycles. We rely on third-party providers for high-quality news, video, audio and text content in order to make our Internet platforms, which include our Websites and our applications optimized for mobile devices, or Mobile Apps, more attractive to users and advertisers. In recent years, video content costs escalated sharply and adversely affected our operating results. Sogou incurred substantial traffic acquisition costs to expand distribution of advertisers’ promotional links and advertisements by leveraging traffic on third parties’ Internet properties, and we expect such increases to continue. A significant portion of our online game revenue is attributable to Changyou’s PC game TLBB. However, the popularity of PC games continues to decline as game players have switched to mobile devices to access online games. Despite Changyou’s efforts to improve TLBB, our game players have nevertheless lost interest in it over time and TLBB’s popularity, revenues and profitability have continued to decline. If Changyou fails to improve and update TLBB on a timely basis, or if Changyou’s competitors introduce more popular games, including mobile games, catering to Changyou’s game-player base, the decline in TLBB’s popularity can be expected to accelerate, which could cause a significant decrease in our revenues. Changyou made significantly increased expenditures for sales and marketing during 2013 and 2014, mainly for the promotion of its platform channel business. However, Changyou determined that its efforts were not successful, and it is unlikely that Changyou will be able to recoup those expenses.

We depend on revenues from Sogou’s search and search-related advertising services and from Changyou’s PC game TLBB and mobile game Legacy TLBB Mobile for a significant portion of our revenues, net income, and operating cash flow.

For the year ended December 31, 2018, 54% of our total revenues were derived from Sogou’s search and search-related advertising services, and 16% of our total revenues and 78% of our online game revenues were derived from TLBB and Legacy TLBB Mobile. If Sogou’s search and search-related advertising revenues do not continue to grow or if they decrease, if Changyou’s revenues from TLBB and Legacy TLBB Mobile continue to decline, or if Changyou’s online game revenues from games other than TLBB and Legacy TLBB Mobile do not grow or if they decrease, our revenues, net income, and cash flows will be adversely affected. Furthermore, any interruptions in Sogou’s search and search-related advertising services or in TLBB’s and Legacy TLBB Mobile’s operations could cause significant decreases in our revenues, net income, and cash flow. For example, Sogou suspended part of its advertising services for 10 days in July 2018 in order to implement remedial measures to ensure compliance with government regulations following a government investigation into certain non-compliant advertisements created by a third party unrelated to Sogou and displayed on Sogou’s platform. See “Risks Related to Sogou Inc.—Sogou Risks Related to China’s Regulatory and Economic Environment—Sogou may be subject to regulatory investigations and sanctions for inappropriate or illegal content that is accessed through its search results.”

 

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We face intense competition, which could reduce our market share and adversely affect our financial performance.

There are many companies that distribute online content and services targeting Chinese Internet users. We compete with distributors of content and services over the Internet, including content sites, Web directories, search engines, online games, Internet service providers and sites maintained by government, educational institutions and other institutions. These sites compete with us for user traffic, advertising dollars, online game players, potential partners and mobile services. The Internet market in China is rapidly evolving. Competition is intense and can be expected to increase significantly in the future, because there are no substantial barriers to entry in our market.

We have many competitors in the PRC Internet market, including among others Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent, which are the three dominant Internet companies in China, as well as Autohome, BitAuto, Century Cruises (formerly known as Giant Interactive Group Inc.), Da Xing (formerly known as Perfect World Co., Ltd.), Google, IGG Inc., iQIYI, Kalends Inc., Kingsoft, Leju, Microsoft, NetDragon, NetEase, Ourpalm Corporate limited, Phoenix, Qihoo, Qutoutiao, Shulong Technologies (formerly known as Shanda Games Limited), Sina, SouFun, TouTiao, UCWeb, Youku Tudou, and YY. We compete with our peers and competitors in China primarily on the following basis:

 

   

access to financial resources;

 

   

gateway to a host of Internet user activities;

 

   

technological advancements;

 

   

attractiveness of products;

 

   

brand recognition;

 

   

volume of traffic and users;

 

   

quality of Internet platforms and content;

 

   

strategic relationships;

 

   

quality of services;

 

   

effectiveness of sales and marketing efforts;

 

   

talent of staff; and

 

   

pricing;

Our competitors may have certain competitive advantages over us including:

 

   

greater brand recognition among Internet users and clients;

 

   

better products and services;

 

   

larger user and advertiser bases;

 

   

more extensive and well developed marketing and sales networks; and

 

   

substantially greater financial and technical resources.

Our existing competitors may in the future achieve greater market acceptance and gain a greater market share through launching of new products, introducing new technologies, or forming alliances among themselves, or may enhance their ability to compete with us through mergers and acquisitions or financing activities. For example, during the past few years, many of our competitors have successfully raised significant amounts of capital through IPOs, follow-on public equity offerings, and convertible bond offerings. Several of our competitors have also conducted private placements of equity or debt that included alliances with larger partners who are able to bring them strategic advantages in addition to financing. By enhancing their capital bases and forming strategic alliances, our competitors have strengthened their competitiveness and gained greater brand recognition. Recently some of our major competitors have engaged in or initiated transactions that could make it more difficult for us to compete against them effectively. For example, Tencent’s investment in Qutoutiao in March 2018 provided Qutoutiao with considerably greater strategic benefits than were previously available to it for developing and expanding its mobile content business, which benefits we are unlikely to be able to match.

 

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In addition, in recent years the Internet industry in China has been increasingly dominated by Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent. Alibaba and Tencent, in particular, have been able to expand their reach in the industry through acquisitions and by developing close ties with other Internet companies through equity investments and cooperative strategic relationships. These dominant companies may be able to further strengthen their influence in the industry by encouraging cooperation among the companies in which they invest or with which they establish strategic relationships. We may not be able to compete successfully and avoid marginalization in the industry if we are unable to develop our own comparable business ecosystem, which may be difficult for us to do in view of our relatively limited resources in comparison to these dominant companies.

Further, new competitors may emerge and acquire significant market share. For example, high-quality smaller Internet companies have emerged in the Internet industry recently with competitive advantages over us, including that many are led by young entrepreneurs who have a particular understanding of the needs and interests of younger users and that, in view of their relatively small size, they are able to adapt more easily than we are to rapid changes in the industry by adjusting their product strategies, market focus, and profit models. Such smaller competitors compete with us in such areas as vertical content production, video playback, and live broadcast.

As a result, we are likely to need additional financial and additional strategic resources in order to compete effectively in the primary markets in which we operate. If our competitors are more successful than we are in developing products or in attracting and retaining users and advertisers, our revenues and growth rates could decline.

If we fail to successfully develop and introduce new products, features and services, our ability to attract and retain users and generate revenues could be harmed.

We are continually developing new products, features and services for our users. The planned timing or introduction of new products, features and services is subject to risks and uncertainties. Actual timing may differ materially from original plans. Unexpected technical, operational, distribution or other problems could delay or prevent the introduction of one or more of our new products or services. Emerging start-ups may be able to innovate and provide new products, features and services faster than we can. Moreover, we cannot be sure that any of our new products, features and services will achieve widespread market acceptance or generate incremental revenue.

In addition, we may experience difficulties in promoting our new products, features and services as a result of the significant market power of our competitors or any anti-competitive practices they might engage in. As a result, despite considerable efforts in this regard, we may fail to attract and retain users.

As our products and services are currently accessed primarily through mobile phones, tablets and other internet-enabled mobile devices, we believe that we must develop products and applications for such devices if we are to maintain or increase our market share and revenues, and we may not be successful in doing so.

Devices other than personal computers, such as mobile phones, tablets, wearable devices and other internet-enabled mobile devices, are used increasingly in China and in overseas markets, and have surpassed personal computers as the primary means to access the Internet in the key Chinese markets in which we operate. We believe that, for our business to be successful when our content and services are delivered over mobile devices, we need to design, develop, promote and operate products and applications that are attractive to users of such devices, as well as enhance targeted delivery of our content and advertising services to our users and advertising customers. The design and development of new products and applications, and our efforts to enhance the effectiveness of such targeted delivery, may not be successful. We may encounter difficulties with the installation of such new products and applications for mobile devices, such products and applications may not function smoothly, and algorithms we develop for targeted delivery may not be effective in identifying the interests and needs of our users and advertising customers. As new devices are released or updated, we may encounter problems in developing and upgrading our products or applications for use on mobile devices and we may need to devote significant resources to the creation, support, and maintenance of such products or applications for mobile devices.

Our business depends on a strong brand; thus we will not be able to attract users, customers and clients of our products and offerings if we do not maintain and develop our brands.

It is critical for us to maintain and develop our brands so as to effectively expand our user base and our revenues. We believe that the importance of brand recognition will increase as the number of Internet users in China grows. In order to attract and retain Internet users, brand advertising, search, online game and mobile customers, we may need to substantially increase our expenditures for creating and maintaining brand loyalty. Our success in promoting and enhancing our brands, as well as our ability to remain competitive, will also depend on our success in offering high quality content, features and functionality. If we fail to promote our brands successfully or if our users or advertisers do not perceive our content and services to be of high quality, we may not be able to continue growing our business and attracting users, advertisers, online game players and mobile users.

 

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Our failure to keep up with rapid technology changes may severely affect our future success.

The Internet industry is undergoing rapid technological changes. Our future success will depend on our ability to respond to rapidly evolving technologies, adapt our services to changing industry standards and improve the performance and reliability of our services. If we fail to adapt to such changes, our business may be adversely affected. For example, with the emergence of cloud computing technology, the primary Internet technology platform has been transformed from a traditional platform to a cloud computing platform. If we fail to adapt to the transformation, our products and services upgrade process will fall behind our competitors, and accordingly weaken our capacity to adapt our technology to the market. Furthermore, cloud computing itself is a significant business opportunity. If we fail to seize the opportunity, we will lose our ability to capture a share of that market. In addition, as mobile devices other than personal computers are increasingly used to access the Internet, we must develop products and services for such devices. To meet advertisers’ needs in targeting potential advertisers accurately, we need to develop and operate a more effective system for our advertising delivery, tracking and recording. Otherwise, we will not be able to maintain or increase our revenues and market share. In the meantime, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (the “MIIT”) and other PRC governmental authorities can be expected to regularly promulgate standards and other regulations regarding Internet software and other Internet-based technologies. Adapting to any such standards and regulations could require us to make significant expenditures in the future.

Our strategy of acquiring complementary assets, technologies and businesses may fail and result in impairment losses.

As a component of our growth strategy, we have acquired and intend to actively identify and acquire assets, technologies and businesses that are complementary to our existing businesses. Our acquisitions could result in the use of substantial amounts of cash, issuance of potentially dilutive equity securities, significant impairment losses related to goodwill or amortization expenses related to intangible assets and exposure to undisclosed or potential liabilities of acquired companies. In 2014 Changyou recognized a $33.8 million impairment loss for goodwill and a $15.3 million impairment loss for acquired intangible assets related to RaidCall; in 2015 Changyou sold Doyo and recognized a $1.9 million impairment loss for goodwill; in 2015 Changyou recognized a $29.6 million impairment loss for goodwill and an $8.9 million impairment loss for acquired intangible assets relating to the MoboTap business; and in 2017 Changyou recognized an $83.5 million impairment loss for goodwill and a $3.4 million impairment loss for intangible assets relating to the MoboTap business, mainly due to reinforced restrictions that Chinese regulatory authorities imposed on online card and board games, which had an adverse impact on MoboTap’s performance, and also increased the uncertainty for its future operations and cash flow. In the fourth quarter of 2018, Changyou recognized a $16.4 million impairment loss for goodwill relating to the 17173.com Website, as Changyou’s management had concluded that the business performance of 17173.com Website was below expectations and that previously expected synergies with Changyou’s platform channel business would not materialize.

We may be required to record a significant charge to earnings if we are required to reassess our goodwill or other amortizable intangible assets.

We are required under U.S. GAAP to test for goodwill impairment annually or more frequently if facts and circumstances warrant a review. Currently our brand advertising business is losing money, and goodwill will be impaired if the losses continue. We are also required to review our amortizable intangible assets for impairment when events or changes in circumstances indicate the carrying value may not be recoverable. Factors that may be considered a change in circumstances indicating that the carrying value of our amortizable intangible assets may not be recoverable include a decline in stock price and market capitalization and slower or declining growth rates in our industry. We may be required to record a significant charge to earnings in our financial statements during the period in which any impairment of our goodwill or amortizable intangible assets is determined. For example, in 2018 we recognized an impairment loss of $10.4 million with respect to Sohu Video’s purchased video content.

Any changes in accounting rules for share-based compensation may adversely affect our operating results, our stock price and our competitiveness in the employee marketplace.

Our performance is largely dependent on talented and highly skilled individuals. Our future success depends on our continuing ability to identify, develop, motivate and retain highly skilled personnel for all areas of our organization. We have a history of using employee share options and restricted stock units to align employees’ interest with the interests of our shareholders and encourage quality employees to join us and retain our quality employees by providing competitive compensation packages. We have adopted guidance on accounting for share-based compensation that requires the measurement and recognition of compensation expense for all share-based compensation based on estimated fair values. As a result, our operating results contain a charge for share-based compensation expense related to employee share options and restricted stock units. The recognition of share-based compensation in our statement of comprehensive income has had and will have a negative effect on our reported results and earnings per share, which can in turn negatively affect our ADS price. On the other hand, if we alter our employee share incentive plans to minimize the share-based compensation expense, it may limit our ability to continue to use share-based awards as a tool to attract and retain our employees, which may adversely affect our operations. It is possible that there will be changes in the accounting rules for share-based compensation in the future that could have an adverse effect on our ADS price and our competitiveness in the employee marketplace.

 

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Any changes in accounting rules may adversely affect our financial position, results of operations and cash flow

U.S. GAAP and related accounting pronouncements, implementation guidelines and interpretations with regard to a wide range of matters that are relevant to our business, including revenue recognition, recognition and measurement of financial instruments, impairment of goodwill and other intangible assets, and lease obligations are highly complex and involve many subjective assumptions, estimates and judgments. Changes in these rules or their interpretation or changes in underlying assumptions, estimates or judgments could significantly change our reported or expected financial performance or financial condition and may have an adverse effect on our financial condition and results of operations. For example, commencing from January 1, 2018, we adopted Accounting Standards Update (“ASU”) 2014-09 “Revenue from Contracts with Customers,” ASU 2016-01 “Financial Instruments-Overall: Recognition and Measurement of Financial Assets and Financial Liabilities,” and ASU 2016-19 “Statement of Cash Flows: Restricted Cash.” These new accounting standards amended various aspects of the recognition, measurement, presentation, and disclosure of these topics. Some of these changes are fundamental and could increase the volatility of our reported financial position, results of operations, and cash flow. New accounting guidance also may require system and other changes that could increase our operating costs. For example, implementation of complex accounting guidance related to revenue, leases, and other areas may require us to make significant changes to our business management system or other accounting systems.

Our failure to manage growth and adapt to evolving industry trends and business models could harm us.

The growth of personnel requires significant time and resource commitments from us and our senior management. If we are unable to effectively manage a large and geographically dispersed group of employees or anticipate our future growth, our business could be adversely affected. As we have approximately 8,500 employees, it can be difficult for us to fully monitor each employee’s behavior. In addition, as we have several branch offices in China, it is harder for us to monitor and regulate the overall behavior of our branch offices or of individual employees at such branch offices, to effectively implement our strategy to local offices and to manage the growth of these local operations. We cannot assure you that we will be able to maintain policies and procedures that are rigorous enough or that we will be able to cause all of our employees or all of our branch offices to behave in conformity with those policies and procedures, or to ensure that our employees will not engage in conduct that could expose us to third-party liability or governmental sanctions, which may limit our future growth and hamper our business strategy. Additionally, our business relies on our financial reporting and data systems (including our systems for billing users of our fee-based services), which have grown increasingly complex in recent years, due to acquisitions and the diversification and complexity of our business. Our ability to operate our business efficiently depends on these systems, and if we are unable to adapt to these changes, our business could be adversely affected.

Moreover, to keep pace with the rapidly developing and evolving Internet industry, we must explore new products, services or revenue models for our business. For example, in addition to using traditional advertising forms, we have begun to embed product placements in our self-developed content. Since we have limited experience in these business areas, we may fail to manage growth and adapt to industry trends and business models.

In addition, as the Internet industry has seen a significant shift from traditional personal computers to mobile devices, we must develop products and services that are adaptable to mobile devices so as to attract users and cause our existing users and advertisers to remain with us. See “—As our products and services are currently accessed primarily through mobile phones, tablets and other internet-enabled mobile devices, we believe that we must develop products and applications for such devices if we are to maintain or increase our market share and revenues, and we may not be successful in doing so.”

If we fail to establish and maintain relationships with content, technology and infrastructure providers, we may not be able to attract and retain users.

We rely on third party providers for high-quality news, video, audio and text content in order to make our Internet platforms more attractive to users and advertisers. Most of our content providers have increased the fees they charge us for their content. This trend has increased our costs and operating expenses and has affected our ability to obtain content at an economically acceptable cost. Video content costs have escalated sharply in recent years. If we are not able to purchase as much video content as we did before, the size of our video library will be reduced and our attractiveness to users will be severely impaired and advertisers may choose not to advertise through our Internet platforms, including our Internet platforms for video. Except for exclusive content that we obtain from certain of our video content providers, much of the third party content provided to our Internet platforms is also available from other sources or may be provided to other Internet companies. If other Internet companies present the same or similar content in a superior manner, it would adversely affect our user traffic.

We have made efforts to create a culture for user-generated content (“UGC”) and professional generated content (“PGC”), a sub-category of UGC where the content is created by a large group of professional or semi-professional content studios), that will allow and encourage Internet users to play an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating content, and to encourage our users and other content providers to establish and disseminate their content through our Internet platforms. As the number of UGC and PGC providers on our Internet platforms continues to grow, we increasingly rely on high-quality news, video, audio and text content provided by UGC and PGC providers to generate user traffic, retain our existing users and attract new users. If we are not able to continue to attract users or other content providers to establish quality content on our Internet platforms, or if the UGC and PGC providers on our Internet platform are not able to provide quality content that is appealing to Internet users in general, the volume of our user traffic may decrease and our business and prospects may be adversely affected. Also see “We may be subject to intellectual property infringement claims, which may force us to incur substantial legal expenses and, if determined adversely to us, materially disrupt our business.”

 

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Our business also depends significantly on relationships with leading technology and infrastructure providers and the licenses that the technology providers have granted to us. Our competitors may establish the same relationships as we have, which may adversely affect us. We may not be able to maintain these relationships or replace them on commercially attractive terms.

We depend on key personnel and our business may be severely disrupted if we lose the services of our key executives and employees.

Our future success is heavily dependent upon the services of our key executives, particularly Dr. Charles Zhang, who is the founder, Chief Executive Officer, Chairman of the Board, and a major shareholder of our company. We rely on his expertise in our business operations. For Sogou, we rely heavily on the services of Xiaochuan Wang, Sogou’s Chief Executive Officer. For Changyou, we rely heavily on the services of Dewen Chen, Changyou’s Chief Executive Officer. If one or more of our key executives and employees are unable or unwilling to continue in their present positions, we may not be able to replace them easily and our business may be severely disrupted. In addition, if any of our key executives or employees joins a competitor or forms a competing company, we may lose know-how, key professionals and staff members as well as customers, suppliers and incur additional expenses to recruit and train personnel. Each of our executive officers has entered into an employment agreement and a confidentiality, non-competition and non-solicitation agreement with us. However, the degree of protection afforded to an employer pursuant to confidentiality and non-competition undertakings governed by PRC law may be more limited when compared to the degree of protection afforded under the laws of other jurisdictions.

We also rely on a number of key technology staff for our business. Given the competitive nature of the industry, and in particular our competitors’ increasingly aggressive efforts to provide competitive compensation packages to attract talent in the key Chinese markets where we operate, the risk of key technology staff leaving Sohu is high and could have a disruptive impact on our operations.

Our growth may cause significant pressures upon our financial, operational, and administrative resources.

Our financial, operational, and administrative resources may be inadequate to sustain the growth we want to achieve. As the demands of our users and the needs of our customers change, the number of our users and volume of online advertising increase, requirements for maintaining sufficient servers to provide high-definition online video and to provide game players smooth online game experiences increase, requirements for search traffic and users’ requirements as to the quality of search services increase, and mobile activities increase, we will need to increase our investment in our network infrastructure, facilities and other areas of operations. If we are unable to manage our growth and expansion effectively, the quality of our services could deteriorate and our business may suffer. Our future success will depend on, among other things, our ability to:

 

   

access financial resources;

 

   

adapt our services and maintain and improve the quality of our services;

 

   

protect our Internet platforms from hackers and unauthorized access;

 

   

continue training, motivating and retaining our existing employees and attract and integrate new employees; and

 

   

maintain and improve our operational, financial, accounting and other internal systems and controls.

Unauthorized use of our intellectual property by third parties, and the expenses incurred in protecting our intellectual property rights, may adversely affect our business.

We regard our copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets and other intellectual property as critical to our success. Unauthorized use of our intellectual property by third parties may adversely affect our business and reputation. For example, a third-party Internet platform operator might provide its users access to video content on our Internet platforms while blocking Internet advertisements embedded in our video content, which could adversely affect our online advertising revenues and our reputation with our current and potential advertising clients. We rely on trademark and copyright law, trade secret protection and confidentiality agreements with our employees, customers, business partners and others to protect our intellectual property rights. Despite our precautions, it may be possible for third parties to obtain and use our intellectual property without authorization. For example, some of our self-developed Web series video productions were disseminated by third parties without our authorization. Furthermore, under the Patent Law, the State Council’s Patent Administration Department may grant a compulsory license to individuals or entities to use one or more of our patents if our exploitation of the patents has been determined to violate the antitrust laws. Furthermore, the validity, enforceability and scope of protection of intellectual property in Internet-related industries are uncertain and still evolving. In particular, the laws of the PRC and certain other countries are uncertain or do not protect intellectual property rights to the same extent as do the laws of the United States. Moreover, litigation may be necessary in the future to enforce our intellectual property rights, to protect our trade secrets or to determine the validity and scope of the proprietary rights of others. Future litigation could result in substantial costs and diversion of resources. We cannot be certain that judgments from the lawsuits will be issued in our favor, or that any resulting damages will cover our business losses and litigation expenses. If our campaigns and lawsuits against piracy do not achieve their intended effect, our business and operation may be adversely affected.

 

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We may be subject to intellectual property infringement claims, which may force us to incur substantial legal expenses and, if determined adversely to us, materially disrupt our business.

We cannot be certain that the products, services and intellectual property used in our normal course of business do not or will not infringe valid patents, copyrights or other intellectual property rights held by third parties. We have in the past been, and may in the future be, subject to claims and legal proceedings relating to the intellectual property of others in the ordinary course of our business and have in the past been, and may in the future be, required to pay damages or to agree to restrict our activities. In particular, if we are found to have violated the intellectual property rights of others, we may be enjoined from using such intellectual property, may be ordered to pay damages or fines, and may incur licensing fees or be forced to develop alternatives. We may incur substantial expense in defending against third party infringement claims, regardless of their merit. Successful infringement claims against us may result in substantial monetary liability or may materially disrupt the conduct of our business by restricting or prohibiting our use of the intellectual property in question. In March 2008, we were sued by four major record companies, Sony BMG, Warner, Universal and Gold Label, which alleged that we had provided music search links and download services that violated copyrights they owned. Although the lawsuits were settled in 2013 without any payment of damages by us, we may be subject to similar lawsuits in the future. In addition, it is possible that content on our Websites and Sohu News App, which not only includes content developed by us but also provides a platform for a significant amount of content generated by others, may violate the intellectual property rights of third parties. As we produce more self-developed content for our Internet platforms as part of our new content strategy, we, as the primary provider of such content, may incur relatively higher monetary liability if such content is found to have infringed the intellectual property rights of third parties. Also, as we increasingly rely on content provided by third-party UGC and PGC providers on our Internet platforms, either developed by the outlets themselves or adapted from content of parties separate from such outlets, it will become increasingly difficult for us to fully monitor such content, which could make us more vulnerable to potential infringement claims. Furthermore, PRC governmental authorities have recently been drawing attention to issues regarding the infringement of online intellectual property rights. For example, the Jian Wang 2018 Campaign, which targets copyright infringement related to re-transmission of Internet content and dissemination of short videos and comic videos over the Internet, was launched on July 16, 2018.

We may be subject to, and may expend significant resources in defending against, claims based on the content and services we provide over our Internet platforms.

As our services may be used to download and distribute information to others, there is a risk that claims may be made against us for defamation, negligence, copyright or trademark infringement or based on the nature and content of such information. Furthermore, we could be subject to claims for the online activities of our users and incur significant costs in our defense. In the past, claims based on the nature and content of information that was posted online by users have been made in the United States against companies that provide online services. We do not carry any liability insurance against such risks.

We could be exposed to liability for the selection of listings that may be accessible through our Internet platforms or through content and materials that our users may post in classifieds, message boards, and other interactive services. If any information provided through our services contains errors, third parties may make claims against us for losses incurred in reliance on the information. We also offer Web-based e-mail and subscription services, which expose us to potential liabilities or claims resulting from:

 

   

unsolicited e-mail;

 

   

lost or misdirected messages;

 

   

illegal or fraudulent use of e-mail; or

 

   

interruptions or delays in e-mail service.

Investigating and defending any such claims may be expensive, even if they do not result in liability.

We may not have exclusive rights to trademarks, designs and technologies that are crucial to our business.

We have applied for initial registrations in the PRC and overseas, and/or changes in registrations relating to transfers of our key trademarks in the PRC, including Sohu.com logos, Sohu Fox logos, www.focus.com.cn, GoodFeel logos, Go2Map, Sogou’s name, trademarks relating to Sogou products such as Sogou Input Method, Sogou logos, Sohu Focus, ChangYou.com, cyou.com, TLBB, TL logos, New Blade Online, 17173 , TLBB 3D and the corresponding Chinese versions of the marks, so as to establish and protect our exclusive rights to these trademarks. We have also applied for patents relating to our business. While we have succeeded in registering the trademarks for most of these marks in the PRC under certain classes, the applications for initial registration, and/or changes in registrations relating to transfers, of some marks and/or of some of marks under other classes are still under examination by the Trademark Office of the State Administration of Market Regulation (the “SAMR”) and relevant authorities overseas. While we have succeeded in obtaining some patents, some of our patent applications are still under examination by the State Intellectual Property Office of the PRC. Approvals of our initial trademark registration applications, and/or of changes in registrations relating to such transfers, or of our patent applications, are subject to determinations by the Trademark Office of the SAMR, the State Intellectual Property Office of the PRC and relevant authorities overseas that there are no prior rights in the applicable territory. We cannot assure that these applications will be approved. Any rejection of these applications could adversely affect our rights to the affected marks, designs and technologies. In addition, even if these applications are approved, we cannot assure you that any registered trademark or issued patent will be sufficient in scope to provide adequate protection of our rights.

 

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We may be subject to claims for invasion of personal privacy, which may force us to incur legal expenses and, if determined adversely to us, disrupt our business.

We allow users to upload written materials, images, pictures and other content on our platform and download, share, link to audio, video and other content either on our platform or from other Websites through our platform. Procedures that we have designed to reduce the likelihood that content will be used without proper licenses or third-party consents may not be effective in preventing the unauthorized posting or sharing of content. We cannot be certain that content uploaded or shared by our users is legal and will not violate the privacy of others, and we may be unable to anticipate the existence of such content on our platform or to implement adequate preventative measures. We are also subject to various regulatory requirements relating to the protection of personal privacy. See “Government Regulation and Legal Uncertainties—Miscellaneous—Laws and Regulations Related to Consumer Protection and Privacy Protection—Privacy Protection.” Complying with such requirements could cause us to incur substantial expenses or necessitate that we alter or change our practices in a manner that could harm our business.

Information security breaches relating to our platforms could damage our reputation and expose us to penalties and legal liability.

We collect, process, and store on our servers significant amounts of data concerning our users. Although we have taken steps to protect our user data, our security measures could be compromised, because techniques used to sabotage or obtain unauthorized access to systems change frequently and generally are not recognized until they are launched against a target, and we may be unable to anticipate these techniques or to implement adequate preventative measures. In addition, we are subject to various regulatory requirements relating to the security and privacy of such data, including restrictions on the collection and use of personal information of users and steps we must take to prevent personal data from being divulged, stolen, or tampered with. Regulatory requirements regarding the protection of such data are constantly evolving and can be subject to significant change, making the extent of our responsibility in that regard uncertain. For example, the Internet Security Law became effective in June 2017, but the circumstances and standards for application of the law and what might be found to constitute a violation are unclear. See “Government Regulation and Legal Uncertainties—Miscellaneous—Laws and Regulations Related to Security and Censorship.” It is possible that our data protection practices are at present or will in the future be inconsistent with regulatory requirements.

We face risks related to health epidemics and other outbreaks.

Our business could be adversely affected by the effects of H1N1 influenza, H7N9 influenza, avian influenza, SARS or other epidemics or outbreaks. China reported a number of cases of SARS in April 2003. In recent years, there have been reports of occurrences of H1N1 influenza, H7N9 influenza and of avian influenza in various parts of China, including a few confirmed human cases and deaths. Any prolonged recurrence of H1N1 influenza, H7N9 influenza, avian influenza, SARS or other adverse public health developments in China may have a material adverse effect on our business operations. These could include illness and loss of our management and key employees, as well as temporary closure of our offices and related business operations, such as server operations, upon which we rely. Such loss of management and key employees or closures would severely disrupt our business operations and adversely affect our results of operations. We have not adopted any written preventive measures or contingency plans to combat any future outbreak of H1N1 influenza, H7N9 influenza, avian influenza, SARS or any other epidemic. In addition, other major natural disasters may also adversely affect our business by, for example, causing disruptions of the Internet network or otherwise affecting access to our portals and our games.

We do not have business insurance coverage.

The insurance industry in China is still at an early stage of development. Insurance companies in China offer limited business insurance products, or offer them at a high price. As a result, we do not have any business liability, loss of data or disruption insurance coverage for our operations in China. Any business disruption, litigation or natural disaster might result in our incurring substantial costs and the diversion of our resources.

We depend on brand advertising for a significant portion of our revenues, but the brand advertisement market includes many uncertainties, which could cause our brand advertising revenues to decline.

We derive a significant portion of our revenues, and expect to derive a significant portion of our revenues for the foreseeable future, from the sale of advertising for posting on our Internet platforms. Brand advertising revenues represented approximately 12% and 17% of our total revenues for the years ended December 31, 2018 and 2017, respectively. For the years ended December 31, 2018 and 2017, sales to our five largest advertising agencies and advertisers accounted for approximately 22% and 23%, respectively, of our total brand advertising revenues. The growth of our brand advertising revenues relies on increased revenue from the sale of advertising for posting our Internet platforms, which may be affected by many of the following risk factors:

 

   

The brand advertising market is still evolving in China. Our current and potential advertising clients may not devote a significant portion of their advertising budgets to Internet-based advertising in general, or to us in particular;

 

   

Changes in government policy could restrict or curtail our brand advertising services. For example, during the last several years, the PRC government enacted a series of regulations, administrative instructions and policies to restrict online medical advertising. As a result of these regulations, we may lose some of our existing medical advertising clients. For another example, see “Government Regulation and Legal Uncertainties—Specific Statutes and Regulations—Regulation of Other Services—Real Estate Services” for a description of the Beijing Measures and other regulations affecting Focus’s business;

 

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Advertising clients may adopt new methods and strategies other than brand advertising to promote their brand and therefore our advertising revenue would be negatively affected;

 

   

The acceptance of the Internet as a medium for advertising depends on the development of standards for measuring the effectiveness of advertisements disseminated over the Internet, and no standards have been widely accepted for the measurement of the effectiveness of brand advertising over the Internet. Industry-wide standards may not develop that are sufficient to support the Internet as an effective advertising medium. If these standards do not develop, advertisers may choose not to advertise on the Internet in general or through our portals or search engines;

 

   

We may not have systems that are sufficiently well-developed to support our brand advertising business, and as a result, we may suffer system bugs that cause bad user experiences errors or omission in publishing our client’s advertisements, which could have a negative impact on our brand advertising business.

In addition, our ability to generate and maintain significant brand advertising revenues will also depend upon:

 

   

the development of a large base of users possessing demographic characteristics attractive to advertising clients;

 

   

the acceptance of brand advertisement as an effective way for business marketing by advertising clients;

 

   

the effectiveness of our advertising delivery, tracking and reporting systems;

 

   

the resistance pressure on brand advertising prices and limitations on inventory; and

 

   

the establishment of a successful business model to make our new products adaptable to portable devices, which has required, and will continue to require us, to make significant expenditures for research, development, promotion and operations.

Many advertisers have shifted their PC online advertising budgets to advertising on mobile devices. Hence we must successfully optimize, adapt and make attractive our various product and service offerings for access on mobile devices and must effectively deliver advertising content in a manner that attracts and retains users’ interest and attention or our online advertising business will suffer.

Our costs for our brand advertising business have increased significantly as a result of our investment in online video services. If we are unable to manage the growth of our online video business successfully and control its operating costs effectively, our business may be adversely affected.

The operation of our online video services requires continuous, substantial investment in content, technology, infrastructure and brand promotion for both PCs and mobile devices. Although we have attempted to control our costs relating to content, bandwidth, marketing, and other items for online video services and the rate of growth of our costs has declined somewhat, our operating expenses are still large, as in recent years the acquisition costs for quality video content, which accounts for a large portion of our costs and requires continuous investment, have increased dramatically. We have had to invest increasingly significant financial, operational, strategic, technological, personnel and other resources in order to compete with vertical online video sites, such as those operated by Tencent, Alibaba’s online video subsidiary Youku Tudou, and iQiyi, that have substantially greater financial resources or have raised significant capital through financing activities, which may significantly strain our resources and negatively affect our operating results. If we are unable to continue to acquire and provide on our video platforms quality video content, we may not be able to grow or maintain the level of our user traffic, which could make our video platforms less attractive to advertisers and have a negative impact on our ability to generate advertising revenues from our video platforms.

We are increasingly required to pay license fees upfront for video content prior to its production. There often are delays of several months, or sometimes up to two or three years, between our payment of such up-front fees and the time when we are able to offer fully-developed content online and begin to receive advertising dollars. These delays have often placed, and can be expected to continue to place, significant strains on our cash flow. Our up-front payments also subject us to a certain level of credit risk, as content producers to which we make such payments may fall into financial difficulties and be unable to deliver the content we have purchased. We are also subjected to the risk that the quality of content will not be up to our expectations. In addition, when we purchase rights to the online versions of TV series, we generally rely on the expectation that the series will be broadcast on nationwide TV channels according to a specified schedule. If there are delays in such TV broadcasts, we will have to delay, perhaps indefinitely, our presentation of the online version of the series. We are also subject to the risk that TV content we purchase will be broadcast on less popular TV channels than expected, which will cause our online viewership to be correspondingly lower than we expected.

We have spent, and expect to continue to spend, significant resources to develop our self-developed video content. We have also invested, and may invest in the future, in the production of movies by selected independent third-party movie studios, where we have exclusive rights to distribute the online versions of such movies on our Internet platforms for video. If our self-developed video content, or movies in which we invest, are not well received by viewers and/or fail to attract sufficient advertising placements from advertisers, or if the development of such video content or movies is not completed as a result of financial, regulatory or other restraints, we may not be able to recoup our production costs or investments in movie production. For cost-saving purposes, we are making a strategic shift to reduce our purchasing of licensed video content. Instead, we are focusing, and expect to continue to focus, on self-developed video content, which costs less. However, if developing in-house content becomes widespread in the online video business in China, the cost of obtaining quality and popular intellectual property can be expected to increase, and we may face fierce competition from other online video sites with respect to the acquisition of such intellectual property.

 

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We may not be able to maintain or increase the revenues from our online video business. If we fail to do so, Sohu Video may not be able to become profitable, in which case we would be unable to recoup our substantial expenditures for the development of our online video business.

Although China’s online video industry has experienced substantial growth in recent years in terms of both users and content, we cannot assure you that the online video industry will continue to grow as rapidly as it has in the past, if at all. With the development of technology, new forms of media may emerge and render online video Websites or Mobile Apps less attractive to users. Growth of the online video industry is affected by numerous factors, such as users’ general online video experience, technological innovations, development of Internet and Internet-based services, regulatory changes in general, and regulations affecting copyright in particular, and the macroeconomic environment. If the online video industry in China does not grow as quickly as expected or if we fail to benefit from such growth by successfully implementing our business strategies, our user traffic may decrease and our business and prospects may be adversely affected. For Sohu Video to become profitable, it will be necessary for us to both maintain or increase our revenues from Sohu Video and control or reduce our expenditures for video content and other costs. If Sohu Video fails to become profitable, we will be unable to recoup our substantial expenditures for the development of our online video business.

We rely on advertising agencies to sell our brand advertising services. As the brand advertising market in China is effectively controlled by a small number of large advertising agencies, such advertising agencies may be in a position to demand higher sales rebates or to delay payments to us, which would adversely affect our gross margin.

Most of our brand advertising services are distributed by advertising agencies. In 2018, for example, approximately 77% of our brand advertising revenues were derived from advertising agencies. In consideration for these agencies’ services, we are required to pay certain percentages of revenues as sales rebates. As the brand advertising market is effectively controlled by a small number of large advertising agencies, such advertising agencies may be in a position to demand higher sales rebates based on increased bargaining power, or to delay in payments to us, which could negatively affect our brand advertising growth and the timing of our collection of payments. During 2018 the biggest five advertising agencies in China contributed approximately 22% of our brand advertising revenues.

The expansion of Internet advertisement blocking measures may result in a decrease in our advertising revenues.

The development of Web software that blocks Internet advertisements before they appear on a user’s screen may hinder the growth of online advertising. For example, some Rich Site Summary, or RSS, Internet platforms allow their users to access video content from our Internet platforms, while completely blocking our advertisements from being viewed by their users. Since our advertising revenues are generally based on user views, the expansion of advertisement blocking on the Internet may decrease our advertising revenues because, when an advertisement is blocked, it is not downloaded from the server, which means such advertisements will not be tracked as a delivered advertisement. In addition, advertisers may choose not to advertise on the Internet or on our Internet platforms because of the use by third parties of Internet advertisement blocking measures. In addition, increasing numbers of browsers include technical barriers designed to prevent Internet information service providers such as us to trail the browsing history of the Internet users, which is also like to adversely affect the growth of online advertising.

If our video content fails to attract and retain users and advertisers, we may not be able to generate sufficient user traffic to allow us to maintain or increase our video revenues.

Our online video business largely depends on our ability to generate sufficient user traffic, through provision of attractive products, to in turn attract advertisers to place advertisements on our Internet platforms for video. In order to attract and retain users, we have needed, and will continue to need, to expend resources to develop our own or acquire from third parties’ high-quality video content. In 2015 and 2016, we purchased significant amounts of exclusive video content, through which we generated user traffic and revenues by bartering for other video content from other parties or distributing to other third parties. As users might access pirated versions of such films and TV dramas during any such delay, and become less likely to view them on our Internet platforms when they become available, which would significantly affect the ability of our exclusive video content to attract and retain users, and cause our online traffic and advertising revenues to be lower than we expected. In recent years, our strategy has gradually shifted from purchasing expensive head content to self-producing content. We cannot assure you that we will continue to be able to acquire exclusive content rights or develop premium content in the future and our user traffic and revenues generated from such exclusive content rights and self-developed content could be reduced. Moreover, if we fail to produce by ourselves or acquire from third parties high-quality video content, or if video content we develop by ourselves or acquire proves to be less attractive to users than we anticipated, our user traffic and our market share could be adversely effected, which could result in our being unable to maintain or increase our video revenues.

 

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Videos and other types of content and materials displayed on our Internet platforms may be found objectionable by PRC regulatory authorities, may subject us to penalties and other administrative actions, and may be subject us to liabilities for infringement of third-party intellectual property rights or other allegations.

The PRC government has adopted regulations governing Internet access and the distribution of videos over the Internet. In addition to professionally produced content, we allow our users to upload videos to our Internet platforms. Our users can upload all types of content, including user-created and professionally produced content, and can upload graphic files for limited purposes, such as updating user biographies. Although we have adopted internal procedures to monitor the content displayed on our Internet platforms, due to the significant amount of content uploaded by our users, we may not be able to identify all videos or other content that may violate relevant laws and regulations, and the risk may be greater as we increasingly rely on content provided by UGC and PGC providers through our Internet platforms, as we do not have an opportunity to fully review such content prior to its publication. Failure to identify and prevent illegal or inappropriate content, such as content that is defamatory, is racially or religiously discriminatory, compromises national security, or infringes the intellectual property rights of third parties, from being displayed on our Internet platforms may subject us to liability.

To the extent that PRC regulatory authorities find any content displayed on our Internet platforms objectionable, they may require us to limit or eliminate the dissemination of such content on our Internet platforms, with take-down orders or otherwise. The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (the “SAPPRFT”), which in March 2018 was reorganized into three separate governmental authorities—the National Radio and Television Administration, the National Film Administration, and the State Press Publication Administration, prior to March 31, 2018 published, and one or more of those successor entities have published or can be expected to publish, from time to time lists of content that they consider objectionable, and we must dedicate teams of employees to continually monitor user-uploaded content and remove content that is deemed objectionable. In addition, regulatory authorities may impose penalties on us based on content displayed on or linked to our Internet platforms in cases of significant violations, including a revocation of our operating licenses or a suspension or shutdown of our online operations. In the event that PRC regulatory authorities find the video content on our Internet platforms objectionable and impose penalties on us or take other administrative actions against us in the future, our business and reputation may be adversely affected. Moreover, the costs of compliance with these regulations may continue to increase as more content is uploaded by our users.

In addition, under PRC laws and regulations governing online advertising, online publishers, such as us, are required to monitor advertising content displayed on their Internet platforms for accuracy, and for compliance with PRC law governing the dissemination of content over the Internet that is deemed to be unlawful or inappropriate. If we were found to have failed to fulfill our obligation to monitor the advertisements of an advertising customer, we could be subject to various penalties, including being prohibited from providing advertising services for advertisers in the entire industry of the customer. For example, PRC governmental authorities required that we suspend our News Apps from the Apple App Store for two weeks during 2018, based on a claim that our News Apps had been displaying unlawful and inappropriate advertising content.

We have been involved in litigation based on allegations of infringement of third-party copyright and other rights, such as privacy and image rights, due to the videos displayed on our Internet platforms. See “Risks Related to Our Business—We may be subject to intellectual property infringement claims, which may force us to incur substantial legal expenses and, if determined adversely against us, materially disrupt our business.” While we have implemented internal procedures to review videos uploaded by our users and remove promptly from our Internet platforms any infringing videos after we receive infringement notifications from rights owners, due to the significant number of videos uploaded by users, we may not be able to identify all content that may infringe on third-party rights. Moreover, some rights owners may not send us a notice before bringing a lawsuit against us. Thus, our failure to identify unauthorized videos posted on our Internet platforms has subjected us to, and may in the future subject us to, claims of infringement of third-party intellectual property rights or other rights. In addition, we may be subject to administrative actions brought by the National Copyright Administration (the “NCA”) or its local branches for alleged copyright infringement.

We may also face litigation or administrative actions for defamation, negligence, or other purported injuries resulting from videos and advertisements that we display on our Internet platforms. Such litigation and administrative actions, with or without merit, may be expensive and time-consuming and may result in significant diversion of resources and management attention from our business operations. Furthermore, such litigation or administrative actions may adversely affect our brand image and reputation.

Risks Related to China’s Telecommunications Infrastructure

The telecommunications infrastructure in China, which is not as well developed as in the United States, may limit our growth.

The telecommunications infrastructure in China is not as well developed as it is in the United States. Our growth will depend on the PRC government and state-owned enterprises establishing and maintaining a reliable Internet and telecommunications infrastructure to reach a broader base of Internet users in China. The Internet infrastructure, standards, protocols and complementary products, services and facilities necessary to support the demands associated with continued growth may not be developed on a timely basis or at all by the PRC government and state-owned enterprises.

 

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We depend on China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom for telecommunications services, and any interruption in these services may result in severe disruptions to our business.

Although private Internet service providers exist in China, almost all access to the Internet is maintained through China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom under the administrative control and regulatory supervision of the MIIT. We rely on this infrastructure and China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom to provide data communications capacity primarily through local telecommunications lines. Although the government has announced aggressive plans to develop the national information infrastructure, this infrastructure may not be developed and the Internet infrastructure in China may not be able to support the continued growth of Internet usage. In addition, we will have no access to alternative networks and services, on a timely basis if at all, in the event of any infrastructure disruption or failure.

We have signed Bandwidth Provision and Server Hosting Agreements with China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom. Under these agreements, we maintained servers in China to support most of our core services. However, as there are limited telecommunication infrastructure service providers, we may not be able to lease additional bandwidth on acceptable terms, on a timely basis, or at all. If we are not able to lease additional bandwidth, the development of our business can be affected.

To the extent we are unable to scale our systems to meet the increasing PRC Internet population, we will be unable to expand our user base and increase our attractiveness to advertisers and merchants.

As Internet volume and traffic increase in China, we may not be able to scale our systems proportionately. To the extent we do not successfully address our capacity constraints, our operations may be severely disrupted, and we may not be able to expand our user base and increase our attractiveness to advertisers and merchants. Even if we scale our systems proportionately, any unforeseen increase in traffic may disrupt our operations and make it difficult for our users to visit our Internet platforms, or even cause users to be unable to access our Internet platforms at all, which could result in a loss of users.

Unexpected network interruptions caused by system failures may result in reduced user traffic, reduced revenue and harm to our reputation.

Our Internet platforms operations are dependent upon Web browsers, Internet service providers, content providers and other Internet platforms operators in China, which have experienced significant system failures and system outages in the past. Our users have in the past experienced difficulties due to system failures unrelated to our systems and services. Any system failure or inadequacy that causes interruptions in the availability of our services, or increases the response time of our services, as a result of increased traffic or otherwise, could reduce our user satisfaction, future traffic and our attractiveness to users and advertisers.

Our operations are vulnerable to natural disasters and other events, as we only have limited backup systems and do not maintain any backup servers outside of China.

We have limited backup systems and have experienced system failures and electrical outages from time to time in the past, which have disrupted our operations. Most of our servers and routers are currently hosted in a single location within the premises of Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent. Our disaster recovery plan cannot fully ensure safety in the event of damage from fire, floods, typhoons, earthquakes, power loss, telecommunications failures, break-ins and similar events. If any of the foregoing occurs, we may experience a complete system shutdown. We do not carry any business interruption insurance. To improve the performance and to prevent disruption of our services, we may have to make substantial investments to deploy additional servers or one or more copies of our Internet platforms to mirror our online resources.

Although we carry property insurance with low coverage limits, our coverage may not be adequate to compensate us for all losses, particularly with respect to loss of business and reputation that may occur.

Our network operations may be vulnerable to hacking, viruses and other disruptions, which may make our products and services less attractive and reliable, and third-party online payment platforms that we partner with may be susceptible to security breaches, which may damage our reputation and adversely affect our business.

Internet use can decline if any well-publicized compromise of security occurs. “Hacking” involves efforts to gain unauthorized access to information or systems or to cause intentional malfunctions or loss or corruption of data, software, hardware or other computer equipment. Hackers, if successful, could misappropriate proprietary information or cause disruptions in our service. We may be required to expend capital and other resources to protect our Internet platforms against hackers, and measures we may take may not be effective. In addition, the inadvertent transmission of computer viruses could expose us to a risk of loss or litigation and possible liability, as well as damage our reputation and decrease our user traffic.

Furthermore, we could be liable for security breaches of our users’ confidential information, such as credit card numbers and expiration dates, personal information and billing addresses, stored by the third-party online payment platforms that we partner with. Since our revenues are derived in part from such payment platforms, any security breach resulting from Internet payment transactions could damage our reputation and deter current and potential users from using our online services.

 

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Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure

Although the Sohu Group holds substantial amounts of cash and cash equivalents, a significant portion of such cash and cash equivalents is held by Changyou and Sogou, and it can be difficult for Sohu to have access to the portion held by Sogou and Changyou.

Sohu has made significant expenditures in recent years, and expects to continue to do so through the current fiscal year. Although we hold a significant amount of cash and cash equivalents in the Sohu Group, the amount of cash directly available to Sohu, without including cash and cash equivalents of our subsidiaries Changyou and Sogou, is limited. Of approximately $819.7 million in cash and cash equivalents that we held in the Sohu Group on a consolidated basis as of December 31, 2018, approximately $180.0 million was held by Sohu, approximately $185.2 million was held by Sogou, and approximately $454.5 million was held by Changyou.

Sohu can obtain access, for use in its business, to cash held or generated by Sogou and Changyou only through dividends paid by Sogou or Changyou, as applicable, to shareholders, or through loans made by Sogou or Changyou to Sohu. Payment of dividends by Sogou or Changyou is subject to approval of the board of directors of Sogou or Changyou, as applicable. In addition, cash held by Mainland China-based subsidiaries and VIEs of Sogou and Changyou can only be available for distribution by Sogou or Changyou as dividends to shareholders after compliance with restrictions and requirements imposed by PRC law, including PRC profit appropriation and PRC withholding tax, that will reduce the amount available for such subsidiaries and VIEs to distribute to Sogou Inc. and Changyou.com Limited for payment of dividends to their shareholders. Further, payments of such dividends by Sogou or Changyou would reduce the cash and cash equivalents of the Sohu Group as a whole, as non-controlling shareholders of each of those entities would be entitled to a pro rata share of such dividends. See “Risks Related to China’s Regulatory Environment—Our Offshore entities may need to rely on dividends and other distributions on equity paid by our Mainland China-based subsidiaries, including the Mainland China-based subsidiaries of Sogou and Changyou, to fund any cash requirements those Offshore entities may have. Our Offshore entities may not be able to obtain cash from distributions because our subsidiaries and VIEs in Mainland China are subject to restrictions imposed by PRC law on paying such dividends or making other payments,” and “—Dividends we receive from our operating subsidiaries located in the PRC are subject to PRC profit appropriation and PRC withholding tax.”

Sohu’s ability to obtain loans from Changyou or Sogou for use by Sohu in its business is subject to determination by the respective boards of directors of Changyou or Sogou that making any such loans is in the best interests of Changyou or Sogou, as applicable, separate from Sohu.

Moreover, it could be difficult for Sohu to have sufficient cash available to fund its future expenditures without obtaining debt or equity financing from sources other than within the Sohu Group, which might not be available on acceptable terms, if at all.

Our interests in our two primary controlled subsidiaries could be significantly diluted.

Our percentage and economic interests in our two primary controlled subsidiaries, Sogou and Changyou, could be diluted by the implementation and operation of existing or future equity incentive plans, any equity issued by them as consideration for acquisitions, or their issuance of securities to raise funds for their operations. For example, in November 2017 Sogou completed an IPO, which reduced our percentage interest in Sogou, and also adopted a new share incentive plan that reserves Sogou Class A Ordinary Shares for issuance. The issuance of these reserved shares or the occurrence of any of such other dilutive events with respect to Sogou or Changyou in the future would cause our share of the revenues and earnings of the affected subsidiary to be reduced.

In order to comply with PRC regulatory requirements, we operate our main businesses through companies with which we have contractual relationships but in which we do not have an actual ownership interest. If our current ownership structure is found to be in violation of current or future PRC laws, rules or regulations regarding the legality of foreign investment in the PRC Internet sector, we could be subject to severe penalties.

Various regulations in the PRC restrict or prohibit WFOEs from operating in specified industries such as Internet information, online game, mobile, Internet access, and certain other industries. We are a Cayman Islands company and, in order to comply with PRC regulatory requirements, we conduct our Internet and value-added telecommunication operations in the PRC through our VIEs, which are incorporated in the PRC and owned by Dr. Charles Zhang and/or certain of our other employees. Through a series of contractual arrangements, our VIEs, for which Sohu is the primary beneficiary, are effectively controlled by our indirect PRC subsidiaries.

The MIIT issued a circular in 2006 that emphasizes restrictions on foreign investment in value-added telecommunications businesses. In addition, a notice issued in 2009 by the SAPPRFT, the NCA, and the National Office of Combating Pornography and Illegal Publications states that foreign investors are not permitted to invest in online game operating businesses in China or to exercise control over or participate in the operation of such businesses through indirect means. While we are not aware of any internet company which uses the same or similar contractual arrangements as we do having been penalized or ordered to terminate operations by PRC authorities claiming that the arrangements constituted foreign investment in value-added telecommunication services or a kind of control over or participation in the operation of online game operating businesses through indirect means, it is unclear whether and how the various regulations of the PRC authorities might be interpreted or implemented in the future. For a detailed discussion of PRC regulations, notices and circulars with respect to such restrictions, see “Government Regulation and Legal Uncertainties—Specific Statues and Regulations—Regulation of Foreign Direct Investment in Value-Added Telecommunications Companies” and “Government Regulation and Legal Uncertainties—Specific Statues and Regulations—Regulation of the Online Game Services—Online Games and Cultural Products.”

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In addition, pursuant to Circular 6 and the Ministry of Commerce (the “MOFCOM”) Security Review Rules, a security review is required for mergers and acquisitions by foreign investors having “national defense and security” concerns and mergers and acquisitions by which foreign investors may acquire “de facto control” of domestic enterprises with “national security” concerns and prohibit foreign investors from bypassing the security review requirement by structuring transactions through proxies, trusts, indirect investments, leases, loans, control through contractual arrangements or Offshore transactions. These national security review-related regulations are relatively new and there is a lack of clear statutory interpretation regarding the implementation of the rules, and PRC authorities may interpret these regulations to mean that the transactions implementing our VIE structures should have been submitted for review. For a discussion of these PRC national security review requirements, see “Government Regulation and Legal Uncertainties—Specific Statues and Regulations—Miscellaneous—Regulation of M&A and Overseas Listings”

If we were found to be in violation of any existing or future PRC law or regulations relating to foreign ownership of value-added telecommunications businesses and security reviews of foreign investments in such businesses, including online games businesses, regulatory authorities with jurisdiction over the operation of our business would have broad discretion in dealing with such a violation, including levying fines, confiscating our income, revoking the business or operating licenses of PRC subsidiaries and/or VIEs, requiring us to restructure our ownership structure or operations, requiring us to discontinue or divest ourselves of all or any portion of our operations or assets, restricting our right to collect revenues, blocking our Internet platforms, or imposing additional conditions or requirements with which we may not be able to comply. Any of these actions could cause significant disruption to our business operations and have an adverse impact on our business, financial condition and results of operations. Further, if changes were required to be made to our ownership structure, our ability to consolidate our VIEs could be adversely affected.

We may be unable to collect long-term loans to officers and employees or exercise management influence associated with High Century, Heng Da Yi Tong, Tianjin Jinhu, Sogou Information, Gamease and Guanyou Gamespace.

As of December 31, 2018, Sohu had outstanding long-term loans of $7.7 million to Dr. Charles Zhang and to certain PRC entities owned by Dr. Zhang and/or certain other employees. These long-term loans were used to finance investments in our VIEs Beijing Century High-Tech Investment Co., Ltd. (“High Century”), Beijing Heng Da Yi Tong Information Technology Co., Ltd. (“Heng Da Yi Tong”), Tianjin Jinhu Culture Development Co., Ltd. (“Tianjin Jinhu”), Beijing Sogou Information Service Co., Ltd. (“Sogou Information”), Beijing Gamease Age Digital Technology Co., Ltd. (“Gamease”), and Beijing Guanyou Gamespace Digital Technology Co., Ltd. (“Guanyou Gamespace”), which are used to facilitate our participation in telecommunications, Internet content, online games and certain other businesses in China where foreign ownership is either prohibited or restricted.

The loan agreements contain provisions that, subject to PRC laws, (i) the loans can only be repaid to us by transferring the shares of High Century, Heng Da Yi Tong, Tianjin Jinhu, Sogou Information, Gamease and Guanyou Gamespace to us; (ii) the shares of High Century, Heng Da Yi Tong, Tianjin Jinhu, Sogou Information, Gamease and Guanyou Gamespace cannot be transferred by the borrowers without our approval; and (iii) we have the right to appoint all directors and senior management personnel of High Century, Heng Da Yi Tong, Tianjin Jinhu, Sogou Information, Gamease and Guanyou Gamespace. Under the loan agreements the borrowers have pledged all of their shares in High Century, Heng Da Yi Tong, Tianjin Jinhu, Sogou Information, Gamease and Guanyou Gamespace collateral for the loans, and the loans bear no interest and are due on the earlier of a demand or such time as Dr. Charles Zhang or one of the other employee borrowers, as the case may be, is not an employee of Sohu. Sohu does not intend to request repayment of the loans as long as PRC regulations prohibit it from directly investing in businesses engaged in by the VIEs.

Because these loans can only be repaid by the borrowers’ transferring the shares of the various entities, our ability to ultimately realize the effective return of the amounts advanced under these loans will depend on the profitability of High Century, Heng Da Yi Tong, Tianjin Jinhu, Sogou Information, Gamease and Guanyou Gamespace and is therefore uncertain.

Furthermore, because of uncertainties associated with PRC law, ultimate enforcement of the loan agreements is uncertain. Accordingly, we may never be able to collect these loans and we may not be able to continue to exercise influence over High Century, Heng Da Yi Tong, Tianjin Jinhu, Sogou Information, Gamease and Guanyou Gamespace.

We depend upon contractual arrangements with our VIEs for the success of our business and these arrangements may not be as effective in providing operational control as direct ownership of these businesses and may be difficult to enforce.

Because we conduct our Internet operations mainly in the PRC, and are restricted or prohibited by the PRC government from owning Internet content, telecommunication, online games operations and certain other operations in the PRC, we are dependent on our VIEs in which we have no direct ownership interest, to provide those services through contractual agreements among the parties and to hold some of our assets, including some of the domain names and trademarks relating to our business. These arrangements may not be as effective in providing control over our Internet content, telecommunications operations, online games operations and certain other as direct ownership of these businesses. For example, if we had direct ownership of our VIEs, we would be able to exercise our rights as a shareholder to effect changes in their boards of directors, which in turn could effect changes at the management level. Due to our VIE structure, we have to rely on contractual rights to effect control and management of our VIEs, which exposes us to the risk of potential breach of contract by the VIEs or their shareholders, such as their failing to use the domain names and trademarks held by them, or failing to maintain our Internet platforms, in an acceptable manner or taking other actions that are detrimental to our interests. In addition, as each of our VIEs is jointly owned by its shareholders, it may be difficult for us to change our corporate structure if such shareholders refuse to cooperate with us. In addition, some of our subsidiaries and VIEs could fail to take actions required for our business, such as entering into content development contracts with potential content suppliers or failing to maintain the necessary permits for the content servers. Furthermore, if the shareholders of any of our VIEs were involved in proceedings that had an adverse impact on their shareholder interests in such VIE or on our ability to enforce relevant contracts related to the VIE structure, our business would be adversely affected.

 

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The shareholders of the VIEs may breach, or cause the VIEs to breach, the VIE contracts for a number of reasons. For example, their interests as shareholders of the VIEs and the interests of our subsidiaries may conflict and we may fail to resolve such conflicts; the shareholders may believe that breaching the contracts will lead to greater economic benefit for them; or the shareholders may otherwise act in bad faith. If any of the foregoing were to happen, we might have to rely on legal or arbitral proceedings to enforce our contractual rights. In addition, disputes may arise among the shareholders of any of our VIEs with respect to their ownership of such VIE, which could lead them to breach their agreements with us. Such arbitral and legal proceedings and disputes may cost us substantial financial and other resources, and result in disruption of our business, and the outcome might not be in our favor. For example, a PRC court or arbitration panel could conclude that our VIE contracts violate PRC law or are otherwise unenforceable. If the contractual arrangements with any of our VIEs were found by PRC authorities with appropriate jurisdiction to be unenforceable, we could lose control over the assets owned by such VIE and lose our ability to consolidate such VIE’s results of operations, assets and liabilities in our consolidated financial statements and/or to transfer the revenues of such VIE to our corresponding PRC subsidiary.

A failure by our VIEs or their shareholders to perform their obligations under our contractual arrangements with them could have an adverse effect on our business and financial condition.

As all of these contractual arrangements are governed by PRC law and provide for the resolution of disputes through either arbitration or litigation in the PRC, they would be interpreted in accordance with PRC law and any disputes would be resolved in accordance with PRC legal procedures. We would have to rely for enforcement on legal remedies under PRC law, including specific performance, injunctive relief or damages, which might not be effective. For example, if we sought to enforce the equity interest purchase right agreements for the transfer of equity interests in any of our VIEs, if the transferee was a foreign company the transfer would be subject to approval by PRC governmental authorities such as the MIIT and the MOFCOM, and the transferee would be required to comply with various requirements, including qualification and maximum foreign shareholding percentage requirements. As these PRC governmental authorities have wide discretion in granting such approvals, we could fail to obtain such approval. In addition, our VIE contracts might not be enforceable in China if PRC governmental authorities, courts or arbitral tribunals took the view that such contracts contravened PRC law or were otherwise not enforceable for public policy reasons.

Furthermore, the legal environment in the PRC is not as developed as in other jurisdictions, such as the United States. As a result, uncertainties in the PRC legal system could further limit our ability to enforce these contractual arrangements. In the event we were unable to enforce these contractual arrangements, we would not be able to exert effective control over our VIEs, and our ability to conduct our business, and our financial condition and results of operations, would be severely adversely affected.

The contractual arrangements between our subsidiaries and our VIEs may result in adverse tax consequences.

PRC laws and regulations emphasize the requirement of an arm’s length basis for transfer pricing arrangements between related parties. The laws and regulations also require enterprises with related party transactions to prepare transfer pricing documentation to demonstrate the basis for determining pricing, the computation methodology and detailed explanations. Related party arrangements and transactions may be subject to challenge or tax inspection by PRC tax authorities.

Under a tax inspection, if our transfer pricing arrangements between the China-Based Subsidiaries and VIEs are judged as tax avoidance, or related documentation does not meet the requirements, our China-based subsidiaries and VIEs may be subject to material adverse tax consequences, such as transfer pricing adjustment. A transfer pricing adjustment could result in a reduction, for PRC tax purposes, of adjustments recorded by VIEs, which could adversely affect us by (i) increasing VIE’s tax liabilities without reducing our subsidiaries’ tax liabilities, which could further result in interest and penalties being levied on us for unpaid taxes; or (ii) limiting the ability of our PRC companies to maintain preferential tax treatment and other financial incentives. In addition, if for any reason we needed to cause the transfer of any of the shareholders’ equity interest in any of our VIEs to a different nominee shareholder (such as if, for example, one of such shareholders was no longer employed by us), we might be required to pay individual income tax, on behalf of the transferring shareholder, on any gain deemed to have been realized by such shareholder on such transfer.

We may lose the ability to use and enjoy assets held by any of our VIEs that are important to the operation of our business if such VIE declares bankruptcy or becomes subject to a dissolution or liquidation proceeding.

Each of our VIEs holds assets, such as our core intellectual property, licenses and permits, that are critical to our business operations. Although the equity interest purchase right agreements among our WFOEs, our VIEs and the shareholders of our VIEs contain terms that specifically obligate the shareholders of our VIEs to ensure the valid existence of our VIEs, in the event the shareholders breached these obligations and voluntarily liquidated our VIEs, or if any of our VIEs declared bankruptcy and all or part of its assets became subject to liens or rights of third-party creditors, we might be unable to continue some or all of our business operations. Furthermore, if any of our VIEs were to undergo a voluntary or involuntary liquidation proceeding, its shareholders or unrelated third-party creditors might claim rights to some or all of such VIE’s assets and their rights could be senior to our rights under the VIE contracts, thereby hindering our ability to operate our business.

 

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Frequent press reports in the United States questioning the VIE structure used by us and other Chinese companies publicly-traded in the United States appear to have created concern among investors, and may cause such an effect in the future.

In recent years various prominent Western news outlets have questioned the use by Chinese companies that are publicly-traded in the United States of VIE structures as a means of complying with Chinese laws prohibiting or restricting foreign ownership of certain businesses in China, including businesses we are engaged in such as Internet information and content, online advertising, online game, sponsored search, and value-added telecommunication services. Some of such news reports have also sought to draw a connection between recent widely reported accounting issues at certain Chinese companies and the use of VIE structures. Such news reports appear to have had the effect of causing concern among investors in several Chinese companies, including us, that are publicly-traded in the United States. While we are not aware of any causal connection between the recently reported accounting scandals and the use of VIE structures, it is possible that investors in our common stock will believe that such a connection exists. Any of such circumstances could lead to further loss of investor confidence in Chinese companies such as ours and cause fluctuations in the market prices of our common stock and, if such prices were to drop sharply, could subject us to shareholder litigation, which could cause the price for our shares to drop further.

Risks Related to China’s Regulatory Environment

Political, economic and social policies of the PRC government could affect our business.

Substantially all of our business, operating assets, fixed assets and operations are located in China, and substantially all of our revenues are derived from our operations in China. Accordingly, our business may be adversely affected by changes in political, economic or social conditions in China, adjustments in PRC government policies or changes in laws and regulations.

The economy of China differs from the economies of most countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in a number of respects, including:

 

   

structure;

 

   

level of government involvement;

 

   

level of development;

 

   

level of capital reinvestment;

 

   

growth rate;

 

   

control of foreign exchange; and

 

   

methods of allocating resources.

Since 1949, China has been primarily a planned economy subject to a system of macroeconomic management. Although the PRC government still owns a significant portion of the productive assets in China, economic reform policies since the late 1970s have emphasized decentralization, autonomous enterprises and the utilization of market mechanisms. We cannot predict the future effects of the economic reform and macroeconomic measures adopted by the PRC government on our business or results of operations. Furthermore, the PRC government began to focus more attention on social issues in recent years and has promulgated or may promulgate additional laws or regulations in this area, which could affect our business in China.

While the Chinese economy has grown significantly over the past 30 years, the growth has been uneven geographically among various sectors of the economy, and during different periods. The Chinese economy may not continue to grow, and if there is growth, such growth may not be steady and uniform; if there is a slowdown, such a slowdown may have a negative effect on our business. The Chinese economy experienced high inflation in 2010 and 2011, and to curb the accelerating inflation the PBOC, China’s central bank, raised benchmark interest rates three times in 2011. The level of exports from the PRC also declined significantly recently. According to the National Bureau of Statistics of China, the growth rate of China’s gross domestic product, compared to that of the same period in the previous year, slowed from 7.4% in 2014, to 6.9% in 2015, to 6.7% in 2016, to 6.9% in 2017 and to 6.6% in 2018. Various macroeconomic measures and monetary policies adopted by the PRC government to guide economic growth and manage inflation and the allocation of resources may not be effective in sustaining the growth rate of the Chinese economy. In addition, such measures, even if they benefit the overall Chinese economy in the long run, may have an adverse effect on us if they reduce the amount of money that our existing or future advertisers devote to online advertising.

The PRC legal system embodies uncertainties which could limit the legal protections available to us and you, or could lead to penalties on us.

 

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The PRC legal system is a civil law system based on written statutes. Unlike common law systems, it is a system in which decided legal cases have little precedential value. In 1979, the PRC government began to promulgate a comprehensive system of laws and regulations governing economic matters in general. Our PRC operating subsidiaries Beijing Sohu New Momentum Information Technology Co., Ltd. (“Sohu New Momentum”), Beijing Sohu New Era Information Technology Co., Ltd., (“Sohu Era”), Beijing Sohu New Media Information Technology Co., Ltd. (“Sohu Media”), Fox Information Technology (Tianjin) Limited (“Video Tianjin”), Beijing Sogou Technology Development Co., Ltd. (“Sogou Technology”), Beijing Sogou Network Technology Co., Ltd. (“Sogou Network”), Beijing AmazGame Age Internet Technology Co., Ltd. (“AmazGame”), Beijing Changyou Gamespace Software Technology Co., Ltd. (“Gamespace”), and Shenzhen Brilliant Imagination Technologies Co., Ltd. (“Brilliant Imagination”) are WFOEs, which are enterprises incorporated in China and wholly-owned by our indirect off-shore subsidiaries. Those WFOEs are subject to laws and regulations applicable to foreign investment in China. In addition, all of our subsidiaries and VIEs are incorporated in China and subject to all applicable Chinese laws and regulations. Because of the relatively short period for enacting such a comprehensive legal system, it is possible that the laws, regulations and legal requirements are relatively recent, and their interpretation and enforcement involve uncertainties. These uncertainties could limit the legal protections available to us and other foreign investors, including you. Such uncertainties may also make it easier for others to infringe our intellectual property without significant cost, and new entrants to the market may tend to use gray areas to compete with us. In addition, uncertainties in the PRC legal system may lead to penalties imposed on us because of a difference in interpretation of the applicable law between the relevant governmental authority and us. For example, under current tax laws and regulations, in order to be entitled to the preferential tax treatment afforded to “Software Enterprises” or “KNSEs”, we are responsible for conducting a self-assessment and filing required supporting documentation with tax authorities. However, since there is no clear guidance as to the applicability of certain areas of preferential tax treatment, we may be found to be in violation of the tax laws and regulations based on the interpretation of local tax authorities with regard to the applicable tax rates, and therefore might be subject to penalties, including monetary penalties. In addition, we cannot predict the effect of future developments in the PRC legal system, particularly with regard to the Internet, including the promulgation of new laws, changes to existing laws or the interpretation or enforcement thereof, or the preemption of local regulations by national laws.

The enforcement of the PRC Labor Contract Law and other labor-related regulations in the PRC may adversely affect our business and results of operations.

In 2008, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress enacted the Labor Contract Law, which was amended on December 28, 2012. The Labor Contract Law introduced specific provisions related to fixed-term employment contracts, part-time employment, probationary periods, consultation with labor unions and employee assemblies, employment without a written contract, dismissal of employees, severance, and collective bargaining to enhance previous PRC labor laws. Under the Labor Contract Law, an employer is obligated to sign an unlimited-term labor contract with any employee who has worked for the employer for ten consecutive years. Further, if an employee requests or agrees to renew a fixed-term labor contract that has already been entered into twice consecutively, the resulting contract, with certain exceptions, must have an unlimited term. With certain exceptions, an employer must pay severance to an employee where a labor contract is terminated or expires. In addition, PRC governmental authorities have continued to introduce various new labor-related regulations since the effectiveness of the Labor Contract Law. For example, there are regulations which require that annual leave ranging from five to 15 days be made available to employees and that employees be compensated for any unused annual leave days at a rate of three times their daily salary, subject to certain exceptions.

Under the PRC Social Insurance Law and the Administrative Measures on Housing Fund, employees are required to participate in pension insurance, work-related injury insurance, medical insurance, unemployment insurance, maternity insurance and housing funds and employers are required, together with their employees or separately, to pay the social insurance premiums and housing funds for their employees.

These laws designed to enhance labor protection tend to increase our labor costs. In addition, as the interpretation and implementation of these regulations are still evolving, our employment practices may not be at all times be deemed in compliance with the regulations. As a result, we could be subject to penalties or incur significant liabilities in connection with labor disputes or investigations.

If we are found to be in violation of current or future PRC laws, rules or regulations regarding Internet-related services and telecom-related activities, we could be subject to severe penalties.

The PRC has enacted regulations that apply to Internet-related services and telecom-related activities. While many aspects of these regulations remain unclear, they purport to limit and require licensing of various aspects of the provision of Internet information and content, online advertising, online game, and mobile services.

The Catalogue of Classification of Internet Audio-Video Program Services (Trial) issued by the SAPPRFT on April 1, 2010 and amended on March 10, 2017, classifies the business of providing public program searching and watching services through the Internet to the public as an Internet audio-video program service for which a Permit for the Network Transmission of Audiovisual Programs is required. Sohu Internet received a renewal of a Permit for the Network Transmission of Audiovisual Programs from the SAPPRFT on June 20, 2017. However, Sogou Information has not yet been granted such a license. If Sogou’s provision of video search services is later challenged by the SAPPRFT, we may be subject to severe penalties, including fines, or the suspension of our video search services or even our operations. In addition, Sohu’s online video businesses are operated under various Internet platforms, such as sohu.com, Focus.cn and sogou.com, but current PRC laws and regulations are lack of clear provisions indicating whether it is permissible to provide video services over several Internet platforms that are owned by a single company under one permit and the SAPPRFT might claim that such operation under one permit is not allowed under the SAPPRFT Measures. If the SAPPRFT were to make such a claim, we could face penalties from the SAPPRFT, such as fines, cancellation of our existing permit, or the forced discontinuation or restriction on our video services or even our operations. If we are ordered to suspend our services, our user traffic will be reduced and therefore our revenues will be negatively affected.

 

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Current PRC laws and regulations require us to obtain an Internet publishing license for our online game services, Sogou’s online literature services, and Sogou Ask. An Internet publishing license may also be required for image search services, as these services may be considered to be “online publication services,” which require an Internet publishing license under current PRC laws and regulations. Sohu Internet has been granted such a license. However, none of Sogou’s VIEs currently holds such a license. In addition, an internet news information services permit is required under current PRC laws and regulations for news dissemination, search, and newsfeed services. Although Sohu Internet holds such a permit, none of Sogou’s VIEs currently holds such a license.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (the “CAOC”) issued a series of regulations and administrative measures regulating Internet users’ social accounts accessible by the public, group information platforms, BBS communities, and news information platforms, which require Internet platform operators to establish specific management rules for their platforms, and subject them to various specific obligations. See “Government Regulation and Legal Uncertainties—Specific Statutes and Regulations—Regulation of the Provision of Internet Content—Internet Information Services” and “Government Regulation and Legal Uncertainties—Specific Statutes and Regulations—Regulation of the Provision of Internet Content—Online News Dissemination and Online News Search Services” for further descriptions of the Internet platform operators’ obligations as required by several administrative measures issued by the CAOC. Complying with such requirements could cause us to incur substantial expense or necessitate that we alter or change our existing practices in a manner that could harm our business.

PRC laws, rules, and regulations governing the online microcredit industry are developing and evolving rapidly. Sogou has initiated a pilot online lending and microcredit program using its credit risk management. Although Sogou is implementing measures to comply with applicable PRC laws and regulations governing its pilot online lending and microcredit program, PRC governmental authorities may promulgate new rules and regulations regulating the online microcredit industry. Moreover, developments in the online microcredit industry may lead to changes in PRC laws, rules, and regulations or in the interpretation and application of existing laws, rules, and regulations that may limit or restrict online microcredit industry. Therefore, it is possible that Sogou’s practices would be deemed by PRC governmental authorities or PRC courts to violate existing or any future PRC laws, rules, and regulations. Failure to comply with such laws and regulations could result in Sogou’s being subject to, among other things, regulatory warnings, fines, or criminal penalties, and Sogou could also be prohibited from conducting an online microcredit business in the future.

We cannot assure you that we have fully complied with or will in the future always comply with PRC rules and regulations regarding Internet-related services and telecom-related activities. In addition, the PRC government may promulgate new laws, rules or regulations at any time. If current or future laws, rules or regulations regarding Internet-related activities are interpreted to be inconsistent with our ownership structure and/or our business operations, our business could be severely impaired and we could be subject to severe penalties.

PRC laws and regulations mandate complex procedures for some acquisitions of Chinese companies by foreign investors, which could make it more difficult for us to make acquisitions in China.

PRC laws and regulations, such as the M&A Rules, which were jointly issued by six PRC regulatory agencies on August 8, 2006 and were amended on June 22, 2009, the Anti-Monopoly Law, Circular 6 and the MOFCOM Security Review Rules, established additional procedures and requirements that are expected to make merger and acquisition activities in China by foreign investors more time-consuming and complex, including requirements in some instances that the MOFCOM be notified in advance of any change-of-control transaction in which a foreign investor takes control of a PRC domestic enterprise, or that the approval from the MOFCOM be obtained in circumstances where overseas companies established or controlled by PRC enterprises or residents acquire affiliated domestic companies. PRC laws and regulations also require certain merger and acquisition transactions to be subject to a merger control security review. The MOFCOM Security Review Rules, effective from September 1, 2011, further provide that, when deciding whether a specific merger or acquisition of a domestic enterprise by foreign investors is subject to a security review by the MOFCOM, the principle of substance over form should be applied and foreign investors are prohibited from bypassing the security review requirement by structuring transactions through proxies, trusts, indirect investments, leases, loans, control through contractual arrangements of Offshore transaction. Factors that the MOFCOM considers in its review are whether (i) an important industry is involved, (ii) such transaction involves factors that have had or may have an impact on national economic security and (iii) such transaction will lead to a change in control of a domestic enterprise that holds a well-known PRC trademark or a time-honored PRC brand. If a business of any target company that we plan to acquire falls into the ambit of security review, we may not be able to successfully acquire such company. Complying with the requirements of the relevant regulation to complete any such transaction could be time-consuming, and any required approval process, including approval from the MOFCOM, may delay or inhibit our ability to complete such transactions, which could affect our ability to expand our business.

Even if we are in compliance with PRC governmental regulations relating to licensing and foreign investment prohibitions, the PRC government may prevent us from distributing, and we may be subject to liability for, content that it believes is inappropriate.

The PRC has enacted regulations governing Internet access and the distribution of news and other information. In the past, the PRC government has stopped the distribution of information over the Internet that it believes to violate PRC law, including content that is obscene, incites violence, endangers national security, is contrary to the national interest or is defamatory. In addition, we may not publish certain news items, such as news relating to national security, without permission from the PRC government. Furthermore, the Ministry of Public Security (the “MPS”) has the authority to make any local Internet service provider block any Website maintained outside the PRC at its sole discretion. Even if we comply with PRC governmental regulations relating to licensing and foreign investment prohibitions, if the PRC government were to take any action to limit or prohibit the distribution of information through our network or to limit or regulate any current or future content or services available to users on our network, our business would be harmed.

 

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We are also subject to potential liabilities for content on our Internet platforms that is deemed inappropriate and for any unlawful actions of our subscribers and other users of our systems under regulations promulgated by the MIIT, such potential liabilities including the imposition of fines or even the shutting down of the Internet platforms.

Furthermore, we are required to delete content that clearly violates the laws of the PRC and report content that we suspect may violate PRC law. We may have difficulty determining the type of content that may result in liability for us and, if we are wrong, we may be prevented from operating our Internet platforms.

Dividends we receive from our operating subsidiaries located in the PRC are subject to PRC profit appropriation and PRC withholding tax.

PRC legal restrictions permit payment of dividends by our China-based WFOEs only out of their accumulated profits, if any, determined in accordance with PRC accounting standards and regulations. Under PRC law, our China-based WFOEs are also required to set aside 10% of their net income each year to fund certain reserve funds until these reserves equal 50% of the amount of registered capital. These reserves are not distributable as cash dividends.

Furthermore, the PRC Corporate Income Tax Law (the “CIT Law”) provides that a withholding tax at a rate of up to 20% may be applicable to dividends payable to non-PRC investors that are “non-resident enterprises,” to the extent that such dividends are derived from sources within the PRC. Under the Arrangement Between the PRC and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region on the Avoidance of Double Taxation and Prevention of Fiscal Evasion with Respect to Taxes on Income (the “China-HK Tax Arrangement”), which became effective on January 1, 2007, the dividend withholding tax rate may be reduced to 5% if a Hong Kong resident enterprise is considered a non-PRC resident enterprise and holds at least 25% of the equity interests in the PRC enterprise distributing the dividends, subject to approval of the PRC local tax authority. However, if the Hong Kong resident enterprise is not considered to be the beneficial owner of such dividends under applicable PRC tax regulations, such dividends may remain subject to withholding tax at a rate of 10%. The State Administration of Taxation (the “SAT”) issued an Announcement on Issues in Tax Treaties Relating to “Beneficial Owner” (“Announcement 9”), effective April 1, 2018, which provides guidance on determining whether an enterprise is a “beneficial owner” of dividends under China’s tax treaties and tax arrangements. Announcement 9 provides that, in order to be a beneficial owner, an entity generally must be a direct owner of, and have the right to control, the income of the enterprise that is paying the dividends or must be a direct owner of, and have the right to control, the tangible or intangible assets generating such income, and also specifies that a company that is not organized for the purpose of engaging in substantive business activities may not be regarded as a beneficial owner. If any of our Hong Kong subsidiaries is, in the light of Announcement 9, determined by the SAT to not be a beneficial owner for purposes of the China-HK Tax Arrangement, any dividends paid to it by any of our PRC subsidiaries would not qualify for the preferential dividend withholding tax rate of 5%, but rather would be subject to the regular withholding tax rate of 10% under the CIT Law.

Furthermore, to the extent that the VIEs have undistributed after-tax profits, we must pay tax on behalf of our employees who hold interests in the VIEs when the VIEs distribute dividends in the future. The current individual income tax rate is 20%.

Our Offshore entities may need to rely on dividends and other distributions on equity paid by our Mainland China-based subsidiaries, including the Mainland China-based subsidiaries of our subsidiaries Sogou and Changyou, to fund any cash requirements those Offshore entities may have. Our Offshore entities may not be able to obtain cash from distributions because our subsidiaries and VIEs in Mainland China are subject to restrictions imposed by PRC law on paying such dividends and making other payments.

Sohu.com Limited is a holding company with no operating assets other than investments in Chinese operating entities through our intermediate Offshore holding companies. Our Offshore entities may need to rely on dividends and other distributions on equity paid by Mainland China-based subsidiaries for the cash requirements in excess of any cash raised from investors and retained by Sohu.com Limited or our other Offshore entities. In addition, for subsidiaries engaging in Sohu’s business in Mainland China to be able to use the proceeds of cash dividends from Sogou or Changyou, the dividends would have to be paid through the Sohu Cayman Islands entities (Sohu.com (Search) Limited (“Sohu Search”) and Sohu.com (Game) Limited (“Sohu Game”)) that hold Sohu’s shares in Sogou and Changyou. The primary source of any dividend payments to our Offshore entities would need to be our subsidiaries in Mainland China after they receive payments from our VIEs under various service agreements and other arrangements. It is possible that our Mainland China-based subsidiaries will not continue to receive payments in accordance with our contracts with our VIEs or that such payments will become subject to restrictions imposed PRC law. If our subsidiaries and VIEs incur debt on their own behalf in the future, the instruments governing the debt may restrict their ability to pay dividends or make other distributions to us through the intermediate companies. In addition, amounts available for dividends are further reduced because transfers of funds out of Mainland China generally are subject to a withholding tax of 5%, if transfers are made to Hong Kong and subject to the China-HK Tax Arrangement, and of 10% in other cases.

The PRC government also imposes controls on the convertibility of the RMB into foreign currencies and, in certain cases, the remittance of currencies out of Mainland China. We may experience difficulties in completing the administrative procedures necessary to obtain and remit foreign currencies. If we or any of our subsidiaries are unable to receive the revenues from our operations through these service agreements and other arrangements, we may be unable to effectively fund any cash requirements we may have.

 

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Activities of Internet content providers are or will be subject to additional PRC regulations, which have not yet been put into effect. Our operations may not be consistent with these new regulations when put into effect, and, as a result, we could be subject to severe penalties.

The MIIT has stated that the activities of Internet content providers are subject to regulation by various PRC government authorities, depending on the specific activities conducted by the Internet content provider. Various government authorities have stated publicly that they are in the process of preparing new laws and regulations that will govern these activities. The areas of regulation currently include online advertising, online news reporting, online publishing, provision of online or mobile music, online securities trading, the provision of industry-specific (for example, drug-related) information over the Internet and foreign investment in value-added telecommunication services. Other aspects of our online operations may be subject to additional regulations in the future. For example, our online interactive broadcasting video platform enables users to perform real time musical acts, exchange information, interact with others and engage in various other online activities. Although we have obtained a permit to engage in the online interactive broadcasting video platform services, we cannot assure you that the PRC regulatory authorities will not issue new laws or regulations specifically regulating the operation of an online interactive broadcasting video platform. Our operations might not be consistent with current laws and regulations or any such new regulations and, as a result, we could be subject to penalties.

Regulation and censorship of information distribution in China may adversely affect our business.

China has enacted regulations governing Internet access and the distribution of news and other information. Furthermore, the Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party takes the responsibility to censor news published in China to ensure, supervise and control a particular political ideology. In addition, the MIIT has published implementing regulations that subject online information providers to potential liability for contents included in their portals and the actions of subscribers and others using their systems, including liability for violation of PRC laws prohibiting the distribution of content deemed to be socially destabilizing. Furthermore, because many PRC laws, regulations and legal requirements with regard to the Internet are relatively new and untested, their interpretation and enforcement may involve significant uncertainty. In addition, the PRC legal system is a civil law system in which decided legal cases have limited binding force as legal precedents. As a result, in many cases an Internet platform operator may have difficulties determining the type of content that may subject it to liability.

Periodically, the MPS has stopped the distribution over the Internet of information which it believes to be socially destabilizing. Meanwhile, the MPS also has the authority to require any local Internet service provider to block any Website maintained outside China at its sole discretion. If the PRC government were to take action or exercise its authority to limit or eliminate the distribution of information through our portal or to limit or regulate current or future applications available to users of our portal, our business would be adversely affected.

The State Secrecy Bureau, which is directly responsible for the protection of state secrets of all PRC government and Chinese Communist Party organizations, is authorized to block any Website it deems to be leaking state secrets or failing to meet the relevant regulations relating to the protection of state secrets in the distribution of online information. Under the applicable regulations, we may be held liable for any content transmitted on our portal. Furthermore, where the transmitted content clearly violates the laws of the PRC, we will be required to delete it. Moreover, if we consider transmitted content suspicious, we are required to report such content. We must also undergo computer security inspections, and if we fail to implement the relevant safeguards against security breaches, we may be shut down. In addition, the State Secrecy Bureau has adopted regulations stipulating that Internet companies, such as us, that provide bulletin board systems, chat rooms or similar services must apply for the approval of the State Secrecy Bureau. As the implementing rules of these new regulations have not been issued, we do not know how or when we will be expected to comply, or how our business will be affected by the application of these regulations.

We may be subject to the PRC government’s ongoing crackdown on Internet pornographic content.

The Chinese government has stringent prohibitions on online pornographic information and has launched several crackdowns on Internet pornography recently. On December 4, 2009, the MIIT and other three PRC government authorities jointly issued the Incentives Measures for Report of Pornographic, Obscene and Vulgar Messages on Internet and Mobile Media (the “Anti-Pornography Notice”) to further crackdown on online pornography. Pursuant to this Anti-Pornography Notice, rewards of up to RMB10,000 will be provided to Internet users who report Websites that feature pornography, and a committee has been established to review such reports to determine an appropriate award. On April 13, 2014, the National Working Group on Anti-Pornography and three other PRC government authorities jointly issued the Anti-Pornography Proclamation, under which Internet service providers must immediately remove texts, images, video, advertisements and other information that contain pornographic content. The relevant government authority may order enterprises or individuals who flagrantly produce or disseminate pornographic content to stop conducting business, and may revoke relevant administrative permits. Although we require all users upon account registration to agree to our terms of service, which specify the types of content that are prohibited on our platform, and we have deleted from our relevant channels and communities all Web pages with material that we believe could reasonably be considered to be vulgar and have strengthened our internal censorship and supervision of links and content uploaded by users, it is possible that our users may engage in obscene conversations or activities on our platform that may be deemed illegal under PRC laws and regulations. For example, we provide an online interactive broadcasting video platform for users, and because the video and audio communication on this platform is conducted in real time, we are unable to examine the content generated by our hosts and users on air before the content is streamed on the platform. There is no assurance that content considered vulgar by PRC government agencies will not appear in the future. We may be subject to fines or other disciplinary actions, including in serious cases suspension or revocation of the licenses necessary to operate our platform, if we are deemed to have facilitated the appearance of inappropriate content placed by third parties on our platform under PRC laws and regulations. In addition, if we are accused by the government of hosting vulgar content, our reputation could be adversely affected.

 

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Regulations relating to the online transmission of foreign films and TV dramas may adversely affect our online video business.

On September 2, 2014, the SAPPRFT issued a Notice on Further Strengthening the Administration of Online Foreign Audiovisual Content (the “September 2014 SAPPRFT Notice”), which requires that operators of audiovisual Websites obtain from the SAPPRFT a Film Public Screening Permit, TV Drama Distribution Permit, or TV Animation Distribution Permit for all foreign films and TV dramas before they are transmitted via the Internet in China. The September 2014 SAPPRFT Notice further stipulates that before any foreign films or TV dramas for transmission exclusively via the Internet are purchased after the promulgation of the September 2014 SAPPRFT Notice, operators of audiovisual Websites must declare their annual purchasing plans with the SAPPRFT before the end of the year preceding the year of the intended broadcast and obtain the SAPPRFT’s approval. The September 2014 SAPPRFT Notice also states that the number of foreign films and TV dramas to be purchased by an operator and transmitted via its Website in a single year may not exceed 30% of the total amount of the Chinese films and TV dramas purchased and transmitted by the same Website in the previous year.

The promulgation of the September 2014 SAPPRFT Notice could have an adverse impact on our online video business. If we are not able to obtain the required SAPPRFT approval in time, there will be a delay in our ability to broadcast such foreign films and TV dramas on our Internet platforms and in our generation of advertising revenues from such films and TV dramas. We are also subject to the risk that users might access pirated versions of such films and TV dramas during any such delay, and become less likely to view them on our Internet platforms when they become available, which would cause our online traffic and advertising revenues to be lower than we expected. If we fail to obtain the required approval by the SAPPRFT, we may not be able to recoup the costs we spent in acquiring the broadcasting rights of, and marketing, those films and TV dramas. In addition, it could be necessary for us to recognize impairment charges related to foreign films and TV dramas we have purchased. The requirement of a minimum ratio of domestic video content to foreign-sourced content in the September 2014 SAPPRFT Notice may require us to purchase more domestic video content in order for us to be permitted to maintain a sufficient portfolio of online foreign films and TV dramas. If, on the other hand, we respond to the minimum ratio requirement of the September 2014 SAPPRFT Notice by reducing our purchases of foreign films and TV dramas, our attraction to users, traffic or advertisers on our online video Internet platforms could be reduced, resulting in a decrease in our advertising revenues.

Regulation and censorship of online interactive broadcasting services in China may adversely affect our business.

As online interactive broadcasting has surged in popularity in China, PRC governmental authorities have increased their efforts to regulate it. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the People’s Republic of China (the “MCT”) issued an Online Performance Notice on July 1, 2016 and issued Online Performance Measures on December 2, 2016, both effective January 1, 2017; the CAOC issued Live Social Video Provisions on November 4, 2016; and the MIIT and several other PRC governmental authorities issued a Notice on Strengthening the Administration of Live Online Social Video Services on August 1, 2018, providing for the administration and censorship of online interactive broadcasting. The Live Social Video Provisions require us to implement procedures to detect and block illegal, fraudulent, politically-sensitive and inappropriate content and activities conducted through our online interactive broadcasting platform. Although we have implemented procedures for our online interactive broadcasting platform designed to detect and prevent material and activity that we believe could reasonably be considered to be prohibited, it is possible that hosts and users of our platform may distribute content and engage in activities that may be deemed illegal, but that we do not detect and identify as such. Furthermore, we may not be able to immediately block all such content uploads or activities generated by our hosts and users, because there is often a lag between the time our hosts and users upload and stream content on our platform and the time we are able to examine such content. If PRC authorities believe that illegal or inappropriate activities haven been conducted through our online interactive broadcasting platform, or if there is negative media coverage concerning our platform, PRC government authorities may hold us liable for non-compliance and subject us to administrative penalties or other sanctions, which could cause our business to suffer or have an adverse effect on our user base. See “Government Regulation and Legal Uncertainties—Specific Statutes and Regulations—Regulation of the Provision of Internet Content—Online Cultural Products.”

Regulations relating to Offshore investment activities by PRC residents may limit our ability to acquire PRC companies and could adversely affect our business.

In July 2014, the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (the “SAFE”) promulgated Circular 37, which replaced Circular 75, promulgated by the SAFE in October 2005. Circular 37 requires PRC residents, including PRC institutions and individuals, to register with the local SAFE branch in connection with their direct establishment or indirect control of an Offshore entity, referred to in Circular 37 as a “special purpose vehicle,” for the purpose of holding domestic or Offshore assets or interests. PRC residents must also file amendments to their registrations in the event of any significant changes with respect to the special purpose vehicle, such as increase or decrease of capital contributed by PRC individuals, share transfer or exchange, merger, division or other material event. In February 2015, the SAFE promulgated the Circular for Further Simplifying and Improving Policies of Foreign Exchange Administration Applicable to Direct Investment, which provides that effective June 2015 designated local banks are delegated authority under Circular 37 to review and process PRC residents’ applications for their initial foreign exchange registrations or amendments to their registrations in connection with their overseas direct investments. Under these regulations, PRC residents’ failure to comply with specified registration procedures may result in restrictions being imposed on the foreign exchange activities of the relevant PRC entity, including the payment of dividends and other distributions to its Offshore parent, as well as restrictions on capital inflows from the Offshore entity to the PRC entity, including restrictions on the ability to contribute additional capital to the PRC entity.

 

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It is possible that some or all of our shareholders who are PRC residents will not comply with all the requirements required by Circular 37 or related rules. Any future failure by any of our shareholders who is a PRC resident, or controlled by a PRC resident, to comply with relevant requirements under these regulations could subject us to fines or legal sanctions imposed by the PRC government, including restrictions on our subsidiaries’ ability to pay dividends or make distributions to us and our ability to increase our investment in these subsidiaries and restrict our cross-border investment activities, which could in turn limit our ability to distribute dividends to holders of our ordinary shares and ADSs.

Regulations relating to tax self-examinations by entertainment companies may adversely affect our business and increase our operating costs.

Beginning October 10, 2018, tax authorities notified film and television production companies, entertainment brokerage companies, entertainment companies, and high-income participants in the film and television industries that they must conduct self-examinations and self-corrections of their tax returns beginning in 2016, and specified that enterprises and their employees who conscientiously examine and correct their tax returns and voluntarily pay taxes before the end of December 2018 will be exempted from administrative penalties. If tax authorities believe that the self-examination and self-correction conducted by Tian Jinhu, our video content production company, is inappropriate, or if we do not pay tax in the amounts that tax authorities believe we should, tax authorities may subject us to administrative penalties or other sanctions, which could cause our business to suffer or result in an increase in our operating costs.

We may be subject to fines and legal sanctions if we or our employees who are PRC citizens fail to comply with PRC regulations relating to employee share options.

Under the Administration Measures on Individual Foreign Exchange Control issued by the People’s Bank of China (the “PBOC”) and the related Implementation Rules issued by the SAFE, all foreign exchange transactions involving an employee share incentive plan, share option plan or similar plan participated in by PRC citizens may be conducted only with the approval of the SAFE. Under the Notice of Issues Related to the Foreign Exchange Administration for Domestic Individuals Participating in Stock Incentive Plan of Overseas Listed Company (“Offshore Share Incentives Rule”), issued by the SAFE on February 15, 2012, PRC citizens who are granted share options, restricted share units or restricted shares by an overseas publicly listed company are required to register with the SAFE or its authorized branch and comply with a series of other requirements. The Offshore Share Incentives Rule also provides procedures for registration of incentive plans, the opening and use of special accounts for the purpose of participation in incentive plans, and the remittance of funds for exercising options and gains realized from such exercises and sales of such options or the underlying shares, both outside and inside the PRC. We, and any of our PRC employees or members of our board of directors who have been granted share options, restricted share units or restricted shares, are subject to the Administration Measures on Individual Foreign Exchange Control, the related Implementation Rules, and the Offshore Share Incentives Rule. Circular 37 was the first regulation to regulate the foreign exchange registration of a non-listed special purpose vehicle’s equity incentives granted to PRC residents, there remains uncertainty with respect to its implementation. If we, or any of our PRC employees or members of our board of directors who receive or hold options, restricted share units or restricted shares in us or any of our subsidiaries, fail to comply with these registration and other procedural requirements, we may be subject to fines and other legal or administrative sanctions.

If the status of certain of our PRC subsidiaries and VIEs as “High and New Technology Enterprises,” “Key National Software Enterprises” or “Software Enterprises” is revoked or expires, we may have to pay additional taxes or make up any previously unpaid tax and may be subject to a higher tax rate, which would adversely affect our results of operations.

The CIT Law generally imposes a uniform income tax rate of 25% on all enterprises, but grants preferential treatment to HNTEs, pursuant to which HNTEs are instead subject to an income tax rate of 15%, subject to a requirement that they re-apply for HNTE status every three years. During this three-year period, an HNTE must conduct a qualification self-review each year to ensure it meets the HNTE criteria, and will be subject to the regular 25% income tax rate for any year in which it does not meet the criteria. The CIT Law and its implementing regulations provide that a “Software Enterprise” can enjoy an income tax exemption for two years beginning with its first profitable year and a 50% reduction to a rate of 12.5% for the subsequent three years. An entity that qualifies as a KNSE can enjoy a further reduced preferential income tax rate of 10%. Enterprises wishing to enjoy the status of Software Enterprises or KNSEs must perform a self-assessment each year to ensure they meet the relevant criteria for qualification. If at any time during the preferential tax treatment years an enterprise uses the preferential CIT rates but the relevant authorities determine that it failed to meet applicable criteria for qualification, the authorities may revoke the enterprise’s Software Enterprise or KNSE status, as applicable.

There are uncertainties regarding future interpretation and implementation of the CIT Law and its implementing regulations. It is possible that the HNTE, Software Enterprise, and KNSE qualifications of our operating entities currently qualified as such, or their entitlement to an income tax exemption or refund of their VAT, will be challenged by higher level tax authorities and be repealed, or that there will be future implementing regulations that are inconsistent with current interpretation of the CIT Law. For example, in 2016 the SAT issued a circular with new criteria for certifying a Software Enterprise. Therefore, it is possible that the qualification of one or more of our PRC Subsidiaries or VIEs as a Software Enterprise will be challenged in the future or that such companies will not be able to take any further actions, such as re-application for Software Enterprise qualification, to enjoy such preferential tax treatment. If those operating entities cannot qualify for such preferential income tax status, our effective income tax rate will be increased significantly and we may have to pay additional income tax to make up the previously unpaid tax, which would reduce our net income.

 

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We may be deemed a PRC resident enterprise under the CIT Law and be subject to PRC taxation on our worldwide income.

The CIT Law provides that enterprises established outside of China whose “de facto management bodies” are located within China are considered “resident enterprises” and are generally subject to the uniform 25% enterprise income tax rate on their worldwide income (including dividend income received from subsidiaries). Under the Implementing Regulations for the Corporate Income Tax Law, “de facto management body” is defined as a body that has material and overall management and control over the manufacturing and business operations, personnel and human resources, finances and treasury, and acquisition and disposition of properties and other assets of an enterprise. Since substantially all of our operational management is currently based in the PRC, it is unclear whether PRC tax authorities would require (or permit) us to be treated as a PRC-resident enterprise. If we are treated as a resident enterprise for PRC tax purposes, we will be subject to PRC tax on our worldwide income at the 25% uniform tax rate, which could have an impact on our effective tax rate and an adverse effect on our net income and the results of operations, although dividends distributed from our PRC Subsidiaries to us could be exempted from Chinese dividend withholding tax, since such income is exempted under the CIT Law for PRC-resident recipients.

Dividends payable by us to our foreign investors and profits on the sale of our shares may be subject to tax under PRC tax laws.

Under the Implementing Regulations for the Corporate Income Tax Law, PRC income tax at the rate of 10% is applicable to dividends payable to investors that are “non-resident enterprises,” not having an establishment or place of business in the PRC, or which do have such establishment or place of business but the relevant income is not effectively connected with the establishment or place of business, to the extent that such dividends have their sources within the PRC. Similarly, any profits realized through the transfer of shares by such investors are also subject to 10% PRC income tax if such profits are regarded as income derived from sources within the PRC. It is unclear whether dividends we pay with respect to our share, or the profits you may realize from the transfer of our shares, would be treated as income derived from sources within the PRC and be subject to PRC tax. If we are required under the Implementing Regulations for the Corporate Income Tax Law to withhold PRC income tax on dividends payable to our non-PRC investors that are “non-resident enterprises,” or if you are required to pay PRC income tax on the transfer of our shares, the value of your investment in our shares may be materially and adversely affected.

Restrictions on currency exchange may limit our ability to use our revenues effectively.

Substantially all of our revenues and operating expenses are denominated in RMB. The RMB is not freely tradable in “capital account” transactions, which include foreign direct investment. Foreign exchange transactions classified as capital account transactions are subject to limitations and require approval from the SAFE. This could affect our China-Based Subsidiaries’ ability to obtain foreign exchange through debt or equity financing, including by means of loans or capital contributions from us.

Further, although the RMB is at present freely convertible in “current account” transactions, which include dividends, and trade and service-related foreign exchange transactions, and our China-Based Subsidiaries may purchase and retain foreign exchange for settlement of such transactions, including payment of dividends, without the approval of the SAFE, the relevant PRC governmental authorities may limit or eliminate our ability to purchase and retain foreign currencies in the future.

Since a significant amount of our future revenues are likely to be in the form of RMB, these existing restrictions, and any future restrictions, on currency exchange may limit our ability to use revenues generated in RMB to fund our business activities outside of China, or to make expenditures denominated in foreign currencies.

We may suffer currency exchange losses if the RMB depreciates relative to the U.S. dollar.

Our reporting currency is the U.S. dollar. However, substantially all of our revenues are denominated in RMB. In July 2005, China reformed its exchange rate regime by establishing a managed floating exchange rate regime based on market supply and demand with reference to a basket of currencies. The RMB is no longer pegged to the U.S. dollar and the exchange rate will have some flexibility. Hence, considering the floating exchange rate regime, if the RMB depreciates relative to the U.S. dollar, our revenues as expressed in our U.S. dollar financial statements will decline in value. Also, we currently have outstanding loans from overseas banks that are denominated in U.S. dollars. To repay these loans, we will need to first convert our cash denominated in RMB into U.S. dollars. If the RMB depreciates relative to the U.S. dollar, we will have to use a larger amount of cash in RMB for any such loan repayment.

 

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On May 19, 2007, the PBOC announced a policy to expand the maximum daily floating range of RMB trading prices against the U.S. dollar in the inter-bank spot foreign exchange market from 0.3% to 0.5%. While the international reactions to the RMB revaluation and widening of the RMB’s daily trading band have generally been positive, with the increased floating range of the RMB’s value against foreign currencies, the RMB may appreciate or depreciate significantly in value against the U.S. dollar or other foreign currencies in the long term, depending on the fluctuation of the basket of currencies against which it is currently valued. On June 19, 2010, the PBOC announced that it has decided to proceed further with the reform of the RMB exchange rate regime to enhance the flexibility of the RMB exchange rate and that emphasis would be placed on reflecting market supply and demand with reference to a basket of currencies. While so indicating its intention to make the RMB’s exchange rate more flexible, the PBOC ruled out any sharp fluctuations in the currency or a one-off adjustment. On April 16, 2012, the PBOC enlarged the floating band of RMB’s trading prices against the U.S. dollar in the inter-bank spot foreign exchange market from 0.5% to 1% around the middle rate released by the China Foreign Exchange Trade System each day. In February 2014, the center point of the currency’s official trading band hit 6.1146, representing appreciation of more than 11.7% since June 19, 2010. On March 17, 2014, the PBOC announced a policy to further expand the maximum daily floating range of RMB trading prices against the U.S. dollar in the inter-bank spot foreign exchange market to 2%. Through 2016 the RMB continued its significant depreciation. The center point of the currency’s official trading band was 6.5486 in January 2016, and was 6.9189 in December 2016, which contributed to a decline in our revenues reported in U.S. dollars. Also in 2018, the RMB exchange rate against the U.S. dollar depreciated significantly, mainly due to changes in political and economic conditions, including trade friction between China and the U.S. The center-point of the currency’s official trading band was 6.4395 in January 2018, and was 6.8844 in December 2018, which lead to a decline in our revenues reported in U.S. dollars and an increase in the amount of cash in RMB necessary to meet our repayment obligations for U.S. dollar-denominated Offshore loans. In addition, there are very limited hedging transactions available in China to reduce our exposure to exchange rate fluctuations. 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 successfully hedge our exposure, if at all. In addition, our currency exchange losses may be magnified by PRC exchange control regulations that restrict our ability to convert RMB into U.S. dollars.

Risks Related to Our Ordinary Shares and ADSs

We are a Cayman Islands company and, because judicial precedent regarding the rights of shareholders is more limited under Cayman Islands law than that under U.S. law, our shareholders may have less protection for their shareholder rights than they would under U.S. law.

Our corporate affairs are governed by our Memorandum and Articles of Association, the Companies Law of the Cayman Islands and the common law of the Cayman Islands. The rights of shareholders to take action against our directors, actions by minority shareholders, and the fiduciary responsibilities of our directors 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 English common law, which has persuasive, and in some cases binding, authority on a court in the Cayman Islands. The rights of our shareholders and the fiduciary responsibilities of our directors 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, such as the State of Delaware, where many United States-based corporations are organized. In particular, the Cayman Islands has a less developed body of securities laws as compared to the United States, and provides significantly less protection to investors. In addition, shareholders in Cayman Islands companies may not have standing to initiate a shareholder derivative action in U.S. federal courts. As a result, our public shareholders may have more difficulty in protecting their interests through actions against us, our management, our directors or our major shareholders than would shareholders of a corporation incorporated in a jurisdiction in the United States such as Delaware.

It may be difficult to enforce any civil judgments against us or our Board of Directors or officers, because most of our operating and/or fixed assets are located outside the United States.

We are incorporated in the Cayman Islands, all of our assets are located outside the United States, and a substantial portion of our operations are conducted in the PRC. In addition, most of our directors and executive officers are nationals and residents of countries other than the United States (primarily the PRC or Hong Kong) and most, if not all, of the assets of these persons are located outside the United States. As a result, it may be difficult for holders of our ADSs to effect service of process within the United States upon these persons. It may also be difficult for holders of our ADSs to enforce in Cayman Islands courts or PRC courts judgments obtained in U.S. courts based on the civil liability provisions of the U.S. federal securities laws or of the securities laws of any state of the United States against us and our officers and directors.

The trading prices of our ADSs and of the common stock of our predecessor Sohu.com Inc. have been volatile, and the trading price of our ADSs will likely continue to be volatile. The price of our ADSs may fluctuate significantly, which may make it difficult for shareholders to sell our ADSs when desired or at attractive prices.

Our ADSs, each representing one ordinary share, have traded on the NASDAQ Global Select Market in place of the common stock of Sohu.com Inc. since the dissolution of Sohu.com Inc. on May 31, 2018. During 2016 the trading price of Sohu.com Inc.’s common stock ranged from a low of $32.6 per share to a high of $55.21 per share, and during 2017 the trading price of Sohu.com Inc.’s common stock ranged from a low of $34.59 per share to a high of $70.86 per share. During 2018, the trading price of per share of Sohu.com Inc.’s common stock, until May 31, 2018, and the trading price of our ADSs, after May 31, 2018, ranged from a low of $15.89 per share to a high of $47.98. On March 15, 2019, the closing price of our ADSs was $19.38.

In addition, the NASDAQ Global Select Market and the NYSE have from time to time experienced significant price and volume fluctuations that have affected the market prices for the securities of technology companies, and particularly Internet-related companies.

The price for our ADSs may fluctuate in response to a number of events and factors, such as quarterly variations in operating results, announcements of technological innovations or new products and media properties by us or our competitors, changes in financial estimates and recommendations by securities analysts, the operating and stock price performance of other companies that investors may deem comparable to us, and news reports relating to trends in our markets or general economic conditions. Additionally, volatility or a lack of positive performance in our ADS price may adversely affect our ability to retain key employees, all of whom have been granted share options or other share incentive awards.

 

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Holders of our ADSs may be subject to limitations on transfer of their ADSs.

Our ADSs are transferable on the books of the depositary. However, the depositary may close its transfer books at any time or from time to time when it deems it expedient in connection with the performance of its duties. In addition, the depositary may refuse to deliver, transfer or register transfers of ADSs generally when our books or the books of the depositary are closed, or at any time if we or the depositary deem it 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 governing our ADSs (the “Deposit Agreement”), which was filed as an exhibit to our Registration Statement on Form F-4 (File No. 333-224069) filed with the SEC on April 19, 2018 and is filed as an exhibit to this annual report, or for any other reason.

Holders of ADSs have limited voting rights and may not receive voting materials in time to be able to exercise their right to vote.

Except as described in this annual report and in the Deposit Agreement, holders of our ADSs will not be able to exercise voting rights attaching to the shares represented by our ADSs on an individual basis. Holders of our ADSs may instruct the depositary how to exercise the voting rights attaching to the shares represented by the ADSs. You may not receive voting materials in time to instruct the depositary to vote, and it is possible that direct holders of ADSs, or persons who hold their ADSs through brokers, dealers or other third parties, will not have the opportunity to exercise a right to vote.

ADS holders’ right to participate in any future rights offerings may be limited, which may cause dilution to their holdings and ADS holders may not receive cash dividends if it is impractical to make them available to such holders.

We may from time to time distribute rights to our shareholders, including rights to acquire our securities. However, we cannot make rights available to ADS holders in the United States unless we register the securities to which the rights relate under the Securities Act of 1933 (the “Securities Act”), or an exemption from registration requirements is available. Also, under the Deposit Agreement, the depositary bank will not make rights available to ADS holders unless the distribution to ADS holders of both the rights and any related securities are either registered under the Securities Act or exempted 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. Moreover, we may not be able to establish an exemption from registration under the Securities Act. Accordingly, holders of our ADSs may be unable to participate in our rights offerings and may experience dilution in their holdings.

In addition, the depositary of our ADSs has agreed to pay to ADS holders the cash dividends or other distributions it or the custodian receives on our ordinary shares or other deposited securities after deducting its fees and expenses. ADS holders will receive these distributions in proportion to the number of ordinary shares such holders’ ADSs represent. However, the depositary may, at its discretion, decide that it is inequitable or impractical to make a distribution available to any holders of ADSs. For example, the depositary may determine that it is not practicable to distribute certain property through the mail, or that the value of certain distributions may be less than the cost of mailing them, or that the distribution requires certain governmental approval, such as requirement for registration or approval for currency conversion. In these cases, the depositary may decide not to distribute that property and ADSs holders will not receive that distribution.

You will experience dilution as outstanding share options are exercised

You will experience dilution to the extent that additional ordinary shares are issued upon exercise of outstanding options that we may grant from time to time. As of December 31, 2018, there were outstanding options for the purchase of 42,250 ordinary shares at a nominal price.

We may need additional capital and may sell additional ADSs or other equity securities or incur indebtedness, which could result in additional dilution to our shareholders or increase our debt service obligations.

We may require additional cash resources due to changed business conditions or other future developments, including any investments or acquisitions we may decide to pursue. If our cash resources are insufficient to satisfy our cash requirements, we may seek to sell additional equity or debt securities or obtain a credit facility. The sale of additional equity securities or equity-linked debt securities could result in additional dilution to our shareholders. The incurrence of indebtedness would result in debt service obligations and could result in operating and financing covenants that would restrict our operations. We cannot assure you that financing will be available in amounts or on terms acceptable to us, if at all.

Substantial future sales of our ADSs or ordinary shares in the public market, or the perception that these sales could occur, could cause the price of our ADSs to decline.

Additional sales of our ADSs or ordinary shares in the public market, or the perception that these sales could occur, could cause the market price of our ADSs to decline. As of December 31, 2018, there were 39,228,538 of our ordinary shares outstanding. As of December 31, 2018, there were outstanding options for the purchase of 42,250 ordinary shares at a nominal price. In addition, we may grant or sell additional options, restricted shares or other share-based awards in the future under our share incentive plan to our management, employees and other persons, the settlement and sale of which may further dilute our shares and drive down the price of our ADSs.

 

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We believe that we may be classified as a passive foreign investment company, or PFIC, for the 2018 taxable year, which would likely result in adverse United States federal income tax consequences to U.S. holders of our ADSs or ordinary shares.

We believe that we may have been classified as a PFIC for United States federal income tax purposes for our 2018 taxable year ended November 30, 2018. There can be no assurance that we will not continue to be classified as a PFIC in the current taxable year or in any future taxable year. The determination of whether we would continue to be treated as a PFIC is based in significant part on our operations and the composition of our earnings and assets (including goodwill) for a given taxable year, including the valuation of our assets based on the market price of our ADSs.

If we are treated as a PFIC for any taxable year during which a U.S. holder (as defined under “Taxation—United States Federal Income Taxation—Passive Foreign Investment Company”) holds an ADS or an ordinary share, certain adverse United States federal income tax consequences likely would apply to such U.S. holder. See “Taxation—United States Federal Income Taxation—Passive Foreign Investment Company” in Item 10 of this annual report.

If we are a PFIC, a U.S. holder of our ADSs or ordinary shares could make a variety of elections that might alleviate certain of the tax consequences referred to above, and one of these elections may be made retroactively. However, it is expected that the conditions necessary for making certain of such elections will not apply in the case of our ADSs or ordinary shares. See “Taxation—United States Federal Income Taxation—Passive Foreign Investment Company” in Item 10 of this annual report.

U.S. holders and prospective holders of our ADSs are urged to consult their own tax advisors regarding the application of the PFIC rules to an investment in our ADSs or ordinary shares.

Press reports in 2011 concerning possible increased scrutiny by Chinese authorities of the VIE structure used by us and various other Chinese companies publicly-traded in the United States appear to have created concern at the time among investors and to have caused the price of the ADSs of various Chinese companies, including us, that are publicly traded in the United States to drop, and similar reports in the future could have a similar adverse effect on the price of our ADSs

In 2011 various prominent western news outlets reported that the MOFCOM and the China Securities Regulatory Commission (the “CSRC”), among other Chinese regulatory authorities, might be considering increased scrutiny or enhanced regulation of Chinese companies that use VIE structures, such as we do, as a means of complying with Chinese laws restricting foreign ownership of certain businesses in China, including online game businesses such as ours. Some of such news reports also sought to draw a connection between accounting issues at certain Chinese companies, which were widely reported at the time, and the use of VIE structures. Such news reports appear to have had the effect of causing significant drops at the time in the market prices of the shares of many Chinese companies, including us. It is possible that in the future there will be increased scrutiny or enhanced regulation by Chinese regulatory authorities of Chinese companies, including us, that use VIE structures. See “If the PRC government determines that the VIE structure for operating our business does not comply with applicable PRC government restrictions on foreign investment in telecommunication industry, we could face severe penalties.” In addition, while we are not aware of any causal connection between the reported accounting scandals and the use of VIE structures, it is possible that holders or potential purchasers of our ADSs will believe that such a connection exists. Any of such circumstances could lead to further loss of investor confidence in Chinese companies and cause fluctuations in the market prices of our ADSs and, if such prices were to drop sharply, could subject us to shareholder litigation, which could cause the price for our shares to drop further.

A small group of our existing shareholders, whose interests may differ from other shareholders, hold a significant percentage of our outstanding shares.

Dr. Charles Zhang, our Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, beneficially owns approximately 24% of our outstanding ordinary shares and is our largest shareholder. Our executive officers and members of our Board of Directors as a group, including Dr. Zhang, beneficially own approximately 25% of our outstanding ordinary shares. Accordingly these shareholders will have significant influence in determining the outcome of any corporate transaction or other matters submitted to the shareholders for approval, including mergers, consolidations, the sale of all or substantially all of our assets, election of directors and other significant corporate actions. They will also have significant influence in preventing or causing a change in control. In addition, without the consent of these shareholders, we may be prevented from entering into transactions that could be beneficial to us. The interests of these shareholders may differ from the interests of the other shareholders.

Certain provisions of our Memorandum and Articles of Association, Cayman Islands law regarding mergers and similar arrangements, and our Shareholders’ Rights Agreement could delay or deter a change in control.

Some provisions of our Memorandum and Articles of Association may make it more difficult to acquire our company or effect a change in control of our company, even if an acquisition or change in control would be in the interest of our shareholders or if an acquisition or change in control would provide our shareholders or holders of our ADSs with a premium for their shares over then current market prices. For example, our Memorandum and Articles of Association provides for the division of our Board of Directors into two classes with staggered two-year terms and provides that shareholders have no right to take action by written consent and may not call extraordinary general meeting of shareholders. In addition under Cayman Islands law, a merger of our company with another company would require approval of the holder of not less than two-thirds of our outstanding ordinary shares. Each of these provisions may make it more difficult for a third party to gain control of our board in connection with, or obtain any necessary shareholder approval for, a proposed acquisition or change in control.

 

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In addition, in January 2019 we entered into a Shareholders’ Rights Agreement with The Bank of New York Mellon, as Rights Agent, pursuant to which if a person or group acquires more than 15% or more of our outstanding ordinary shares (including ordinary shares represented by our ADSs), except as specifically permitted under the agreement, all our other shareholders and holders of our ADSs would have the right to purchase securities from us at a substantial discount to those securities’ fair market value, thus causing substantial dilution to the holdings of the person or group which acquires more than 15%. The Shareholders’ Rights Agreement may inhibit a change in control and, therefore, could adversely affect our shareholders’ ability to realize a premium over the then-prevailing market price for our ADSs in connection with such a transaction.

The power of our Board of Directors to designate and issue preferred shares could have an adverse effect on holders of our ordinary shares and ADSs.

Our Memorandum and Articles of Association authorizes our Board of Directors to designate and issue one or more series of preferred shares, having rights and preferences as the board may determine, and any such designations and issuances could have an adverse effect on the rights of holders of our ordinary shares and our ADSs.

Proceedings instituted by the Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) against PRC affiliates of the “big four” accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm, could result in our financial statements being determined to not be in compliance with the requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”).

Starting in 2011, the PRC affiliates of the “big four” accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm, were affected by a conflict between U.S. and PRC law. Specifically, for certain U.S.-listed companies operating and audited in mainland China, the SEC and the U.S. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (the “PCAOB”) sought to obtain from the PRC big four affiliate firms access to their audit work papers and related documents. The firms were, however, advised and directed that under PRC law they could not respond directly to the U.S. regulators on those requests, and that requests by foreign regulators for access to such papers in China had to be channeled through the CSRC. On December 7, 2018, the SEC and the PCAOB issued a joint statement highlighting continued challenges faced by these U.S. regulators in their oversight of financial statement audits of U.S.-listed companies with significant operations in China. However, it remains unclear what further actions the SEC and the PCAOB will take to address the problem.

In late 2012, the impasse led the SEC to commence administrative proceedings under Rule 102(e) of its Rules of Practice and under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 against the PRC big four affiliate accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm. A first instance trial of the proceedings in July 2013 in the SEC’s internal administrative court resulted in an adverse judgment against the firms. The administrative law judge proposed penalties on the firms, including a temporary suspension of their right to practice before the SEC, although that proposed penalty did not take effect pending review by the Commissioners of the SEC. On February 6, 2015, before a review by the Commissioners had taken place, the firms reached a settlement with the SEC. Under the settlement, the SEC accepted that future requests by the SEC for the production of documents would normally be made to the CSRC. The firms were to receive matching requests, and were required to abide by a detailed set of procedures with respect to such requests, which in substance required them to facilitate production via the CSRC. If they failed to meet specified criteria during a period of four years starting from the settlement date, the SEC retained authority to impose a variety of additional remedial measures on the firms depending on the nature of the failure. 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 additional remedial measures are imposed on the Chinese affiliates of the “big four” accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm, we could be unable to timely file future financial statements in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act.

In the event that the Chinese affiliates of the “big four” become subject to additional legal challenges by the SEC or the PCAOB, depending upon the final outcome, listed companies in the United States with major PRC operations could find it difficult or impossible to retain auditors in respect of their operations in China. If our independent registered public accounting firm was denied, even temporarily, the ability to practice before the SEC and we were unable to timely find another registered public accounting firm to audit and issue an opinion on our financial statements, our financial statements could be determined not to be in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act. Such a determination could ultimately lead to the delisting of our ADSs and ordinary shares from the Nasdaq Global Select Market or termination of the registration of our ADSs and ordinary shares under the Exchange Act, or both, which would substantially reduce or effectively terminate the trading of our ADSs in the United States.

Risks Related to Our Financing Activities

Sogou’s and Changyou’s statuses as publicly-traded companies that are controlled, but less than wholly-owned, by us could have an adverse effect on Sohu.

Sogou’s American depositary shares (“Sogou ADSs”) are listed and traded on the New York Stock Exchange and Changyou’s American depositary shares (“Changyou ADSs”) are listed and traded on the NASDAQ Global Select Market. Given that Sogou and Changyou are not wholly-owned subsidiaries of Sohu, it is possible that Sohu’s, Sogou’s, and Changyou’s interests could diverge in the future, as we may need to consider the interests of shareholders of Sogou or Changyou other than Sohu. If Sogou’s or Changyou’s interests differ from, or are contrary to, our interests, our business operations may be adversely affected, and Sohu may have disagreements with Sogou or Changyou on certain matters that could also have an adverse effect on our business.

 

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If we default on loans that we have taken out to fund the operations of our Sohu businesses, we could lose valuable assets that we have pledged to secure the loans, which include two buildings in Beijing, Sohu’s accounts receivable, and our shares in Changyou, as well as other valuable assets.

In order to fund the cash needs of our Sohu businesses, we have entered into loan arrangements with Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Limited (“ICBC”), China Merchants Bank (“CMB”), the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (“HSBC”), and Changyou. Under these loan arrangements, Sohu pledged one of its Beijing buildings to secure advances from ICBC, another of its Beijing buildings to secure advances from CMB, certain of its accounts receivable to secure advances from HSBC, and 21,847,751 of its Class B Ordinary Shares in Changyou to secure advances from Changyou. If Sohu were to default under any of these loan arrangements, the affected lender or lenders would be entitled, among other remedies, to seize the corresponding pledged assets, all of which have significant value, and could potentially also seize other valuable assets of Sohu, to cover any shortfalls in amounts due under the loans. See Note 10: “Fair Value Measurements—Other Financial Instruments—Short Term Bank Loans” and “—Long Term Payables” and Note 9: “Intra-Group Loan and Share Pledge Arrangement” to our audited consolidated financial statements, which begin on page F-1 of this report.

Risks Related to Sogou Inc.

Risks Related to Sogou’s Business

The online search industry in China is extremely competitive, and if Sogou is unable to compete successfully, it will be difficult for Sogou to maintain or increase Sogou’s revenues and profitability.

Sogou operates its business in an extremely competitive industry. Sogou faces intense competition in every aspect of its business, including competition for users, advertisers, technology, and talent. Sogou faces competition for its search and search-related services in China primarily from Baidu Inc., or Baidu, and ShenMa, operated by UCWeb Inc., or UCWeb, which is a subsidiary of Alibaba Group Holding Limited, or Alibaba. Both Baidu and Alibaba have considerably greater financial and technical resources available to them than Sogou does. Sogou also faces competition for both users and advertisers from websites and mobile applications that provide specialized search services in China, including travel services and information platforms such as Ctrip and Qunar; group-buy platforms such as Meituan Dianping; online classified advertisement platforms such as 58.com; and newsfeeds such as Toutiao. Sogou competes for advertisers not only with Internet companies, but also with other types of advertising media such as newspapers and magazines, billboards and bus advertisements, television, and radio. It is also possible that multinational businesses with considerably greater financial and other resources than Sogou’s could expand their offerings in China, making it harder for Sogou to gain market share.

Sogou’s existing and potential competitors compete with it for users and advertisers on the basis of the quality and quantity of search results; the features, availability, and ease of use of products and services; and the number and quality of advertising distribution channels. They also compete with Sogou for talent with technological expertise, which is critical to the sustained development of Sogou’s products and services. If Sogou is unable to differentiate itself from its competitors in each of these areas, Sogou may not be able to maintain or increase its user and advertiser base, which would have an adverse impact on its business, results of operations, and growth potential. In addition, Sogou may have difficulty in successfully promoting and differentiating its new products, services, and features as a result of the market power of its competitors.

Sogou must expand its user base to grow its business, and Sogou must continually innovate and adapt its business in an evolving online search industry in order to do so. If Sogou fails to continue to innovate and introduce products and services to enhance user experience, Sogou may not be able to generate sufficient user traffic to remain competitive.

The Internet industry in general and the online search industry in particular have been undergoing rapid changes in technology and in user preferences. Sogou’s future success in expanding its user base will depend on its ability to respond to, as well as anticipate and apply, rapidly evolving technologies. Sogou must adapt its existing products and services and develop new products and product areas that will meet the evolving demands of users, deliver attractive experiences for its users that enhance user engagement, and cause its users to return to its services and increase the frequency of their searches on Sogou’s platforms. Sogou’s development and introduction of new products, features, and services are subject to additional risks and uncertainties. Unexpected technical, operational, distribution, or other problems could delay or prevent the development and introduction of one or more of Sogou’s currently planned and any future new products and services. There are constant innovations in the market regarding search services, search and search-related advertising, and providing information to users. If Sogou is unable to predict user preferences or industry changes, or if Sogou is unable to modify its products and services on a timely basis, Sogou may lose users. Sogou’s operating results will also suffer if its innovations are not responsive to the needs of its users, are not appropriately timed with market opportunity, or are not effectively brought to market. As search technology continues to develop, there may be offered in the China market products and services that are, or that are perceived to be, substantially similar to or better than those generated by Sogou’s search services. As worldwide focus on the development of AI technologies has intensified, it has become increasingly important to apply AI technologies to online search products and features in order to attract and retain users, and we cannot be sure that Sogou will be able to apply such technologies successfully.

 

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Sogou’s competitors may develop and offer new products, services, and features that are similar to Sogou’s and may introduce them to the market before Sogou can, and such new offerings from its competitors may be found by users to be more attractive than Sogou’s. Moreover, we cannot be sure that any of Sogou’s new products, services, and features will attract additional users and lead to the generation of incremental revenue.

As users increasingly use mobile devices to access search services and other Internet services in China, Sogou will need to continue to design, develop, promote, and operate new products and services tailored for mobile devices. Sogou’s design and development of new products and services that are optimized for mobile devices may not be successful. Sogou may encounter difficulties with the installation and delivery of such new products and services, and they may not function smoothly. As new mobile devices are released or updated, Sogou may encounter problems in developing and upgrading its products and services for the new releases and updates, and Sogou may need to devote significant resources to such development and upgrades. If Sogou is not successful in adapting its offerings for mobile devices as described above, maintenance and growth of its business will be impeded.

If Sogou’s collaboration with Tencent is terminated or curtailed, Sogou’s business and prospects for growth will be adversely affected.

Sogou has extensive collaboration with Tencent, one of its largest shareholders. Sogou Search is the default general search engine in various Tencent products that provide general search offerings, such as Mobile QQ Browser, qq.com, and the PC Web directories daohang.qq.com and hao.qq.com. Approximately 36% of Sogou’s total search traffic, measured by page views, was contributed by Tencent’s Internet properties in December 2018. Sogou Weixin Search is currently the sole general search engine with access to all content published on Weixin Official Accounts, but it is possible that Tencent will grant such access to other general search engines. We cannot assure you that Sogou will be able to maintain the current level of cooperation with Tencent in the future. If Sogou’s collaborative relationship with Tencent is terminated or curtailed due to Tencent’s initiating its own general search service or partnering with other search engine companies, or if any of the commercial terms were to be revised or made less favorable to Sogou, or if Tencent does not continue to deliver to Sogou an adequate level of access to its platforms or adequately promote Sogou’s products and services, Sogou’s business and prospects will be adversely affected.

Sogou’s efforts to expand its collaboration with Tencent may not be successful.

In September 2018, Sogou and Tencent agreed to extend until September 2023 the period during which Sogou Search will be the default general search engine for Tencent’s products that provide general search offerings in accordance with Sogou’s existing business collaboration arrangements with Tencent. In addition, Sogou and Tencent have agreed to continue from September 2018 until September 2019 Sogou’s initiative for the integration into the existing Weixin/WeChat search service of a search function powered by Sogou Search that allows Weixin/WeChat users to access Internet information outside Weixin/WeChat and have agreed that Sogou Search will be the preferred third-party search function to power such a Weixin/WeChat search function for that period provided Sogou Search meets “Tencent’s requirements for user experience,” and that the arrangement may be extended for additional successive one-year periods through September 2023 if offering Sogou Search will not “harm the user experience.” It is difficult for us to predict the potential impact of the integration of Sogou Search to power such a Weixin/WeChat search function measured under the standards of “Tencent’s requirements for user experience” and/or “harm the user experience.” The potential for growth of Sogou’s business through such integration will be limited if Tencent does not make Sogou Search the preferred search function or decides not to extend the arrangement for such integration and a Tencent search function or a search function of one of Sogou’s competitors is given priority over Sogou’s in Weixin/WeChat.

Sogou’s existing business and its expansion strategy depend on certain additional key collaborative arrangements, and any inability to maintain or develop such relationships could have an adverse effect on Sogou’s business and prospects for growth.

Sogou’s existing business, and its strategy for developing its business, involve maintaining and developing various types of collaborations with third parties, which provide it with access to additional user traffic, search services, products, and technology. For example, Sogou’s Wise Doctor delivers healthcare information, and receives healthcare data, through partnerships that provide Sogou with access to articles written by physicians and to a PRC-government sponsored healthcare encyclopedia; Sogou’s partnership with Zhihu Technology Limited, a company that engages primarily in the business of operating an online question and answer-based knowledge and information sharing platform (“Zhihu”), provides Sogou with access to a knowledge-sharing platform; Sogou’s partnership with Microsoft’s Bing provides Sogou with the technology to provide its users with English content on the Internet that Sogou translates to Chinese in connection with its cross-language search service; and Sogou’s partnership with China Literature Limited, an online literature platform, enables its users to access literature from a large online collection. In addition, Sogou’s various partnerships with third-party Internet properties provide its advertisers significant exposure to users beyond its core search user base. We consider these collaborations to be important to Sogou’s ability to deliver attractive service, product, and content offerings to its users, in order to maintain and expand its user and advertiser bases, and we believe that it will continue to be important for Sogou to develop similar partnerships in the future. Sogou’s inability to maintain and grow such relationships could have an adverse impact on its existing business and its growth prospects.

Sogou also has existing, and hopes to develop additional, relationships with mobile device manufacturers for pre-installation of its search, input method, and related applications. If Sogou is unable to maintain and expand such relationships, the quality and reach of delivery of its services will be adversely affected, and it may also be difficult for Sogou to maintain and expand its user base and enhance awareness of its brand. In addition, Sogou’s competitors may establish the same relationships as those Sogou has, which would tend to diminish any advantage Sogou might otherwise gain from these relationships.

 

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If Sogou fails to maintain and expand its collaborations with third-party operators of Internet properties, its revenues and growth may be adversely affected.

Sogou places certain of its advertisers’ promotional links on the Internet properties of third parties, thereby expanding the base of users accessing the advertisements beyond Sogou’s own user base, and increasing Sogou’s pay-for-click revenues. If these third parties decide to use a competitor’s or their own online search services, or do not prominently display Sogou’s advertisements in comparison to those of other advertisers on their properties, or if Sogou fails to attract additional third-party operators of Internet properties, Sogou’s advertising revenues and growth may be adversely affected.

Sogou may not be able to sustain its historical growth or successfully manage any future growth.

Sogou has grown significantly over a relatively short period. Sogou’s total Web search page views grew by 22.3%, and its mobile Web search page views grew by 47.0%, on an annualized basis for the two-year period from December 2015 to December 2017, but that growth slowed to 13.6% for total Web search page views and to 22.6% for mobile Web search page views on an annualized basis for the two-year period from December 2016 to December 2018. Sogou’s revenues grew from $660.4 million for the year ended December 31, 2016, to $908.4 million for the year ended December 31, 2017, and to $1.12 billion for the year ended December 31, 2018. Sogou’s 2016 revenues were affected by tightened PRC regulation of the online advertising industry during 2016, which had an adverse impact on the search and search-related advertising market in China in general. The growth in Sogou’s revenues during 2018 was affected by slower growth in the mobile search market in China in 2018, coupled with unfavorable macroeconomic conditions that impacted the online advertising industry in general, and regulatory headwinds in certain sectors such as online games. In addition, as traffic acquisition costs continue to trend higher due to increasingly intensifying competition for channel partnerships, it could be difficult for Sogou to sustain expenditures for traffic acquisition at the same level as Sogou’s competitors, which could result in slower or flat growth, or even a reduction, in Sogou’s user traffic, which would have a negative impact on Sogou’s revenues and revenue growth prospects. Sogou may not be able to sustain a rate of growth in future periods similar to that it experienced in the past, and Sogou’s revenues may even decline. Accordingly, you should not rely on the results of any prior period as an indication of Sogou’s future financial and operating performance.

Sogou is exploring and implementing, and expects to continue to explore and implement in the future, new business initiatives, including in industries in which Sogou has limited or no experience, as well as new business models. Developing new businesses and initiatives requires significant investments of time and resources, and may present new and difficult technological, operational, and legal challenges, as well as subject Sogou to additional regulatory risks. For example, Sogou has initiated a pilot online lending and microcredit program using Sogou’s own credit risk management. The risk of nonpayment of loans is inherent in the finance business, and Sogou is subject to credit risks resulting from defaults by consumers. Any failure to effectively manage these risks may limit Sogou’s future growth and hamper Sogou’s business strategy.

Sogou depends on online advertising for a significant majority of its revenues. If Sogou fails to retain existing advertisers or attract new advertisers for its online advertising services, its business and growth prospects could be harmed.

Sogou earns most of its revenues from its search and search related advertising services. Advertisers will not use Sogou’s services if they do not find them to be effective in producing a sufficient volume of click-throughs and desired results for advertisers. Sogou’s advertisers are generally able to terminate their relationships with it at any time without penalty if they are not satisfied with its services, choose its competitors for similar services, or advertise in media channels other than Internet search. Therefore, it could be difficult for Sogou to maintain or increase its advertiser base, and its revenues and profits could decline or fail to increase.

Sogou relies on third-party advertising agencies for most of its online advertising revenues.

Sogou relies heavily on third-party advertising agencies for its sales to its advertisers. It is important that Sogou maintain good relationships with these agencies. Sogou does not enter into long-term agreements with any of the advertising agencies and we cannot assure you that Sogou will continue to maintain favorable relationships with them. Further, Sogou provides various types of discounts and rebates to advertising agencies in order to incentivize them to maximize the volume of advertising business that they bring to Sogou. In order to retain or properly incentivize Sogou’s advertising agencies, it may become necessary in the future for Sogou to increase the levels of such rebates and discounts, which could have an adverse effect on its results of operations.

If Sogou fails to maintain and enhance awareness of and loyalty to its brand, it will be difficult for Sogou to maintain and increase its user and advertiser bases.

It is critical for Sogou to maintain and further enhance its brand if Sogou is to succeed in expanding its user and advertiser bases. Sogou’s success in promoting and enhancing its brand, and its ability to remain competitive, will depend on its success in delivering superior user experience and on its marketing efforts. Enhancing Sogou’s brand awareness may require substantial marketing and promotion expenses. If Sogou is unable to maintain and enhance its brand, or incur significant marketing and promotion expenses that do not achieve anticipated business growth, or is subject to negative publicity that harms its brand, Sogou’s business and results of operations may be adversely affected.

 

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Sogou’s success depends on the continuing efforts of its senior management team and key employees, and Sogou’s business may be harmed if Sogou loses their services.

Sogou’s business heavily depends upon the services of its key executives, particularly Xiaochuan Wang, its Chief Executive Officer. If any of Sogou’s key executives is unable or unwilling to continue in his or her present position, joins a competitor, or forms a competing company, Sogou’s business may be severely disrupted. Although executive officers have entered into employment agreements, confidentiality agreements, and non-competition agreements with Sogou, the degree of protection afforded to an employer pursuant to confidentiality and non-competition undertakings by persons employed in the PRC may be more limited when compared to the degree of protection afforded with respect to employees in some other jurisdictions. Sogou does not maintain key-man life insurance for any of its key executives.

Sogou also relies on key highly-skilled personnel for its business. Given the competitive nature of the industry, and in particular Sogou’s competitors’ increasingly aggressive efforts to provide competitive compensation packages to attract talent in the markets where Sogou operates, it may be difficult for Sogou to recruit and retain qualified personnel, and the risk of members of Sogou’s key staff leaving it is high. Any such departure could have a disruptive impact on Sogou’s operations, and if Sogou is unable to recruit, retain and motivate key personnel, it may not be able to grow effectively.

Sogou’s strategy of investments in and acquiring complementary businesses and assets may fail, which could result in impairment losses.

In addition to organic growth, Sogou may take advantage of opportunities to invest in or acquire additional businesses, services, assets or technologies. However, Sogou may fail to select appropriate investment or acquisition targets, or Sogou may not be able to negotiate optimal arrangements, including arrangements to finance any acquisitions. Acquisitions and the subsequent integration of new assets and businesses into Sogou could require significant management attention and could result in a diversion of resources away from Sogou’s existing business. Investments and acquisitions could result in the use of substantial amounts of cash, increased leverage, potentially dilutive issuances of equity securities, goodwill impairment charges, amortization expenses for other intangible assets and exposure to potential liabilities of the acquired business, and the invested or acquired assets or businesses may not generate the financial results Sogou expects. Moreover, the costs of identifying and consummating these transactions may be significant. In addition to obtaining the necessary corporate governance approvals, Sogou may also need to obtain approvals and licenses from relevant governmental authorities for the acquisitions to comply with applicable laws and regulations, which could result in increased costs and delays.

Requirements of U.S. GAAP regarding the recognition of share-based compensation expense may adversely affect Sogou’s results of operations and its competitiveness in the employee marketplace.

Sogou’s performance is largely dependent on talented and highly-skilled individuals. Sogou’s future success depends on its continuing ability to identify, develop, motivate, and retain highly-skilled personnel. Sogou has a history of using low or nominally-priced employee share options as an important component of competitive pay packages, in order to align Sogou’s employees’ interests with the interests of Sogou and its shareholders and to encourage quality employees to join and remain with Sogou. Sogou has adopted guidance on accounting for share-based compensation that requires the measurement and recognition of compensation expense for all share-based compensation based on estimated fair values. As a result, Sogou’s operating results contain charges for share-based compensation expense related to employee share options. The historical and future recognition of share-based compensation in Sogou’s statements of comprehensive income has had and will have an impact on its results of operations. On the other hand, if Sogou alters its employee share incentive plans to minimize the corresponding share-based compensation expense, it may limit Sogou’s ability to continue to use share-based awards as a tool to attract and retain its employees, and it may adversely affect Sogou’s operations. In addition, there may be future changes in the U.S. GAAP requirements for recognition of share-based compensation expense, which could have similar effects on Sogou’s results operations and its competitiveness in the market for key employees.

Sogou’s user metrics and other estimates are subject to inherent challenges in measuring its operating performance, which may harm its reputation.

Sogou regularly reviews MAU, DAU, number of advertisers, page views, and other operating metrics to evaluate growth trends, measure its performance, and make strategic decisions. These metrics are calculated using internal company data, have not been validated by an independent third party, and may not be indicative of Sogou’s future financial results. 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 how Sogou’s platforms are used across a large population in China. For example, Sogou may not be able to distinguish individual users who have multiple accounts.

Errors or inaccuracies in Sogou’s metrics or data could result in incorrect business decisions and inefficiencies. For instance, if a significant understatement or overstatement of active users were to occur, Sogou might expend resources to implement unnecessary business measures or fail to take required actions to remedy an unfavorable trend. If partners or investors do not perceive Sogou’s user, geographic, or other operating metrics to accurately represent Sogou’s user base, or if Sogou discovers inaccuracies in its user, geographic, or other operating metrics, its reputation may be harmed.

 

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We have not independently verified the accuracy or completeness of data, estimates, and projections in this annual report that Sogou obtained from third party sources, and such information involves assumptions and limitations.

Certain facts, forecasts, and other statistics relating to the industries in which Sogou competes contained in this annual report have been derived from various public data sources and commissioned third-party industry reports. In connection with our preparation of this annual report, Sogou commissioned CVSC TNS Research (“CTR”) to update market research concerning the online search and AI industries in China, and Sogou also referred to market research reports of iResearch and IDC that Sogou had previously commissioned concerning the same industries in the United States. In deriving the market size of these industries, these industry consultants may have adopted different assumptions and estimates for certain metrics, such as MAU. While we generally believe such reports to be reliable, neither we nor Sogou has independently verified the accuracy or completeness of such information. Such reports may not be prepared on a comparable basis or may not be consistent with other sources.

Industry data and projections involve a number of assumptions and limitations. Industry data and market share data should be interpreted in the light of the defined industries in which Sogou operates. Any discrepancy in the interpretation of such data could lead to different measurements and projections, and actual results could differ from the projections.

Sogou may not be able to prevent others from making unauthorized use of its intellectual property, which could harm Sogou’s business and competitive position.

We regard Sogou’s patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, and other intellectual property as critical to its business. Unauthorized use of Sogou’s intellectual property by third parties may adversely affect its business and reputation. Sogou relies on a combination of intellectual property laws and contractual arrangements to protect its proprietary rights. It is often difficult to register, maintain, and enforce intellectual property rights in the PRC. Statutory laws and regulations are subject to judicial interpretation and enforcement and may not be applied consistently due to the lack of clear guidance on statutory interpretation in the PRC. In addition, contractual agreements may be breached by counterparties, and there may not be adequate remedies available to it for any such breach. Accordingly, Sogou may not be able to effectively protect its intellectual property rights or to enforce its contractual rights in China. Policing any unauthorized use of Sogou’s intellectual property is difficult and costly and the steps Sogou has taken may be inadequate to prevent the misappropriation of its intellectual property. In the event that Sogou resorts to litigation to enforce its intellectual property rights, such litigation could result in substantial costs and a diversion of its managerial and financial resources. We can provide no assurance that Sogou will prevail in such litigation. In addition, Sogou’s trade secrets may be leaked or otherwise become available to, or be independently discovered by, its competitors.

Pending or future litigation could have an adverse impact on Sogou’s financial condition and results of operations.

From time to time, Sogou has been, and may in the future be, subject to lawsuits brought by its competitors, individuals, or other entities against it. Sogou is currently involved in several lawsuits in PRC courts where its competitors instituted proceedings or asserted counterclaims against it and Sogou instituted proceedings or asserted counterclaims against its competitors. For example, there are various legal proceedings currently pending between Sogou and Baidu in which Sogou alleges that Baidu’s input method infringes certain of Sogou’s patents relating to Sogou Input Method and seeks monetary damages, while Baidu has asserted in counterclaims or in legal proceeding that Baidu has initiated against Sogou that Sogou Input Method infringes certain of Baidu’s patents, and seeks monetary damages. There is also a lawsuit pending against Sogou in which Shanghai Cishu Publications Ltd. has alleged that Sogou used vocabulary content without permission and seeks monetary damages. In addition, Sogou is subject to ongoing unfair competition claims against it brought by Baidu, UCWeb, and Qihoo 360 Technology Co., Ltd., or Qihoo360, separately, in which they allege that certain functions of Sogou Input Method unfairly divert users to Sogou, and seek monetary damages and cessation of the alleged unfair competitive practices. There are also four putative class action lawsuits that have been filed against Sogou in the United States, three in a State court in the State of California and one in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, that allege violations of U.S. securities laws in connection with Sogou’s IPO in 2017.

Where Sogou can make a reasonable estimate of the liability relating to pending litigation against it and determine that an adverse liability resulting from such litigation is probable, Sogou records a related contingent liability. As additional information becomes available, Sogou assesses the potential liability and revise estimates as appropriate. However, due to the inherent uncertainties relating to litigation, the amount of Sogou’s estimates may be inaccurate, in which case Sogou’s financial condition and results of operation may be adversely affected. In addition, the outcomes of actions Sogou institutes may not be successful or favorable to it. Lawsuits against Sogou may also generate negative publicity that significantly harms its reputation, which may adversely affect its user and advertiser base. In addition to the related cost, managing and defending litigation and related indemnity obligations can significantly divert Sogou’s management’s and Board of Directors’ attention from operating its business. Sogou may also need to pay damages or settle lawsuits with a substantial amount of cash. While we do not believe that any currently pending proceedings are likely to have a material adverse effect on Sogou’s business, financial condition, results of operations, and cash flows, if there were adverse determinations in legal proceedings against Sogou, Sogou could be required to pay substantial monetary damages or adjust its business practices, which could have an adverse effect on its financial condition and results of operations, and cash flows.

 

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Sogou is currently subject to, and in the future may from time to time face, intellectual property infringement claims, which could be time-consuming and costly to defend, and could have an adverse impact on its financial position and results of operations, particularly if Sogou is required to pay significant damages or cease offering any of its products or curtail any key features of its products.

We cannot be certain that the products, services and intellectual property used in Sogou’s normal course of business do not or will not infringe valid patents, copyrights or other intellectual property rights held by third parties. Sogou currently is, and may in the future be, subject to claims and legal proceedings relating to the intellectual property of others in the ordinary course of its business, and may in the future be required to pay damages or to agree to restrict its activities. See “—Pending or future litigation could have an adverse impact on Sogou’s financial condition and results of operations.” In particular, if Sogou is found to have violated the intellectual property rights of others, Sogou may be enjoined from using such intellectual property, may be ordered to pay damages, and may incur licensing fees or be forced to develop alternatives. Sogou may incur substantial expense in defending against third-party infringement claims, regardless of their merit. Successful infringement claims against Sogou may result in substantial monetary liability or may materially disrupt the conduct of its business by restricting or prohibiting its use of the intellectual property in question.

Sogou may not have exclusive rights to technology, trademarks, and designs that are crucial to its business.

Sogou has applied for various patents relating to its business. While Sogou has succeeded in obtaining some patents, some of its patent applications are still under examination by the State Intellectual Property Office of the PRC. Approvals of its patent applications are subject to determinations by the State Intellectual Property Office of the PRC and relevant overseas authorities that there are no prior rights in the applicable territory. In addition, Sogou has applied for initial registrations in the PRC and overseas, and/or changes in registrations relating to transfers of its Sogou logos and other of its key trademarks in the PRC, and the corresponding Chinese versions of the trademarks, so as to establish and protect its exclusive rights to these trademarks. While Sogou has succeeded in registering the trademarks for most of these marks in the PRC under certain classes, the applications for initial registration, and/or changes in registrations relating to transfers, of some marks and/or of some of trademarks under other classes are still under examination by the Trademark Office of the SAMR, and relevant overseas authorities. Approvals of Sogou’s initial trademark registration applications, and/or of changes in registrations relating to such transfers, are subject to determinations by the Trademark Office of the SAMR and relevant overseas authorities that there are no prior rights in the applicable territories. We cannot assure you that these patent and trademark applications will be approved. Any rejection of these applications could adversely affect Sogou’s rights to the affected technology, marks, and designs. In addition, even if these applications are approved, we cannot assure you that any issued patents or registered trademarks will be sufficient in scope to provide adequate protection of Sogou’s rights.

If Sogou’s search results contain information that is inaccurate or harmful to its users, its business and reputation may be adversely affected.

Sogou could be exposed to liability arising from its search results listings if information accessed through its services contains errors, and third parties may make claims against it for losses incurred in reliance on that information. Investigating and defending such claims could be expensive even if they did not result in liability, and Sogou does not carry any liability insurance against such risks.

In addition, if users do not perceive information that they access through Sogou’s search services to be authoritative, useful, and trustworthy, Sogou may not be able to retain these users or attract additional users, and its reputation, business, and results of operation may be harmed. In addition, if such content contains inaccuracies, it is possible that users will seek to hold Sogou liable for damages, because Sogou provides links to such content, even though such content is provided by third parties and any negative publicity regarding the accuracy of such content could harm its reputation, and reduce user traffic. In addition, any negative publicity or incident involving Sogou’s peer companies could have an adverse impact on its industry as a whole, which in turn could harm its reputation and reduce its user traffic. For example, in early 2016 it was widely reported that an unsuccessful experimental cancer treatment had been promoted in a sponsored search listing on a third party’s Internet property. Even though Sogou’s search results listings were not involved, we believe that the broad negative publicity surrounding the incident adversely affected the reputation of the online search industry in China in general with an adverse impact on Sogou’s user traffic and results of operations in 2016. Another example is in 2018, Sogou’s search results contained an advertisement from Douyin (a video clip platform from Toutiao.com), which shows disrespect to the heroes. This incident caused Sogou temporarily suspend its online advertising service for ten days (July 1st to 10th) and actively cooperate with the investigation.

Sogou may be subject to regulatory investigations and sanctions for inappropriate or illegal content that is accessed through its search results.

The online search industry in China is subject to extensive regulation. If content accessed through Sogou’s search services includes information that PRC governmental authorities find illegal or inappropriate, Sogou may be required to curtail or even shut down its search services, and Sogou may be subject to other penalties. Although Sogou seeks to prevent fraudulent or otherwise illegal or inappropriate websites and information from being included in its search results, such measures may not be effective. For example, Sogou suspended part of Sogou’s advertising services for 10 days in July 2018 in order to implement remedial measures to ensure compliance with government regulations following a government investigation into certain non-compliant advertisements created by a third party unrelated to Sogou and displayed on Sogou’s platform in June 2018. See “Risks Related to China’s Regulatory Environment—Regulation and censorship of information distribution in China may adversely affect our business”; and “Risks Related to China’s Regulatory and Economic Environment—Even if we are in compliance with PRC governmental regulations relating to licensing and foreign investment prohibitions, the PRC government may prevent us from distributing, and we may be subject to liability for, content that it believes is inappropriate.”

 

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Sogou may be subject to potential liability for claims that search results violate the intellectual property rights of third parties.

It is possible that content that is made available by Sogou through its search results may violate the intellectual property rights of third parties. PRC laws and regulations are evolving, and uncertainties exist with respect to the legal standards for determining the potential liability of online search service providers for search results that provide links to content on third-party websites that infringes copyrights of third parties. In December 2012, the Supreme People’s Court of the PRC promulgated a judicial interpretation providing that PRC courts will place the burden on Internet service providers to remove not only links or content that has been specifically-mentioned in notices of infringement from persons and entities claiming copyright in such content, but also links or content that the providers “should have known” contained infringing content. This interpretation could subject Sogou to significant administrative burdens and might expose it to civil liability and penalties. Further, Sogou relies on content provided by professional researchers and writers, either developed by the outlets themselves or adapted from content of parties separate from such outlets, and it is difficult for Sogou to fully monitor such content, which could make Sogou more vulnerable to potential infringement claims.

Sogou may be subject to legal liability associated with online activities on its platforms.

Sogou hosts and provides a wide variety of products and services that enable advertisers to advertise products and services, and users to exchange information and engage in various online activities. Sogou may be subject to claims, investigations, or negative publicity relating to such activities. PRC laws and regulations relating to the liability of providers of online products and services for activities of their users are undeveloped, and their current and future reach are unclear. Also see “—Sogou may be subject to regulatory investigations and sanctions for inappropriate or illegal content that is accessed through its search results.” Sogou also places advertisements on third-party Internet properties, and Sogou offers products and services developed or created by third parties. Sogou may be subject to claims concerning these products and services based on its involvement in providing access to them, even if Sogou does not offer the products and services directly. Sogou could be required to spend considerable financial and managerial resources defending any such claims, and they could result in Sogou’s having to pay monetary damages or penalties or ceasing certain aspects of its business, which could have an adverse effect on its business and results of operations.

Privacy concerns or security breaches relating to Sogou’s platforms could damage its reputation, deter current and potential users and advertisers from using its products and services, and expose Sogou to legal penalties and liability.

Sogou collects, processes, and stores on its servers significant amounts of data concerning its users. While Sogou has taken steps to protect its user data, its security measures could be compromised, because techniques used to sabotage or obtain unauthorized access to systems change frequently and generally are not recognized until they are launched against a target, and Sogou may be unable to anticipate these techniques or to implement adequate preventative measures. In addition, Sogou is subject to various regulatory requirements relating to the security and privacy of such data, including restrictions on the collection and use of personal information of users and steps Sogou must take to prevent personal data from being divulged, stolen, or tampered with. Regulatory requirements regarding the protection of such data are constantly evolving and can be subject to significant change, making the extent of Sogou’s responsibility in that regard uncertain. For example, the Internet Security Law became effective in June 2017, but it is unclear as to the circumstances and standard under which the law would apply and violations would be found, and there are great uncertainties as to the interpretation and application of the law. It is possible that Sogou’s data protection practice is or will be inconsistent with regulatory requirements. See ‘‘Government Regulation and Legal Uncertainties—Miscellaneous—Laws and Regulations Related to Consumer Protection and Privacy Protection – Privacy Protection.” and “Government Regulation and Legal Uncertainties—Miscellaneous—Laws and Regulations Related to Security and Censorship.” Complying with such requirements could cause Sogou to incur substantial expenses or to alter or change its practice in a manner that could harm its business. Any systems failure or compromise of Sogou’s security, including through employee error, that results in the release of its user data could seriously harm its reputation and brand, impair its ability to retain and attract users and advertisers, expose it to liability to users whose data is released, and subject it to sanctions and penalties from governmental authorities. Sogou also could be liable for any security breaches of its advertisers’ confidential information. Any security breaches exposing such information could damage Sogou’s reputation and deter current and potential users and advertisers from using its services.

Sogou’s network operations may be vulnerable to hacking and viruses, which may reduce the use of its products and services and expose it to liability.

Sogou’s user traffic may decline if any well-publicized compromise of security occurs. “Hacking” involves efforts to gain unauthorized access to information or systems or to cause intentional malfunctions or loss or corruption of data, software, hardware, or other computer equipment. Techniques used by hackers to obtain unauthorized access or sabotage systems change frequently and often are not recognized until launched against a target, which means that Sogou may be unable to anticipate new hacking methods or implement adequate security measures. Hackers, if successful, could misappropriate proprietary information or cause disruptions in Sogou’s service. Sogou may be required to expend capital and other resources to protect its Internet platforms against hackers, and measures Sogou may take may not be effective. In addition, the inadvertent transmission of computer viruses could expose Sogou to a risk of loss or litigation and possible liability, as well as damage its reputation and decrease its user traffic.

 

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Sogou’s business may be adversely affected by third-party software applications or practices that interfere with its receipt of information from, or provision of information to, its users, which may impair its users’ experience.

Sogou’s business may be adversely affected by third-party software applications, which may be unintentional or malicious, that make changes to its users’ PCs or mobile devices and interfere with its products and services. These software applications may change Sogou’s users’ experience by hijacking queries, altering or replacing its search results, or otherwise interfering with its ability to connect with its users. Such interference can occur without disclosure to or consent from users, and users may associate any resulting negative experience with Sogou’s products and services. Such software applications are often designed to be difficult to remove, block, or disable. Further, software loaded on or added to mobile devices on which Sogou’s search or other applications, such as Sogou Input Method, are pre-installed may be incompatible with or interfere with or prevent the operation of such applications, which might deter the owners of such devices from using Sogou’s services.

In addition, third-party website owners, content providers, and developers may implement applications and systems that interfere with Sogou’s ability to crawl and index their webpages and content, which is critical to the operation of its search services. If Sogou is unable to successfully prevent or limit any such applications or systems that interfere with its products and services, or if a significant number of third-party website owners, content providers, and developers prevent Sogou from indexing and including their webpages and content in its search results, Sogou’s ability to deliver high-quality search results and a satisfactory user experience will be impeded.

Adoption of Internet advertisement blocking technologies may have an adverse impact on Sogou’s business and results of operations.

The development of software that blocks Internet advertisements before they appear on a user’s screen may hinder the growth of online advertising. Since Sogou’s advertising revenues are generally based on user click-throughs, the expansion of advertisement-blocking on the Internet may decrease its advertising revenues, because when advertisements are blocked they are not downloaded from the server, which means such advertisements will not be tracked as a delivered advertisement. In addition, advertisers may choose not to advertise on the Internet or on or through Sogou’s sites because of the use by third parties of Internet advertisement blocking measures. In addition, increasing numbers of browsers include technical barriers designed to prevent Internet information service providers such as Sogou to track the browsing history of their Internet users, which is also likely to adversely affect the growth of online advertising and hence Sogou’s business and growth prospects.

If Sogou fails to detect click-through fraud, it could lose the confidence of its advertisers and its revenues could decline.

Sogou’s business is exposed to the risk of click-through fraud on its paid search results. Click-through fraud occurs when a person clicks paid search results for a reason other than to view the underlying content of search results. If Sogou fails to detect significant fraudulent clicks or otherwise is unable to prevent significant fraudulent activity, the affected search advertisers may experience a reduced return on their investment in its pay-for-click services and lose confidence in the integrity of its pay-for-click service systems, and Sogou may have to issue refunds to its advertisers and may lose their future business. If this happens, Sogou may be unable to retain existing advertisers and attract new advertisers for its pay-for-click services, and its search revenues could decline. In addition, affected advertisers may also file legal actions against it claiming that Sogou has over-charged or failed to refund them. Any such claims or similar claims, regardless of their merit, could be time-consuming and costly for Sogou to defend against and could also adversely affect its brand and its search advertisers’ confidence in the integrity of its pay-for-click services and systems.

Web spam and content farms, as well as Sogou’s attempts to block them, could decrease the quality of its search results, and could deter its current and potential users from using its products and services.

The proliferation of search engine spam websites, commonly referred to as Web spam, which attempt to manipulate search indexing to cause them to appear higher in search results ranking hierarchies than they would without such manipulation, can have the effect of weakening the integrity of Sogou’s search results and causing users to lose confidence in its search products and services. “Content farm” websites, which commission very large amounts of content, often of low quality, for the purpose, similar to that of Web spam, of causing such content farms’ links to obtain relatively high ranking in Internet providers’ search results, can have similar adverse effects.

While Sogou uses, and continually improves, technology designed to detect and block Web spam, the algorithms Sogou applies may nevertheless result in excessive filtering that blocks desirable websites from its search results. Therefore, both the existence of Web spam and content farms, and Sogou’s attempts to block them, could deter its current and potential users from using its products and services. In addition, as some of Sogou’s third-party Internet-property collaborators could include Web spam or content farm websites, its advertising revenues could be reduced by its efforts to filter such websites. If Sogou’s efforts to combat these and other types of index spamming are unsuccessful, its reputation for delivering relevant information could be diminished. This could result in a decline in user traffic, which would damage Sogou’s business.

The successful operation of Sogou’s business depends upon the performance and reliability of the Internet infrastructure in China.

Sogou’s growth will depend in part on the PRC government and state-owned telecommunications services providers maintaining and expanding Internet and telecommunications infrastructure, standards, protocols, and complementary products and services to facilitate Sogou’s reaching a broader base of Internet users in China.

 

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Almost all access to the Internet in China is maintained through China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom under the administrative control and regulatory supervision of the MIIT. Sogou relies on this infrastructure and China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom to provide data communications capacity primarily through local telecommunications lines. Although the government has announced aggressive plans to develop the national information infrastructure, this infrastructure may not be developed and the Internet infrastructure in China may not be able to support the continued growth of Internet usage. In addition, Sogou will be unlikely to have access to alternative networks and services on a timely basis, if at all, in the event of any infrastructure disruption or failure.

Interruption or failure of Sogou’s information technology and communications systems may result in reduced user traffic and harm to its reputation and business.

Interruption or failure of any of Sogou’s information technology and communications systems or those of the operators of third-party Internet properties with which it collaborates could impede or prevent its ability to provide its search and search-related services. In addition, Sogou’s operations are vulnerable to natural disasters and other events. Sogou’s disaster recovery plan for its servers cannot fully ensure safety in the event of damage from fire, floods, typhoons, earthquakes, power loss, telecommunications failures, hacking, and similar events. If any of the foregoing occurs, Sogou may experience a partial or complete system shutdown. Furthermore, Sogou’s servers, which are hosted at third-party Internet data centers, are also vulnerable to break-ins, sabotage and vandalism. Some of Sogou’s systems are not fully redundant, and its disaster recovery planning does not account for all possible scenarios. The occurrence of a natural disaster or a closure of an Internet data center by a third-party provider without adequate notice could result in lengthy service interruptions.

Any system failure or inadequacy that causes interruptions in the availability of Sogou’s services, or increases the response time of its services, could have an adverse impact on its users’ experience and reduce its users’ satisfaction, its attractiveness to users and advertisers, and future user traffic and advertising on its platform.

Furthermore, Sogou does not carry any business interruption insurance. To improve the performance and to prevent disruption of its services, Sogou may have to make substantial investments to deploy additional servers or one or more copies of its Internet platforms to mirror its online resources.

Sogou faces risks related to natural disasters, health epidemics, or terrorist attacks.

Sogou’s business could be adversely affected by natural disasters, such as earthquakes, floods, landslides, and tsunamis, outbreaks of health epidemics such as an outbreak of avian influenza; severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS; Zika virus; or Ebola virus, as well as terrorist attacks, other acts of violence or war, or social instability. If any of these occurs, Sogou may be required to temporarily or permanently close and its business operations may be suspended or terminated.

Sogou Risks Related to China’s Regulatory and Economic Environment

PRC regulations relating to sponsored search have had, and may continue to have, an adverse effect on Sogou’s results of operations.

On April 13, 2016, the SAMR and sixteen other PRC government agencies jointly issued a Notice of Campaign to Crack Down on Illegal Internet Finance Advertisements and Other Financial Activities in the Name of Investment Management, or the Campaign Notice, pursuant to which a campaign was conducted between April 2016 and January 2017 targeting, among other things, online advertisements for Internet finance and other financial activities posted on online search portals such as Sogou’s. The CAOC, issued the Interim Measures for the Administration of Online Search, or the CAOC Interim Measures, which became effective on August 1, 2016 and require that providers of online search services verify the credentials of pay-for-click advertisers, specify a maximum percentage that pay-for-click search results may represent of results on a search page, and require that providers of search services conspicuously identify pay-for-click search results as such. The SAMR issued the Interim Measures for the Administration of Online Advertising, or the SAMR Interim Measures, which became effective on September 1, 2016 and treat pay-for-click search results as advertisements subject to PRC laws governing advertisements, require that pay-for-click search results be conspicuously identified on search result pages as advertisements and subject revenues from such advertisements to a 3% PRC tax that is applied to advertising revenues. In order to comply with these regulations, Sogou has established more stringent standards for selecting advertisers for its pay-for-click services and has turned down certain existing advertisers, and has lowered the percentage that pay-for-click search results represent of results on its search pages, which had an adverse impact on Sogou’s search and search-related revenues and overall results of operations for 2016 and, along with the tax on advertising, are likely to continue to have such an impact. We cannot assure you that PRC governmental authorities will not issue new laws or regulations specifically regulating sponsored search services, which could further impact Sogou’s revenues.

Risks Related to Changyou.com Limited

Risks Relating to Changyou’s Business and Industry

Overall Risks

The markets for Changyou’s products and services are evolving rapidly and significantly, which makes evaluating its business and prospects difficult.

 

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Changyou’s three primary businesses are the online game business; the platform channel business, which consists primarily of online advertising; and the cinema advertising business. Changyou’s businesses and the industries in which it operates are evolving rapidly. Changyou was incorporated on August 6, 2007 in the Cayman Islands and began its online game business as an indirect wholly-owned subsidiary of Sohu.com Inc. In 2007 Sohu transferred all of its PC game business to Changyou. In 2011 Changyou acquired 7Road and began generating Web game revenues. In 2012, Changyou began to develop and operate mobile games, but did not begin to generate any significant revenues from mobile games until late in 2014 when Changyou launched TLBB 3D; and in May 2017, Changyou launched another in-house developed mobile game, Legacy TLBB Mobile, which is operated by Tencent, under license from Changyou. In August 2015, as revenues from Changyou’s Web games Wartune and DDTank had begun to decline, Changyou sold 7Road’s operating entity, and as a result Changyou has no remaining significant Web games in operation or development. In 2011, Changyou began to expand into the platform channel business with its acquisition from Sohu of the 17173.com Website, which operates Changyou’s online advertising business. In December 2013, Changyou acquired RaidCall, which operates free social communication software; and in July 2014 Changyou acquired a majority interest in MoboTap Inc., or MoboTap, a Cayman Islands company that operates the Dolphin Browser. However, Changyou’s acquisitions of RaidCall and MoboTap were not successful, as expected synergies did not materialize. In 2011, Changyou acquired the entities that operate its cinema advertising business. Changyou’s cinema advertising business experienced strong growth in 2016 and 2017 and has remained a significant part of Changyou’s overall business, but Changyou experienced a significant decline in revenues from its cinema advertising business in early 2018, and in the future it may not be able to again generate the same rate of revenue growth in its cinema advertising business as it experienced in 2016 and 2017, and may also suffer further declines in revenues.

Changyou’s past successes in its online games business with PC games may not provide a meaningful basis for you to evaluate its current business and prospects, as a substantial number of game players have migrated from personal computers to mobile devices to access online games and the relative popularity of PC games continues to decline. In response to such rapid migration, Changyou has devoted and Changyou expects to continue to devote substantial resources to the development of its mobile games as a critical component of its business strategy. However, Changyou’s mobile games strategy has not been proven, and presents very different challenges from those presented in the past by its operation of PC games and Web games. Despite the early success of Changyou’s mobile game TLBB 3D after Changyou introduced it in late 2014 and of Changyou’s mobile game Legacy TLBB Mobile after Changyou launched it in May 2017, the popularity of, and the revenues generated from, TLBB 3D and Legacy TLBB Mobile continued to decline through 2018. We cannot be certain that Changyou will be successful in its efforts to launch additional mobile games that generate sufficient revenues and income to sustain or grow Changyou’s mobile game business.

You should also consider additional risks and uncertainties that may be experienced by companies operating in a rapidly developing and evolving industry. Some of these risks and uncertainties relate to Changyou’s ability to:

 

   

raise Changyou’s brand recognition and game players’ loyalty;

 

   

develop, license or operate new games that are appealing to game players; adapt to new trends and game player tastes; meet Changyou’s expected timetables for their launch; and, if they are successful, have acceptably long lifespans and result in an acceptable level of profit for Changyou;

 

   

successfully adapt to evolving business models, industry trends and market environments by developing and investing in new business strategies, products, services and technologies, including, in particular, virtual reality, or VR, technology, for Changyou’s new games;

 

   

arrange for its mobile games to be distributed through popular mobile application stores with commercial terms, including revenue-sharing arrangements, that are favorable enough to Changyou and allow it to achieve an acceptable level of profit from the games;

 

   

integrate new technologies, businesses and personnel of acquired entities, and generate sufficient revenues to offset the costs and expenses of such acquisitions;

 

   

maintain or expand Changyou’s marketing efforts to attract more game players to its games and to the game information portal of the 17173.com Website in a rapidly changing and increasingly competitive business environment, and generate sufficient revenues to offset the costs and expenses of such marketing efforts; and reverse the recent decline in Changyou’s revenues from the 17173.com Website, particularly in view of the rapid emergence of mobile games and the decline in the relative popularity of PC games and Web games as users switched to mobile devices; and

 

   

successfully expand Changyou’s marketing efforts to attract advertisers to place advertisements in pre-film advertising slots that it purchases from operators of movie theaters, which are critical to Changyou’s ability to recoup its significant upfront payments and committed payments under Changyou’s contracts with the operators of movie theaters.

If Changyou does not adapt its business to address these risks and uncertainties, its ability to continue its past success or to expand its business in the future is likely to be impeded.

Changyou’s business may not succeed in a highly competitive market.

Competition in the online game market in China is becoming increasingly intense. Changyou competes primarily with other online game developers in China, including Tencent and NetEase, Inc. Many of Changyou’s competitors have, or may over time be able to gain, competitive advantages over Changyou in terms of:

 

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greater financial and technical resources;

 

   

more aggressive and effective strategies for hiring talent for game development, which may make it difficult for Changyou to retain its existing employees and attract new employees, which are necessary for Changyou to be able to grow its business;

 

   

substantially greater financial resources and more effective methods for acquiring exclusive license rights to the titles, characters, themes and story lines of popular works in order to adapt online games from such works (which has become increasingly important for new online games to be successful);

 

   

more aggressive and effective marketing strategies for promoting their online games and penetrating the mobile game market; and

 

   

more capability for developing and releasing new software for mobile devices to attract a growing number of game players that access Internet products and services through mobile devices.

The 17173.com Website derives revenue primarily from providing online advertising services to advertisers that develop, operate and distribute PC games. As the market demand for PC games continues to decline, the 17173.com Website faces intense competition, particularly from mobile application stores and other Internet platforms through which game players access mobile games, for advertising business targeting online players of mobile games. Changyou competes with other game information portals, such as duowan.com, operated by YY Inc., and game.qq.com, operated by Tencent, and other Internet portals which have, or may over time be able to build, competitive advantages over Changyou in terms of:

 

   

greater brand recognition among game players and advertising clients;

 

   

larger user and customer bases;

 

   

more extensive and well developed marketing and sales networks;

 

   

more attractive mobile versions of their game information portals and more extensive mobile game-related products and services, such as mobile game discussion forums, in response to the rapid migration of users of Internet services from PCs to mobile devices such as tablets and mobile phones, and the unique preferences and demands of mobile users and mobile game players; and

 

   

substantially greater financial and technical resources.

Changyou’s cinema advertising business generates revenues through contracts that Changyou enters into with advertisers to place their advertisements in pre-film advertising slots that Changyou purchases from operators of movie theaters. Changyou competes with Focus Media Group, Wanda Group and other companies selling pre-film advertisement slots to advertisers. These competitors in general, and Wanda Group in particular, have, and may be able to build further, competitive advantages over Changyou arising from their having significantly greater financial resources, greater brand recognition among operators of movie theaters and advertisers and more capable and effective sales and marketing forces and strategies than Changyou does. Wanda Group has a particular competitive advantage over Changyou as Wanda Group itself is one of the largest operators of movie theaters in China. Therefore, it is beneficial for Wanda Group to expand its own cinema advertising business together with the expansion of its self-operated movie theaters. In addition, Wanda Group competes with Changyou for advertising slots in other movie theaters that Wanda does not own or operate, which may force Changyou to increase its bidding prices for such advertising slots, which may impair Changyou’s ability to compete effectively in those markets.

In order to compete effectively in the PRC, as well as in the worldwide market, Changyou must continue to invest in research and development, to enhance its technology and its existing games, advertising and other services, and to introduce new game products and services in order for it to adapt to industry trends and shifting demands of game players and advertising clients and to remain competitive. If Changyou’s products and services are not responsive to the needs of its game players and advertisers, are not appropriately timed with market opportunities, or are not effectively brought to market, or if its competitors are more successful than Changyou is in developing compelling products or in attracting and retaining game players and advertisers, Changyou may not be able to compete effectively.

Changyou’s business could suffer if Changyou does not successfully manage any future growth.

Changyou experienced a period of rapid growth and expansion through 2013 that placed strain on its management personnel, systems and resources. In addition, to accommodate any future growth, Changyou anticipates that it will need to implement a variety of new and upgraded operational and financial systems, including procedures and controls, and improvement of its accounting and other internal management systems and security systems related to the foregoing, all of which require substantial management efforts and financial resources. Changyou will also need to continue to train, manage and motivate its workforce, and manage its relationships with its third-party operators, distributors and service providers and its game player base. All of these endeavors will require substantial management effort and skills and the incurrence of additional expenditures. Changyou may not be able to efficiently or effectively implement its growth strategies and manage the growth of its operations, and any failure to do so may limit its future growth and hamper its business strategy.

 

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Changyou may not be able to avoid slowing growth or declines in its revenues, or future losses.

Changyou’s revenues grew significantly in a relatively short period of time prior to 2014, but its revenue growth stalled in 2014 and 2015, and its revenues decreased in 2016. Primarily due to the commercial success of TLBB, Changyou’s revenues grew from $623.4 million for the year ended December 31, 2012 to $737.9 million for the year ended December 31, 2013. However, Changyou’s revenues increased only slightly to $755.3 million and to $761.6 million, respectively, for the years ended December 31, 2014 and 2015; and Changyou’s revenues decreased to $525.4 million for the year ended December 31, 2016. Although Changyou’s revenues increased from 2016 to $580.3 million for the year ended December 31, 2017, largely due to the early success of its mobile game Legacy TLBB Mobile, they remained below Changyou’s revenues for 2013, 2014, and 2015, and its revenues decreased to $485.8 million for the year ended December 31, 2018. Even if Changyou’s revenues increase in future years, Changyou is not likely to experience rates of revenue growth in the future similar to those that it experienced prior to 2014. Changyou suffered a net loss attributable to Changyou.com Limited of $3.4 million for the year ended December 31, 2014. Changyou’s net income attributable to Changyou.com Limited was $212.8 million for the year ended December 31, 2015, but decreased to $144.9 million for the year ended December 31, 2016, to $108.8 million for the year ended December 31, 2017 and to $84.3 million for the year ended December 31, 2018. Changyou may experience declines in its revenues or suffer net losses in the future due to a number of factors, including, among other things, expected continued declines in TLBB’s, Legacy TLBB Mobile’s and TLBB 3D’s revenues; the uncertain level of popularity of Changyou’s future games, uncertainty as to Changyou’s ability to develop and launch high-quality mobile games that are commercially successful; the relatively higher game development and distribution costs generally associated with mobile games; the need to expend greater amounts in order to develop or acquire new games, technologies, assets, and businesses; and uncertainty as to Changyou’s ability to integrate such newly acquired games, technologies, assets and businesses. Accordingly, you should not rely on the results of any prior period as an indication of Changyou’s future financial and operating performance.

Changyou’s previous and any future acquisitions and/or strategic alliances may have an adverse effect on its ability to manage its business and may also result in impairment charges.

Changyou has made acquisitions of, and may potentially acquire in the future, technologies, businesses or assets that are complementary to its business and/or enter into strategic alliances in order to leverage its position in the China market and expand its business domestically and internationally. Such acquisitions or strategic alliances may expose Changyou to potential risks, including risks associated with the integration of new technologies, businesses and personnel including its continued reliance on the management teams of the acquisition targets to operate the acquired businesses, unforeseen or hidden liabilities, the diversion of management attention and resources from its existing business, and the inability to generate sufficient revenues to offset the costs and expenses of acquisitions or strategic alliances. Any difficulties encountered in the acquisition and strategic alliance process may have an adverse effect on Changyou’s ability to manage its business. In addition, acquired businesses may not perform to Changyou’s expectations for various reasons, including the loss of key personnel or key clients, and Changyou’s strategic focus may change. As a result, Changyou may not realize the benefits it anticipated. If Changyou fails to integrate acquired technologies, businesses and assets or realize the expected benefits, Changyou may not receive a return on its investment and its transaction costs for such acquisitions. The benefits of an acquisition or investment may also take considerable time to develop, and we cannot be certain that any particular acquisition or investment will produce the intended benefits, which could adversely affect its business and operating results. Acquisitions could result in contingent liabilities or amortization expenses related to intangible assets or write-offs of goodwill and/or intangible assets, which could adversely affect Changyou’s results of operations. For example, in November 2013, Changyou acquired Beijing Doyo Internet Technology Co., Ltd., or Doyo, with the expectation of generating benefits from synergies with Changyou’s online advertising business; in December 2013 Changyou acquired RaidCall with the expectation of generating benefits from synergies with Changyou’s online game business; and in July 2014 Changyou acquired MoboTap, which operates the Dolphin Browser, with the expectation of generating benefits from synergies with Changyou’s platform channel business. In 2014 Changyou recognized a $33.8 million impairment loss for goodwill and a $15.3 million impairment loss for acquired intangible assets related to RaidCall; in 2015 Changyou sold Doyo and recognized a $1.9 million impairment loss for goodwill; in 2015 Changyou recognized a $29.6 million impairment loss for goodwill and an $8.9 million impairment loss for acquired intangible assets relating to the MoboTap business; and in 2017 Changyou recognized a further $83.5 million impairment loss for goodwill and a $3.4 million impairment loss for intangible assets relating to the MoboTap business, as a result of its management’s conclusion that the expected synergies would not materialize; and in 2018 Changyou recognized a $16.4 million impairment loss for goodwill relating to the 17173.com Website and sold MoboTap.

Changyou is dependent upon its management and upon its key development and technical personnel; and Changyou’s business may be disrupted if it loses the services of any of them.

Changyou’s future success depends substantially on the services of the members of its management and its key development and technical personnel, such as Changyou’s Chief Executive Officer Dewen Chen and its key game development personnel. If one or more of the members of Changyou’s management or key development or technical personnel were unable or unwilling to continue in their present positions, Changyou might not be able to replace them easily, or at all. If any of the members of Changyou’s management or its key employees joins a competitor or forms a competing company, not only would Changyou lose know-how, key professionals, staff members and suppliers, but such members of Changyou’s management and key employees could develop and operate games and other services that could compete with and take game players and users away from its existing and future business. Although each of these members of Changyou’s management and key personnel has entered into an employment agreement with non-competition provisions, these non-competition provisions may not be enforceable in China.

 

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Changyou’s prospects for growth may be adversely affected if Changyou cannot successfully manage and make timely adjustments to its hiring needs to support its business strategies.

The Internet industry in China is characterized by high demand and intense competition for talent, particularly for game developers and related technical personnel, and Changyou’s success in the implementation of its growth strategies depends on Changyou’s ability to successfully manage, and make timely adjustments to, its hiring needs. The number of Changyou’s employees decreased by 13.0% in 2016, by 13.0% in 2017, and by 13.7% in 2018, as Changyou emphasized the development of mobile games and laid off a number of employees who had been focused primarily on international markets and the platform channel business. These layoffs could have an adverse effect on Changyou’s remaining employees’ morale and their loyalty to Changyou, and cause Changyou to lose employees whose talent and experience are important for its business, and could also have a negative impact on its reputation as an employer and its ability to attract qualified employees in the future. Laid-off employees could also make claims against Changyou for additional compensation, causing Changyou to incur additional expense.

Changyou may not have exclusive rights to trademarks, designs and technologies that are crucial to its business.

Changyou has applied for initial registrations in the PRC and overseas, and/or changes in registrations relating to transfers of its key trademarks in the PRC, including ChangYou.com, cyou.com, TLBB, TLBB logos, New Blade Online, 17173, TLBB 3D and the corresponding Chinese versions of the marks, so as to establish and protect its exclusive rights to these trademarks. Changyou has succeeded in registering the trademarks ChangYou.com, cyou.com, TLBB, TL logos and 17173 in the PRC under certain classes. The applications for initial registration, and/or changes in registrations relating to transfers, of other marks and/or of some of these marks under other classes are still under examination by the Trademark Office of the SAMR, and relevant authorities overseas. Moreover, if Changyou is unable to renew the licenses from the estate of Louis Cha for Changyou’s mobile games TLBB 3D and Legacy TLBB Mobile and for Changyou’s PC game TLBB, Changyou could lose the right to use the trademarks related to those games to the extent that they relate to Louis Cha’s novel Tian Long Ba Bu. Changyou has applied for patents relating to the design of its games and to technology intended to enhance the functionalities of its games. Changyou has various patent applications under examination by the State Intellectual Property Office of the PRC. Approvals of Changyou’s initial trademark registration applications, and/or of changes in registrations relating to such transfers, or of Changyou’s patent applications are subject to determinations by the Trademark Office of the SAMR, the State Intellectual Property Office of the PRC and relevant authorities overseas that there are no prior rights in the applicable territory. Changyou cannot be certain that these applications will be approved. Any rejection of these applications could adversely affect Changyou’s rights to the affected marks, designs and technologies. In addition, even if these applications are approved, Changyou cannot assure you that any registered trademark or issued patent will be sufficient in scope to provide adequate protection of its rights.

Changyou may need to incur significant expenses to enforce its proprietary rights, and if it is unable to protect such rights, its competitive position and financial performance could be harmed.

Changyou regards its intellectual property and proprietary rights as critical to its success. In particular, Changyou has spent a significant amount of time and resources in developing its current games and possible future games. Changyou’s ability to protect its proprietary rights in connection with its games is critical for their success and Changyou’s overall financial performance. While Changyou has registered software in China for copyright protection and has taken various measures to protect its source codes, such measures may not be sufficient to protect its proprietary information and intellectual property. Intellectual property rights and confidentiality protection in China may not be as effective as they are in the United States and other developed countries. Policing unauthorized use of proprietary technology is difficult and expensive. In addition, while Changyou has registered some trademarks relating to its games in the PRC and other jurisdictions, and has applied for additional registrations of trademarks, in some instances Changyou may not succeed in obtaining registration of trademarks that it has applied for in different languages, such as English. We cannot assure that these pending or future trademark applications will be approved. Any failure to register trademarks in any country or region may limit Changyou’s ability to protect its rights in such country or region under relevant trademark laws, and Changyou may need to change the name of the relevant trademark in certain cases, which may adversely affect Changyou’s branding and marketing efforts.

Despite Changyou’s efforts to protect its intellectual property, online game developers may copy Changyou’s ideas and designs, and other third parties may infringe Changyou’s intellectual property rights. For example, certain third parties have misappropriated the source codes of previous versions of TLBB and have set up unauthorized servers in China and elsewhere to operate TLBB to compete with Changyou. The existence of unauthorized servers may attract game players away from Changyou’s games and may result in decreases in Changyou’s revenues. Any measures Changyou takes in response may not be successful in eliminating these unauthorized servers. Litigation relating to intellectual property rights may result in substantial costs to Changyou and diversion of resources and management attention away from its business, and may not be successful. In addition, Changyou’s ideas and certain of its designs, if not fixed in a tangible form of expression or registered with the appropriate PRC authorities, may not be protected by patents or other intellectual property rights. As a result, Changyou may be limited in its ability to assert intellectual property rights against online game developers who independently develop ideas and designs that compete with Changyou.

 

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Changyou may be exposed to infringement or misappropriation claims by third parties, which, if determined adversely to it, could subject it to significant liabilities and other costs.

Changyou’s success depends largely on its ability to use and develop its technology and know-how without infringing the intellectual property rights of third parties. We cannot assure you that third parties will not assert intellectual property claims against Changyou. Changyou is subject to additional risks if entities licensing to it intellectual property, including, for example, game source codes, do not have adequate rights in any such licensed materials. The validity and scope of claims relating to the intellectual property of game development and technology involve complex scientific, legal and factual questions and analyses and, therefore, tend to be uncertain. If third parties assert copyright or patent infringement or violation of other intellectual property rights against it, Changyou will have to defend itself in litigation or administrative proceedings, which can be both costly and time consuming and may significantly divert the efforts and resources of Changyou’s technical and management personnel. An adverse determination or settlement in any such litigation or proceedings to which Changyou may become a party could subject it to significant liability to third parties, or require it to seek licenses from third parties, pay ongoing royalties, or redesign its games or subject it to injunctions prohibiting the development and operation of its games.

Risk Related to Online Games

There are uncertainties regarding the future growth of the online game industry in China.

The online game industry, from which Changyou derives most of its revenues, is a rapidly evolving industry. The growth of the online game industry and the level of demand and market acceptance of Changyou’s games are subject to a high degree of uncertainty. Changyou’s future operating results will depend on numerous factors affecting the online game industry, many of which are beyond Changyou’s control, including:

 

   

whether the online game industry, particularly in China and the rest of the Asia-Pacific region, continues to grow and the rate of any such growth;

 

   

the availability and popularity of other forms of entertainment, particularly games on console systems, which are already popular in developed countries and may gain popularity in China;

 

   

growth in users of the Internet and broadband and penetration in China and other markets in which Changyou offers its games, and the rate of any such growth;

 

   

whether recent declines in the use of personal computers and growth in users of mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets in general, and for purposes of accessing online games in particular, continue or accelerate in China and other markets in which Changyou offers its games;

 

   

changes in consumer demographics and public tastes and preferences; and

 

   

general economic conditions in China, particularly economic conditions adversely affecting discretionary consumer spending, such as the slowdown in China’s economic growth that occurred between the first quarter of 2010 and the third quarter of 2012 and from 2014 through 2018.

There is no assurance that online games in general will continue to be popular in China or elsewhere. If the current decline in the popularity of PC games continues or accelerates as users increasingly switch to mobile devices, Changyou’s revenues from its PC games may decrease significantly; and if the PC games that Changyou has launched, or expects to launch in the future, are not successful, Changyou may not be able to recoup the investments in its development and marketing of those games.

Changyou currently depends on TLBB for a significant portion of its revenues, and continued decrease in the popularity of TLBB or interruption in its operation will adversely affect Changyou’s results of operations.

Changyou currently relies on TLBB for a significant portion of its revenues. Changyou launched TLBB in May 2007 and, despite Changyou’s efforts to improve TLBB, its game players have nevertheless lost interest in it over time as the relative popularity of PC games (which are accessed through personal computers) continues to decline and TLBB’s popularity, revenues and profitability have continued to decline. See “Changyou may not be successful in operating and improving its games to satisfy the changing demands of game players.

To prolong TLBB’s lifespan and slow down the pace of its decline, Changyou needs to continually improve and update it on a timely basis with new features, including enhanced social interaction features, that appeal to existing game players, attract new game players (including those who played earlier versions of TLBB), and improve player stickiness to the game. If Changyou fails to improve and update TLBB on a timely basis, or if its competitors introduce more popular games, including mobile games, catering to its game player base, the decline in TLBB’s popularity can be expected to accelerate, which would cause Changyou’s revenues to decrease at a faster pace. Furthermore, if there are any interruptions in TLBB’s operation due to unexpected server interruptions, network failures or other factors, game players may be prevented or deterred from making purchases of virtual items, which could also cause significant decreases in Changyou’s revenues.

 

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The market demand for PC games in general, and for the PC games that Changyou operates in particular, can be expected to continue to decline and the number of game players of PC games can be expected to continue to decrease, which will have an adverse effect on Changyou’s online game business and prospects.

A significant portion of Changyou’s online game revenues are generated from its PC games, and from TLBB in particular. However, the popularity of PC games continues to decline and an increasing number of online game developers are delaying or suspending their plans to develop and launch new PC games, as a substantial number of game players have switched to mobile devices to access online games. It has become increasingly difficult for PC game developers and operators to retain existing players of their games and the number of game players who are willing to spend time and money to play new PC games continues to decrease. If this downward trend accelerates, it may make it increasingly difficult for Changyou’s existing PC games in general, and TLBB in particular, to slow the decline in their popularity and for Changyou’s new PC games to ever become commercially successful; the game player base of Changyou’s PC games in general, and of TLBB in particular, may shrink at a more rapid pace, which would accelerate and increase Changyou’s costs to acquire and retain players of its PC games and would have a negative impact on its online game revenues. In addition, Changyou’s PC games generally produce relatively higher profit margins for it than do its mobile games, because Changyou must distribute its mobile games through third-party mobile game distributors or mobile application stores and enter into revenue-sharing arrangements with such distributors or mobile application stores. Accordingly, any decrease in Changyou’s revenues from its PC games may have a relatively larger negative impact on its overall profits.

As mobile devices such as tablets, mobile phones and other devices other than personal computers are increasingly used to access online games, Changyou must continue to acquire or develop increasing numbers of mobile games that work on such devices.

Devices other than personal computers, such as mobile phones and tablets, are used increasingly in China and in overseas markets. We believe that, for its business to be successful, Changyou will need to continue to develop versions of its existing games and any future games that work well with such devices. The games that Changyou develops for such devices may not function as smoothly as its existing games, and may not be attractive to game players in other ways. In addition, manufacturers of such devices may establish restrictive conditions for developers of applications to be used on such devices, and as a result Changyou’s games may not work well, or at all, on such devices. As new devices are released or updated, Changyou may encounter problems in developing versions of its games for use on such devices and Changyou may need to devote significant resources to the development, support, and maintenance of games for such devices. Since 2014 Changyou has been investing, and it expects to continue to invest, significant amounts in the development, promotion and operation of games for mobile devices. If Changyou is unable to successfully expand the types of devices on which its existing and future games are available, or if mobile versions of games that Changyou develops for such devices do not function well or are not attractive to users and game players; if, the popularity and revenues of Changyou’s mobile game Legacy TLBB Mobile continue to decline; or if other mobile games that Changyou has launched, or expects to launch in the future, are not successful, Changyou may not be able to maintain or increase its revenues and recoup its investments in the mobile market.

Changyou’s mobile game Legacy TLBB Mobile is currently generating a significant portion of its revenues. Changyou increasingly relies on dominant third-party game distributors and operators that obtain licenses from it to market, distribute, and operate its mobile games, including Legacy TLBB Mobile, which is operated by Tencent under a license from Changyou. If Changyou is not able to establish and maintain collaborative relationships with Tencent and other dominant third-party game distributors and operators for its existing and future mobile games, it is likely that Changyou will not be able to maintain or expand its mobile game business.

Changyou’s mobile game Legacy TLBB Mobile has been generating a significant portion of Changyou’s revenues since Legacy TLBB Mobile’s launch in May 2017. Changyou increasingly relies on dominant third-party game distributors and operators with large user bases, leading big data analytical capabilities, and track records and experience with successful operation of mobile games to operate its mobile games. For example, Tencent, which is an Internet conglomerate with a very large user base and is a dominant game developer and distributor in China, is the exclusive operator and distributor of Legacy TLBB Mobile under license from Changyou, and shares with Changyou the revenues generated by the game. For the year ended December 31, 2018, revenues from Legacy TLBB Mobile were $102.6 million, accounting for approximately 26% of Changyou’s online game revenues and approximately 21% of its total revenues. If Tencent terminates the current licensing arrangements with Changyou for Legacy TLBB Mobile or curtails Tencent’s marketing efforts to promote Legacy TLBB Mobile, or if Changyou is not able to establish and maintain collaborative relationships with other dominant game distributors and operators in China for its existing and future mobile games on commercial terms that are acceptable to Changyou, it will be difficult for Changyou to maintain or expand its mobile game business. In addition, Changyou relies on Tencent and other third-party operators to collect payments from game players for their purchases of virtual items in Changyou’s mobile games, and to pay to Changyou the pre-agreed revenue-sharing amounts, and there is usually a delay between the time of a game player’s purchase and the time when the operator pays Changyou, which has placed, and may continue to place, constraints on Changyou’s cash flow.

Changyou’s business will suffer if it is unable to develop successful high-quality games for mobile devices, expand its game portfolio with a variety of genres that are appealing to game players, monetize mobile games that Changyou develops, or acquire and maintain for a reasonable period the popularity and revenue levels of any of Changyou’s mobile games that are successful.

Developing high-quality games for mobile devices is an important component of Changyou’s online game strategy. China’s mobile games market recently has been dominated by a small number of high quality games, which collectively generate a substantial majority of the total revenues and profits of all mobile games in the market. Changyou has devoted and Changyou expects to continue to devote substantial resources to the development of its mobile games, focusing on those that Changyou believes have the potential to become high-quality games. Despite the early success of Changyou’s mobile game Legacy TLBB Mobile, we cannot guarantee that Changyou will be able to develop additional high-quality games that appeal to players or, even if Changyou is able to develop high-quality games that are successful, that such games will have lifespans that are long enough to generate an acceptable level of revenues, as mobile games tend to have relatively shorter lifespans than PC games. In addition, Changyou may encounter difficulty in integrating features into games developed for mobile devices that a sufficient number of players will pay for, or in otherwise sufficiently monetizing mobile games. As the mobile-device market in China is saturated or near saturation, mobile-game developers and operators have increasingly devoted substantial resources to the expansion of their mobile-game portfolios with a variety of genres, such as massively multiplayer online role-playing games (“MMORPGs”), multiplayer online battle arena (“MOBA”) games, or first person shooter (“FPS”) games, that are appealing in the mobile game market, in order to acquire and retain game players and maintain or increase revenues from the games. However, Changyou has not been successful in the development of mobile games other than those in the MMORPG genre. If Changyou is unable to develop successful high-quality games and expand its game portfolio with games in a variety of genres that are in line with market trends, or implement successful monetization strategies for its mobile games in general, its ability to maintain or grow revenues will be adversely affected.

 

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Changyou’s ability to successfully develop and monetize games for mobile devices will depend on its ability to:

 

   

expand the portfolio of mobile games, and particularly high quality games, in a variety of genres that Changyou develops in-house and licenses from third-party developers;

 

   

effectively develop new mobile games for multiple mobile operating systems and mobile devices;

 

   

anticipate and effectively respond to the growing number of players switching to mobile games, the changing mobile landscape and the interests of players;

 

   

attract, retain and motivate talented game designers, product managers and engineers with experience in developing games for mobile devices;

 

   

minimize launch delays and cost overruns on the development of new games;

 

   

effectively monetize mobile games without degrading the social game experience for its players;

 

   

develop games that provide for a compelling and optimal user experience through existing and developing third-party technologies, including third-party software and middleware utilized by its players; and

 

   

acquire and successfully integrate high- quality mobile game assets, personnel, and companies.

Further, even if Changyou develops or acquires license rights to a mobile game that is successful, the game’s lifespan may be short, as even successful mobile games tend to have less sustained user loyalty than do successful PC games. For example, the revenues generated from Changyou’s mobile game Legacy TLBB Mobile, which was launched in May 2017, declined sequentially through 2018, which is typical for a mobile game. In addition, although a relatively large number of the mobile games available at any given time may be low-quality games that attract fewer game players than do high-quality games, such games may on an aggregate level have the effect of attracting away a significant number of game players who would otherwise play high-quality mobile games. In view of the uncertain lifespans of mobile games and the large quantity of mobile games competing for game players, it is necessary for Changyou to make considerable investments in order to have a number of mobile games, and particularly mobile games that have the potential to become high-quality hit games, in its pipeline.

If Changyou is unable to develop or acquire new mobile games in general, and high quality games in particular, that are successful, or to maintain for a reasonable period the popularity and revenue levels of any mobile games that Changyou develops or acquires that are successful, Changyou may not be able to recoup its development and acquisition costs and its ability to expand its business in the future is likely to be impeded.

We believe that the chance of success for online games is improved if they are adapted from the titles, characters, themes, and story lines of popular works of Chinese and foreign authors. However, there are many risks and uncertainties related to obtaining the rights to adapt such works for online games, and Changyou’s games adapted from such works may not be successful.

We believe that, in order for many of the new online games that Changyou develops to be successful in China, it is important for it to obtain license rights, and preferably exclusive license rights, to adapt the titles, characters, themes and story lines of popular works for use in the games. For example, Changyou developed and it operates its PC game TLBB and its mobile games Legacy TLBB Mobile and TLBB 3D with various features that are included in reliance on rights under its existing license agreements with the Chinese martial arts author Louis Cha with respect to his popular novel Tian Long Ba Bu. We believe that these features have had a critical role in attracting and retaining many of the players of TLBB, Legacy TLBB Mobile, and TLBB 3D. However, Mr. Cha passed away in 2018, and Changyou will need to negotiate with his estate for the right to extend the licenses when they expire. If Changyou is unable to agree on extensions of the licenses, Changyou will be unable to develop new expansion packs for the applicable games if they incorporate Tian Long Ba Bu features, and Changyou may lose the rights to trademarks that Changyou has claimed as to various features and character names based on or inspired by Tian Long Ba Bu. In addition, it can be difficult to identify a sufficient number of such works that are suitable for adaptation for use in online games, and Changyou faces significant competition for the rights to such works from other online game companies that also adapt their online games from popular works. Obtaining license rights, and particularly exclusive license rights, to adapt suitable works for use in online games can involve significant expense, as the license fees, and the percentage of revenues from the games adapted from such works, payable to authors have continued to rise as competition for such license rights has intensified. In addition, Changyou has previously obtained, and intends to continue to seek to obtain, license rights for works from certain authors in foreign countries, and its ability to obtain such rights has previously been, and may be in the future be, adversely affected by greater scrutiny of such works, and a stricter approval process for permission to obtain such rights, by relevant Chinese authorities compared to the scrutiny of and approval process applicable to domestic works.

 

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Even if Changyou obtains license rights for works, we cannot assure you that games that Changyou adapts from such works will be popular and commercial successes and that Changyou will be able to recoup the amounts it pays for the license rights. Obtaining such rights and adapting such works for mobile games present additional risks, because of the relatively short lifespans of mobile games. Moreover, after the expiration of the terms of Changyou’s existing license agreements with the estate of Mr. Cha and other holders of copyrights, Changyou may not be able to renew the agreements with commercial terms that are favorable to it, if at all. Changyou’s inability to renew such agreements could force it to discontinue the related online games or, in the case of games based on Tian Long Ba Bu, to cease issuing any further expansion packs based on Tian Long Ba Bu, and have a significant adverse impact on its online game operations and revenues.

Changyou may not be able to distribute its mobile games through its desired Internet platforms, its profits from any successful mobile games can be expected to be relatively lower than the profits Changyou has enjoyed historically from PC games and its mobile game revenues are subject to additional risks as Changyou relies on mobile application stores to collect payments from players of its mobile games.

Changyou may not be able to arrange for its mobile games to be distributed through its desired popular third-party mobile application stores with commercial terms, including revenue-sharing arrangements that are favorable enough to it to allow it to achieve an acceptable level of profit from the games. Changyou’s profits from mobile games, even if the games are successful, are likely to be relatively lower than the profits it generates from PC games, because, in order to gain access for its games on mobile application stores, Changyou must enter into revenue-sharing arrangements that generally result in lower profit margins than those generated from its PC games. Due to market competition and pressures, only a handful of third-party mobile application stores and other game distribution channel providers have survived and, of the remaining providers, an even smaller number of key providers, including Tencent and Mobile Hardcore Alliance, collectively control a substantial share of the market. As a result, Changyou has reduced leverage and weaker bargaining power in business negotiations with game distribution channel providers, which may lead to Changyou being forced to agree to receiving relatively low revenue-sharing percentages for many of its mobile games.

Changyou relies on mobile application stores to collect payments from game players for their purchases of its virtual items and to pay to Changyou pre-agreed revenue-sharing amounts. If mobile application stores cease to offer Changyou’s games over their platforms, change their user payment policies, such as return policies, or fail to make revenue-sharing payments that are due to Changyou, Changyou’s revenues will be adversely affected. When Changyou distributes its games through smaller, less well-known application stores, Changyou may not receive revenue-sharing payments when they are due to it. In addition, the iOS-based mobile application store allows game players to use foreign currency to purchase virtual items or game points in Changyou’s games, and the store pays to Changyou pre-agreed revenue-sharing amounts after converting the foreign-currency denominated revenues from such purchases into RMB using an exchange rate effective at the time of the payment. Since there is usually a delay between the time of a game player’s purchase and the time when the store pays Changyou, if the foreign currency used has depreciated against the RMB during the delay Changyou will receive lower share-sharing amounts at the time of the payment than Changyou would have received if the payment had been made at the time of the game player’s purchase.

Changyou’s new mobile games will be less likely to be successful if Changyou cannot adopt and implement innovative and effective marketing strategies to attract attention to its games from game players in its targeted demographic groups.

A relatively large number of mobile games are typically available at any given time in the markets in which Changyou launches and operates its mobile games, and such games compete for attention from the same game player population that it targets. Changyou’s ability to successfully promote and monetize its mobile games will depend on its ability to adopt and effectively implement innovative marketing strategies, and particularly precision marketing through new media, such as Weibo, WeChat, bilibili.com Website and other online game forums, targeting potential mobile game players in general, and game players in specific demographic groups for certain games in particular, and Changyou’s ability to cross-market mobile games to players of its current PC games and mobile games. If Changyou fails to adopt and implement such marketing and cross-marketing strategies, or if the marketing strategies of Changyou’s competitors are more innovative and effective than Changyou’s, its mobile games will be less likely to be successful and as a result Changyou may not be able to achieve an acceptable level of revenue from those games.

Changyou’s development and operation of mobile games may be adversely affected by the promulgation of new, and the implementation and interpretation of existing, PRC laws and regulations affecting mobile games.

As mobile games are a relatively new type of online game in China, developers and operators of mobile games, including Changyou, have been facing increasingly intense regulatory scrutiny from PRC regulatory authorities regarding the development and operation of mobile games. Substantial uncertainties exist regarding the timing of the promulgation of, and any changes to, current and future PRC laws and regulations and the effect of the interpretation and implementation thereof, which may, among other things:

 

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have an adverse impact on the way Changyou designs its games and game features, which may make the games less attractive to game players;

 

   

have an adverse impact on Changyou’s ability to achieve an acceptable level of revenues and profit from its mobile games;

 

   

make it harder to access Changyou’s mobile games and cause a decrease in its player base;

 

   

increase the cost of the development and operation of Changyou’s mobile games; and

 

   

require substantial management attention and effort in monitoring the development of, and ensuring Changyou’s compliance with, existing and future PRC laws and regulations affecting the mobile games business.

For a discussion of the risks associated with PRC laws and regulations affecting online games in general and mobile games in particular, see “Risks Related to Doing Business in China” in this Item 3 of this annual report.

Changyou’s new games may attract game players away from its existing games.

With Changyou’s increasingly diversified game portfolio, we cannot assure you that players of Changyou’s existing games will not be attracted to play other newly launched games, including its new mobile games. If this occurs, it will decrease Changyou’s existing games’ player bases, which could in turn make these games less attractive to other game players, resulting in decreased revenues from its existing games. For example, revenues generated from Changyou’s mobile game TLBB 3D decreased significantly in the second quarter of 2017, and we believe that this may have been due in part to the launch of Changyou’s mobile game Legacy TLBB Mobile in May 2017. Game players who switch from playing Changyou’s existing games to its new games may also spend less money to purchase virtual items in its new games than they would have spent if they had continued playing Changyou’s existing games, resulting in an adverse effect on its overall revenues. In addition, game players’ switching from playing Changyou’s existing PC games to its new mobile games, as well as from its in-house developed games to its licensed games, could cause Changyou’s overall online game profits to be relatively lower, as its profits from mobile games and licensed games tend to be relatively lower as a result of revenue-sharing arrangements.

Changyou relies on recorded data for game revenue recognition and tracking of game players’ consumption patterns of virtual items. If its data systems fail to operate effectively, such failure will affect the completeness and accuracy of its revenue recognition, and also its ability to design and improve virtual items that appeal to game players.

Changyou’s game operation revenues are generated through the direct online sale of game points and sale of its prepaid game cards, and its recognition of those revenues depends on such factors as whether the virtual items purchased by game players are considered consumable or perpetual. Changyou’s revenue recognition policy with respect to perpetual virtual items is based on its best estimate of the lives of the items. Changyou considers the average period that paying players typically play its games and other player behavior patterns to arrive at its best estimate of the lives of these perpetual items. However, given the fast-evolving nature of the game industry and the various types of online games that Changyou offers to players with different tastes and preferences, its estimate of the period that players typically play its games may not accurately reflect the actual lives of these perpetual virtual items. Changyou revises its estimates as it gain operating data, and it attempts to refine its estimation process accordingly. Any future revisions to these estimates could adversely affect the time period during which Changyou recognizes revenues from these items. For example, an increase in the estimated lives of these perpetual virtual items would increase the period over which revenues from these items are recognized.

Changyou relies on its data systems to record and monitor the purchase and consumption of virtual items by its game players and the types of virtual items purchased. If its data systems fail to accurately record the purchase and consumption information of the virtual items, Changyou may not be able to accurately recognize its revenues. In addition, Changyou relies on its billing systems to capture such historical game player behavior patterns and other information. If such information is not accurately recorded, or if Changyou does not have sufficient information due to the short operating history of any of its games, Changyou will not be able to accurately estimate the lives of, or the estimated average period the game players play its games with respect to, the perpetual virtual items, which will also affect its ability to accurately recognize its revenues from such perpetual virtual items. If Changyou’s data systems were damaged by system failure, network interruption, or virus infection, or attacked by a hacker, the integrity of data would be compromised, which could adversely affect its revenue recognition and the completeness and accuracy of its recognized revenues.

In addition, Changyou relies on its data systems to record game player purchase and consumption patterns, based on which Changyou improves its existing virtual items and designs new virtual items. For example, Changyou intends to increase development efforts on the number and variety of virtual items that its game players like to purchase, and Changyou may also adjust prices accordingly. If its data systems fail to record data accurately, its ability to improve existing virtual items or design new virtual items that are appealing to its game players may be adversely affected, which could in turn adversely affect its revenues.

 

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Changyou could be liable for breaches in the security of its online payment platforms and those of third parties with whom Changyou transacts business, and any such breaches could cause its customers to lose confidence in the integrity of the payment systems that Changyou uses.

Currently, Changyou sells a substantial portion of its virtual game points and prepaid game cards to its game players through third-party online payment platforms. In these online transactions, secure transmission of confidential information, such as customers’ credit card numbers and expiration dates, personal information and billing addresses, over public networks is essential if Changyou is to maintain its consumers’ confidence in it. In addition, Changyou expects that an increasing amount of its sales will be conducted over the Internet as a result of the growing use of online payment systems. As a result, the risk of associated online crime will increase. Changyou’s current security measures and those of the third-party online payment platforms with whom Changyou transacts business may not be adequate. Changyou must be prepared to increase its security measures and efforts so that its game players have confidence in the reliability of the online payment systems that it uses, which will require Changyou to incur additional expense. Such increased security measures may still not make its online payment systems completely safe. In addition, Changyou does not have control over the security measures of its third-party online payment vendors. Breaches in the security of online payment systems that Changyou uses could expose it to litigation and liability for failing to secure confidential customer information, and could harm its reputation, ability to attract customers and ability to encourage customers to purchase virtual items.

Any failure of third-party developers of online games that Changyou licenses from or jointly develops with them to fulfill their obligations under Changyou’s license or joint operation agreements with them could have an adverse effect on Changyou’s operation of and revenues from those games.

Changyou derives a portion of its revenues from PC games and mobile games that Changyou licenses from, or jointly develops with, third-party developers. Under its license and joint development agreements for these games, Changyou relies on the third-party developers to provide game updates, enhancements and new versions, provide materials and other assistance in promoting the games and resolving game programming errors and issues with “bots” and other intrusions. Any failure of third-party developers to provide game updates, enhancements and new versions in a timely manner and that are appealing to game players, provide assistance that enables Changyou to effectively promote the games, or otherwise fulfill their obligations under Changyou’s license and joint development agreements could adversely affect the game-playing experience of Changyou’s game players, damage its reputation, or shorten the life-spans of those games, any of which could result in the loss of game players, acceleration of Changyou’s amortization of the license fees it has paid for those games, or a decrease in or elimination of its revenues from those games.

Furthermore, for games that Changyou licenses from or jointly develops with third parties, Changyou may not have access to the game source codes during the initial period of the license, or at all. Without the source codes, Changyou has to rely on the licensors to provide updates and enhancements, giving it less control over the quality and timeliness of updates and enhancements. If Changyou’s game players are not satisfied with the level of services they receive, they may choose to not play the games.

There are additional risks associated with Changyou’s licensing from overseas developers of online games that are successful only in particular overseas markets, because such games may not be successful in the China market and other markets if Changyou is not able to successfully customize the games to adapt to differences in culture and user preferences in the China market and other markets.

Changyou receives relatively lower profits from the operation of online games that it licenses from or jointly develops with third-party developers.

Changyou’s revenue-sharing arrangements for games that Changyou licenses from or jointly develops with third-party developers provide Changyou with relatively less profit than games that Changyou develops in-house, and in some cases Changyou may not be able to recoup its investments in such games. Moreover, to secure the rights to games from third-party developers, Changyou often must pay up-front fees and also commit to pay additional fees in the future. Changyou also has invested in mobile game development studios in order to assure access to an extensive pipeline of mobile games. Changyou often must make such commitments and investments without knowing whether the games Changyou is licensing or jointly developing will be successful and generate sufficient revenues to enable Changyou to recoup its costs or for the games to be profitable.

Changyou faces significant risks and incurs substantial costs when it licenses its games to, or jointly operates them with, third-party operators, and Changyou faces additional risks and costs when it directly operates its games or licenses its games to, or jointly operates its games with, third-party operators in overseas markets.

Changyou currently, and expects to continue to, exclusively license to, or jointly operate with, third-party operators some of its games, including an increasing number of its mobile games, in markets that Changyou selects, including overseas markets. Changyou faces significant risks associated with the licensing or joint operation of Changyou’s games, including:

 

   

difficulties in identifying appropriate markets;

 

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difficulties in identifying, negotiating and maintaining good relationships with licensees or joint operators who are knowledgeable about, and can effectively operate Changyou’s games in, particular markets;

 

   

difficulties in maintaining Changyou’s reputation and the reputation of its games when its games are operated by licensees or joint operators pursuant to their own standards; and

 

   

difficulties in protecting Changyou’s intellectual property.

Changyou currently licenses and operates, and expects to continue to expand the licensing and operation of, some of its existing and future games, either directly or jointly with third-party operators, in selected overseas markets. Additional risks associated with the licensing or direct or joint operation of Changyou’s games overseas include:

 

   

difficulties and significant costs in protecting Changyou’s intellectual property in overseas markets;

 

   

difficulties in retaining and maintaining local management and key development and technical personnel who are experienced and knowledgeable about, and can effectively operate Changyou’s games in, particular markets;

 

   

uncertainties relating to Changyou’s ability to develop its games and/or expansion packs catering to particular overseas markets;

 

   

uncertainties relating to Changyou’s ability to renew its license and joint operation agreements with licensees and joint operators upon their expiration;

 

   

for Changyou’s direct operation of its games overseas, interruptions in the operation of the games due to cross-border Internet connection or other system failures;

 

   

significant costs for translation of its games into the local languages of, or customization of its games for, the overseas markets in which Changyou plans to license or jointly operate its games;

 

   

limited choices of third-party Internet platforms to distribute Changyou’s mobile games in certain overseas markets;

 

   

difficulty for Changyou’s management to exercise timely and effective supervision and administration of local management and employees in general, and their interactions with local third-party Internet platforms or other service providers in particular, in order to identify and prevent any sloppy, dishonest or illegal activities, which could harm Changyou’s business and reputation or subject Changyou to penalties;

 

   

significant marketing costs to promote Changyou’s games in certain overseas markets where third-party Internet platforms do not include marketing services as part of the revenue-sharing arrangements;

 

   

different game player preferences in certain overseas markets;

 

   

difficulties and significant costs relating to compliance with the different legal requirements and commercial terms, such as game export regulatory procedures, taxes and other restrictions and expenses, in the overseas markets in which Changyou licenses or directly or jointly operates its games;

 

   

exposure to different regulatory systems governing the protection of intellectual property and the regulation of online games, the Internet and the export of technology;

 

   

costs for compliance with different legal requirements and commercial terms in overseas markets;

 

   

difficulties in verifying revenues generated from Changyou’s games by its licensees for purposes of determining royalties payable to Changyou;

 

   

difficulties and delays in contract enforcement and collection of receivables through the use of foreign legal systems;

 

   

changes in the political, regulatory or economic conditions, or public policy, affecting online games in particular foreign countries or regions;

 

   

the risk that regulatory authorities in foreign countries or administrative regions may impose withholding taxes, or place restrictions on repatriation of Changyou’s profits; and

 

   

fluctuations in currency exchange rates.

If Changyou is unable to manage these risks and control these costs effectively, its ability to license or operate its games in China or in regions and countries outside of Mainland China, either directly or jointly with third-party joint operators, may be impaired.

Changyou may not be successful in operating and improving its games to satisfy the changing demands of game players.

Changyou depends on purchases and continual consumption of virtual items by its game players to generate revenues, which in turn depend on the continued attractiveness of its games to the game players and their satisfactory game-playing experience. Various issues could arise that would cause its games to be less attractive to its game players or could limit the continued attractiveness of its games. For example:

 

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Changyou may fail to provide game updates, expansion packs and other enhancements in a timely manner due to technological or resource limitations, or other factors;

 

   

Changyou’s game updates, expansion packs and new versions may contain programming errors, and their installation may create other unforeseen issues that adversely affect the game-playing experience;

 

   

Changyou may fail to timely respond and/or resolve complaints from its game players;

 

   

Changyou may fail to eliminate computer “bots” which can disrupt its games’ smooth operation and reduce the attractiveness of its games; and

 

   

Changyou’s game updates, expansion packs and other enhancements may change rules or other aspects of its games that its game players do not welcome, resulting in a reduction in the active accounts or active paying accounts of its online games.

Changyou’s failure to address these issues could adversely affect the game-playing experience of its game players, damage the reputation of its games, shorten the lifespans of its games, and result in the loss of game players and a decrease in its revenues.

Changyou may fail to launch new games according to its timetable, and its new games may not be commercially successful.

All online games have limited lifespans. Changyou must launch new games that can generate additional revenue and diversify its revenue sources in order to remain competitive. Changyou will not generate any meaningful revenue from a game in development until it is commercially launched after open beta testing, and we cannot assure you that Changyou will be able to meet its timetable for new game launches or that its new games will be successful. A number of factors, including technical difficulties, lack of sufficient game development capabilities, personnel and other resources, failure to obtain or delays in obtaining relevant governmental authorities’ approvals and adverse developments in Changyou’s relationships with the licensors or third-party operators of its new games could result in delayed launching of its new games or the cancellation of the development of its pipeline games. In addition, we cannot assure you that Changyou’s new games will be as well received in the market as TLBB, Legacy TLBB Mobile, and TLBB 3D have been, and you should not view Changyou’s historical game revenues or the success of TLBB, Legacy TLBB Mobile, and TLBB 3D as indications of the commercial success of any of its new or future games. Changyou may fail to anticipate and adapt to future technical trends, new business models and changed game player preferences and requirements, fail to effectively plan and organize marketing and promotion activities, or fail to differentiate its new games from its existing games. If the new games Changyou introduces are not commercially successful, Changyou may not be able to generate sufficient revenues from new games to sustain or grow its revenues or to recover its product development costs and sales and marketing expenses, which can be significant. If Changyou acquires and pays for a license giving it the right to adapt an online game from an author’s work, but does not complete the development and introduction into the market of the game, or Changyou introduces the game but it is not successful, Changyou may not be able to recover the license fees it has paid.

Changyou generates all of its game revenues under the item-based revenue model, which presents risks related to consumer preferences and regulatory restrictions.

All of Changyou’s games, including PC games and mobile games, are operated under the item-based revenue model. Under this revenue model, Changyou’s game players are able to play the games for free, but are charged for the purchase of virtual items in the games. The item-based revenue model requires Changyou to design games that not only attract game players to spend more time playing, but also encourage them to purchase virtual items. The sale of virtual items requires Changyou to track closely consumer tastes and preferences, especially as to in-game consumption patterns. If Changyou fails to design and price virtual items so as to incentivize game players to purchase them, Changyou may not be able to effectively translate its game player base and their playing time into revenues. In addition, the item-based revenue model may cause additional concerns with PRC regulators who have been implementing regulations designed to reduce the amount of time that Chinese youths spend on online games and intended to limit the total amount of virtual currency issued by online game operators and the amount purchased by individual game players. A revenue model that does not charge for time played may be viewed by the PRC regulators as inconsistent with these goals. The item-based revenue model may not continue to be commercially successful and in the future Changyou may need to change its revenue model to a time-based or other revenue model. Any change in revenue model could result in disruption of Changyou’s game operations, a decrease in the number of its game players and a decline in its revenues.

Undetected programming errors or defects in Changyou’s games could harm its reputation and adversely affect its results of operations.

Changyou makes frequent improvement and updates to its online games, which may contain bugs or flaws that become apparent only after the updated games are accessed by users, particularly as Changyou launches new updates under tight time constraints. If for any reason programming bugs or flaws are not resolved in a timely fashion, Changyou may lose some of its users, and third-party operators that license or jointly operate its games may seek to recover damages from it, which could have an adverse effect on Changyou’s results of operations, and could harm its reputation and the market acceptance of its games.

Breaches in the security of Changyou’s server network, or cloud-based servers that it leases from third-party operators, could cause disruptions in its service or operations, facilitate piracy of its intellectual property, or compromise confidential information of its game players and its business.

Changyou stores on its servers, including physical servers that Changyou owns or rent and cloud-based servers that Changyou leases from third-party operators, and transmits over the Internet considerable and continually increasing amounts of data, much of which is essential to the operation of its business and some of which is highly confidential information concerning its business and its game players. In addition, the expansion of Changyou’s business to include mobile games and its need to comply with PRC regulations requiring real-name registration of its game players are likely to cause the amount of personal data concerning its game players that is transmitted over its networks to increase over time. Any breaches by hackers of Changyou’s network or of cloud-based servers Changyou leases from third-party operators could cause severe disruptions in its game development and operations and other business activities, allow piracy of the source code used in the operation of its games and allow pirated versions of its games to enter the marketplace, or result in the release of confidential personal or financial information of its game players or confidential information concerning Changyou’s business, any of which could have an adverse impact on Changyou’s business, its revenues, and its reputation among game players. In order to minimize the likelihood of such breaches as Changyou’s business expands and the amount of confidential and sensitive data increases, we expect that Changyou will need to expend considerable resources to maintain and enhance the effectiveness of its security systems.

 

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Rapid technological changes may increase Changyou’s game development costs.

Technological development in online game industry is evolving rapidly, so Changyou needs to anticipate new technologies and evaluate their possible market acceptance. For example, the use of VR technology has become prevalent in the industry, and an increasing number of game players hope to have VR included in online games that they access. Changyou has begun investing, and expects to continue to invest in the future, resources to develop VR technology and online games using VR technology. However, Changyou is not aware of any proven business or monetization model for online games using VR technology, and playing online games with VR technology generally requires devices with particularly high-level technical specifications, which may limit the number of players. If online games using VR technology that Changyou develops and launches are not well received by game players, Changyou may not be able to recoup its related development costs. In addition, government authorities or industry organizations may adopt new technical standards that apply to game development. Any new technologies and new standards may require increases in expenditures for PC game and mobile game development and operations and continuing professional training of Changyou’s development and technical personnel, and Changyou will need to adapt its business and prepare its workforce to cope with the changes and support these new services to be successful. If Changyou falls behind in adopting new technologies or standards, its existing games may lose popularity, and its newly developed games may not be well received in the marketplace.

The proliferation of “cheating” programs and scam offers that seek to exploit Changyou’s games and players harms the game-playing experience and may lead players to stop playing its games.

Third parties have developed, and may continue to develop, “cheating” programs that enable players to exploit Changyou’s games, play the games in an automated way or obtain unfair advantages over other players who play fairly. These programs harm the experience of players who play fairly and may disrupt the economics of Changyou’s games. In addition, unrelated third parties may attempt to scam Changyou’s players with fake offers for virtual items. Changyou needs to devote significant resources to discover, disable and prevent such programs and activities, and if Changyou is unable to do so quickly its operations may be disrupted, its reputation may be damaged and players may stop playing its games. This may lead to lost revenue and increased costs for Changyou to develop technological measures to combat such programs and activities.

Game players’ spending on Changyou’s games may be adversely affected by slower growth in the Chinese economy and adverse conditions in the global economy.

Changyou relies for its revenues on the spending of its game players, which in turn depends on the players’ level of disposable income, perceived future earnings capabilities and willingness to spend. The real estate market in the PRC and the level of exports from the PRC have both experienced significant declines recently and, according to the National Bureau of Statistics of China, the growth rate of China’s gross domestic product, compared to that of the previous year, went from 7.4% in 2014, to 6.9% in 2015, to 6.7% in 2016, to 6.9% in 2017, and to 6.6% in 2018. Such growth may also slow in the future, which could in turn result in a reduction in spending by Changyou’s game players.

In addition, the global economy has experienced significant instability and there has been volatility in global financial and credit markets in recent years, recent growth in the United States economy may not be sustainable and some analysts are concerned that the European Community may experience a sustained downturn. It is unclear how long such instability and volatility will continue, whether it will increase, whether it will lead to a renewed worldwide economic downturn such as the one that began in 2008, and how much adverse impact such instability and volatility or any such downturn might have on the economies of China and other jurisdictions where Changyou operates its games. Any such instability, volatility or adverse impact in China or in overseas markets could cause Changyou’s game players to reduce their spending on its games in China or overseas and reduce its revenues.

Risks Related to the Platform Channel Business

Notwithstanding Changyou’s significant investment in its platform channel business, Changyou was unable to successfully monetize it beyond the operation of the 17173.com Website, and Changyou was not able to recoup all of its investment. Changyou may have similar adverse experiences with future investments.

 

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During 2013 and 2014 Changyou made significant investments in acquiring assets and marketing, including both domestic and overseas marketing, and spent considerable sums to increase its staffing levels, with the goal of expanding and promoting its platform channel business beyond the operation of the 17173.com Website. However, Changyou did not generate meaningful revenues from such additions to its platform channel business as its efforts to monetize those products and services were not successful, and Changyou does not expect to be able to make its platform channel business apart from the 17173.com Website profitable or to recoup the investments it made in assets, marketing and staffing for the platform channel business. For example, after Changyou’s acquisition of a majority interest in MoboTap, Changyou’s management concluded that the Dolphin Browser operated by MoboTap would not be able to provide expected synergies with Changyou’s platform channel business, and Changyou recognized substantial impairment charges as a result and sold MoboTap in 2018. Also see “Changyou’s previous and any future acquisitions and/or strategic alliances may have an adverse effect on its ability to manage its business and may also result in impairment charges.”

Online advertising revenues from the 17173.com Website could fail to grow, or could decline further, as a result of the shift from PC games to mobile games in the online games market and uncertainties in the online advertising market.

Changyou’s online advertising revenues of $19.7 million for the year ended December 31, 2018, which were mainly derived from the operation of the 17173.com Website, represented 4.0% of Changyou’s total revenues for the year, and represented a decline of $5.4 million, or 22%, from its online advertising revenues for the year ended December 31, 2017. Changyou’s ability to avoid further declines in, or grow, its online advertising revenues may be adversely affected by any of the following risk factors:

 

   

Changes in government policy could restrict or curtail Changyou’s online advertising services;

 

   

The decline in the demand for online advertising services from developers and operators of PC games, as the relative popularity of such games continues to decline;

 

   

Advertising clients may adopt new methods and strategies other than online advertising to promote their brands, which would have an adverse impact on Changyou’s advertising revenues; and

 

   

The acceptance of the Internet as a medium for advertising depends on the development of a measurement standard. No standards for the measurement of the effectiveness of online advertising have been widely accepted. Industry-wide standards may not develop sufficiently to support the Internet as an effective advertising medium. If these standards do not develop, advertisers may choose not to advertise on the Internet in general, or through Changyou’s Websites.

In addition, Changyou’s ability to generate and maintain significant online advertising revenues will also depend upon:

 

   

the development of a large base of users possessing demographic characteristics attractive to advertising clients;

 

   

the development of successful mobile versions of the 17173.com Website and the provision of extensive mobile game-related products and services in response to the rapid migration of users of Internet services from PCs to mobile devices, such as tablets and mobile phones;

 

   

the acceptance of online advertisements, either through PCs or mobile devices, as an effective method of business marketing;

 

   

the effectiveness of Changyou’s advertising delivery, tracking and reporting systems;

 

   

the extent of resistance from existing or potential customers to online advertising prices; and

 

   

the development of new formats for online advertising, such as streaming video.

The expansion of Internet advertisement blocking software may result in a decrease in advertising revenues.

The development of Web software that blocks Internet advertisements before they appear on a user’s screen may hinder the growth of online advertising. The expansion of advertisement blocking on the Internet may decrease Changyou’s revenues from the 17173.com Website because, when an advertisement is blocked, it is not downloaded from the server, which means that it will not be tracked as a delivered advertisement. In addition, advertisers may choose not to advertise on the Internet or on Changyou’s 17173.com Website because of the use by third parties of Internet advertisement blocking software.

Changyou relies on advertising agencies to sell online advertising services on the 17173.com Website. If current trends of consolidation of advertising agencies in the China market continue, the bargaining power of the large advertising agencies resulting from such consolidation may permit them to require that Changyou pay higher sales rebates, which would adversely affect Changyou’s online advertising revenues.

Most of the online advertising services of the 17173.com Website are distributed by, and most of the online advertising revenues of the 17173.com Website are derived from, advertising agencies. For example, in 2018 Changyou engaged eight advertising agencies, which contributed approximately 99.6% of the online advertising revenues of the 17173.com Website. In consideration for these agencies’ services, Changyou is required to pay certain percentages of revenues as sales rebates. If the online advertising market is consolidated and effectively controlled by a small number of large advertising agencies, such advertising agencies may be in a position to demand higher sales rebates based on increased bargaining power, which could negatively affect Changyou’s online advertising growth, as Changyou books its online advertising revenue net of its sales rebates to advertising agencies.

 

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Risks Related to the Cinema Advertising Business

There are uncertainties regarding the future growth of the cinema advertising industry in China.

Changyou’s cinema adverting business experienced strong growth in 2016 and 2017 and has benefited from robust growth in China’s cinema and movie industry in recent years, but suffered a significant decline in revenues in 2018 due to Changyou’s having adjusted its strategy in relation to the acquisition and sale of advertising resources. If the recent growth in China’s cinema and movie industry slows or the industry declines in the future, pre-film advertising slots are likely to become less attractive to advertisers, which would have an adverse effect on Changyou’s cinema advertising business. In addition, advertisers are increasingly turning to new advertising formats, such as video streaming, as Internet technology develops. If pre-film advertising becomes less attractive to advertisers than such new formats, Changyou’s cinema business will be adversely affected. Moreover, the rapid growth of Changyou’s cinema advertising business in recent years placed strain on its management personnel, systems and resources. Changyou may not be able to efficiently or effectively implement its growth strategies and manage the growth of its cinema advertising business, and any failure to do so may limit its future growth and hamper its overall business strategy.

Changyou may not be able to successfully manage its growth in the highly competitive cinema advertising market.

Changyou faces intense competition for the acquisition of the rights to and placement of pre-film advertising slots. See “Changyou’s business may not succeed in a highly competitive market.” Changyou may not be able to effectively compete with its competitors in developing, maintaining or expanding the types of cooperative relationships with operators of movie theaters that will permit it to maintain its existing rights or to obtain additional rights to pre-film advertisement slots at reasonable prices, on the one hand, and in attracting advertisers that will place their advertisements in the pre-film advertisement slots that it offers, on the other hand, as Changyou’s competitors may have greater financial resources, greater brand recognition among operators of movie theaters and advertisers and more capable and effective management, sales and marketing forces and strategies than it does, which would have an adverse impact on the prospect for growth of its cinema advertising business.

Changyou faces risks related to its purchase of pre-film advertising slots.

In order for Changyou to compete effectively in its desired markets, Changyou must continue to build and maintain a competitive reserve of pre-film advertisement slots in those markets and has incurred, and expects to continue to incur, significant upfront costs to acquire the pre-film advertising rights for such pre-film advertising slots under long-term contracts, typically with one to three year terms, with operators of various movie theaters, which has placed, and will continue to place, constraints on its cash flow. There is a risk that Changyou will lose those upfront acquisition costs, because Changyou is not able to generate corresponding revenues and begin to recoup the costs until it has both entered into contracts with advertisers for the pre-film advertising slots that it has acquired and displayed the advertiser’s advertisements in those slots. Such delay in generating corresponding revenues may also place constraints on the cash flow available to Changyou for maintaining and expanding its cinema advertising business. Moreover, Changyou may be forced to make additional payments to operators of popular movie theaters in certain regional markets that are particularly competitive if the average market prices for pre-film advertisement slots in such markets increase significantly during the contract period and the operators threaten to terminate their contracts with Changyou in order to enter into more profitable contracts with its competitors.

Changyou may not be able to maintain or expand the revenues that it receives from cinema advertising services.

Changyou’s cinema advertising business generates revenues through contracts that it enters into with advertisers to place their advertisements in the pre-film advertising slots that Changyou has purchased from operators of movie theaters. Changyou relies on its sales force to identify and sell pre-film advertising slots to potential advertisers. If Changyou cannot maintain a stable and capable sales force or if Changyou is unable to sell to advertisers a large enough portion of the pre-film advertising slots, it may not be able to generate sufficient revenues to recoup its upfront payments and additional committed payments under the contracts with the operators of the movie theaters. Any failure by Changyou to develop, maintain or expand cooperative relationships with advertisers could cause its cinema advertising revenues to decrease.

The prospects for growth of Changyou’s cinema adverting business may be adversely affected by the promulgation, implementation, and interpretation of PRC laws and regulations concerning cinema adverting.

Under the Notice on Strengthening the Administration of Cinema Advertising and the Notice on Further Regulating the Administration of the Cinema Advertising, effective on July 2004 and February 2009, respectively, cinema advertising operators and the content of cinema advertisements must comply with the Advertising Law of the People’s Republic of China (the “New Advertising Law”) issued by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, which became effective on September 1, 2015 and was amended on October 26, 2018, and other relevant laws and regulations. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress promulgated the Film Industry Promotion Law of PRC (the “FIPL”), effective on March 1, 2017. Among other things, the FIPL forbids the displaying of advertisements during the presentation of a feature film. If any existing or future PRC laws or regulations, or their implementation or interpretation by the relevant authorities, place burdensome restrictions on cinema advertising, Changyou’s cinema advertising business may be adversely affected.

 

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Risks Related to Doing Business in China

The SAPPRFT’s, the MIIT’s, the MCT’s, and other PRC authorities’ regulatory supervision of the online game industry may adversely affect Changyou’s online game operations.

The SAPPRFT has issued a series of regulations affecting the online game industry and providing guidance regarding online game operations. The SAPPRFT issued a notice in September 2009 stating that the SAPPRFT would be the only governmental agency with the authority to review and approve online games, including reviewing and approving the importation of online games from Offshore copyright owners, and that all online game operators must obtain an Internet publishing license in order to operate online games and related services and obtain additional pre-approval from the SAPPRFT to make any changes to, or any new versions or expansion packs of, the originally approved online games. The Measures of Internet Publication Service Administration issued by the SAPPRFT and the MIIT, or the New Internet Publication Measures, which became effective on March 10, 2016 and replaced the Temporary Measures for Internet Publication Administration that had become effective in 2002, require that entities in the Internet publishing business apply for an online publishing service license, instead of an Internet publishing license, that entities holding an Internet publishing license apply for an online publishing service license within a specified period of time to replace their Internet publishing license, and that all such entities obtain approval from the SAPPRFT prior to the publication of new online games. On May 24, 2016, the SAPPRFT issued a Notice of the SAPPRFT on Administration of Mobile Game Publishing Services, or the Mobile Game Notice, which became effective on July 1, 2016. The Mobile Game Notice provides that the content of mobile games is subject to review, and that mobile game publishers and operators must apply for publishing and authorization codes for the games. Under the Mobile Game Notice, significant upgrades and expansion packs for mobile games that have previously been approved for publishing may be regarded as new works, and the operators will be required to obtain approval for such upgrades and expansion packs before they are released. In the event of any failure to meet these license and approval requirements, an operator may face heavy penalties, such as being ordered to stop operation, or having its business license revoked. In addition, the State Press Publication Administration (the “SPPA”), as a successor agency to SAPPRFT, may delay or temporarily suspend its review of, and issuance of publishing and authorization codes for, online games, as was the case between April 2018 and December 2018. Changyou’s online game business may be adversely affected by these SAPPRFT and MIIT notices and related implementation measures, as the launch of online games, new versions, expansion packs and imported games might be delayed because of the approval required. Such delays may result in higher costs for Changyou’s online game operation and have an adverse effect on its game revenue.

The MCT also has issued regulations affecting the online game industry. For example, on June 3, 2010, the MCT issued the Interim Measures for Online Games Administration, or the Online Game Measures, which became effective on August 1, 2010 and were amended on December 15, 2017. The Online Game Measures stipulate that the MCT has the power to review the content of all online games except online game publications that have been pre-approved by the SAPPRFT or the SPPA. However, the Online Game Measures do not clearly specify what constitutes “online game publication.” Furthermore, the Online Game Measures provide that all domestic online games must be filed with the MCT, while all imported online games are subject to a content review prior to their launch. If a substantial change (for example, any significant modification to a game’s storyline, language, tasks, or trading system) is made to an existing imported or domestic online game, it will be subject to a new content review. Changyou’s online game business may be adversely affected by the Online Game Measures. The Online Game Measures do not set forth any specific procedure for the required filing and content review procedures for online games and therefore may cause delay when Changyou tries to file or apply for content review with the MCT. For Changyou’s imported licensed games, the requirement for pre-approval by the MCT of any substantial change of Changyou’s games may cause delay in releasing its expansion packs of the games, which may result in higher costs for its online game operations and have an adverse effect on its game revenues. In addition, the Online Game Measures do not resolve certain inconsistencies and ambiguities resulting from pronouncements included in previous notices issued by the SAPPRFT and the MCT.

Because there is ambiguity in the scope of the authority and the roles and responsibilities of governmental departments, such as the SPPA, as a successor agency to the SAPPRFT, and the MCT, with oversight of the online game industry, Changyou may face stricter scrutiny of the day-to-day operations of its online game business. If any of its online game operating entities cannot comply with any of the stipulations of any PRC governmental department regarding the online game industry, Changyou may be subject to various penalties and its online game business may be adversely affected.

PRC law and regulations governing the online game industry in China are evolving and subject to future changes. Changyou may fail to obtain or maintain all applicable permits, approvals, registrations and filings.

The online game industry in China is highly regulated by the PRC government. Various regulatory authorities of the PRC central government, such as the State Council, the MIIT, the SPPA, the MCT and the MPS, have the power to issue and implement regulations governing various aspects of the online game industry.

Changyou is required to obtain applicable permits, approvals and registrations from, and make necessary filings with, different regulatory authorities in order to operate its online games. For example, as an online game operator in China, Changyou must obtain an ICP license from the MIIT, an Online Cultural Operating Permit from the MCT and an online publishing service license from the SPPA in order to distribute games through the Internet. Any online game Changyou operates needs to be approved by the SPPA prior to its launch and filed with the MCT within 30 days after its launch. Once a new online game or any upgrade, expansion pack or new version of any existing game is launched, such new game or such upgrade, expansion pack or new version must be filed with the MCT and approval must be obtained from the SPPA for online publication. If Changyou fails to maintain any of its permits, approvals or registrations, to make any necessary filings, or to apply for and obtain any new permits, approvals or registrations or make any new filings on a timely basis, Changyou may be subject to various penalties, including fines and a requirement that it discontinues or limits its operations.

 

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As the online game industry is at an early stage of development in China, new law and regulations may be adopted from time to time to require additional licenses and permits other than those Changyou currently has, and address new issues that arise. In addition, substantial uncertainties exist regarding the interpretation and implementation of current and any future PRC law and regulations applicable to the online game industry. Furthermore, as mobile games are a relatively new type of online game, there are uncertainties relating to whether a game developer, such as Changyou, which provides mobile games to mobile device users, needs to obtain a separate operating license in addition to the ICP license that it has already obtained. For any mobile games Changyou launches, Changyou may be required to apply for a separate operating license for the mobile applications. Therefore, it may not be able to obtain timely, or at all, required licenses or any other new license required in the future, and it may be found to be in violation of current or future PRC law and regulations, which could impede its ability to conduct business.

Changyou operates some of its existing games, and plans to operate certain of its future games, with Internet authorization codes that it obtained through third-party electronic publishing entities. If the SPPA challenges the commercial operation of any of Changyou’s games that are operated with Internet authorization codes obtained through third-party publishing entities, Changyou may be subject to various penalties, including restrictions on its operations.

Under regulations issued by the SAPPRFT and the MIIT, online game operators are required to have an online publishing service license (or before the New Internet Publication Measures became effective on March 10, 2016, an Internet publishing license), and an authorization code obtained under such a license is required for each game in operation and publicly available in the PRC. Changyou publishes certain of its existing games with authorization codes obtained under Internet publishing licenses held by third parties. See “Government Regulation and Legal Uncertainties—Specific Statutes and Regulations—Regulation of Online Games Services—Online Games and Cultural Products.” Current PRC regulations are not clear as to the consequence of obtaining authorization codes through the licenses of third-party entities. Changyou’s past and expected future practices might be challenged by the SPPA, as a successor agency to the SAPPRFT, which could subject Changyou to various penalties, including fines, confiscation of publishing equipment and the revenues generated from the publishing activities, the revocation of its business license, or the forced discontinuation of or restrictions on its operations.

Restrictions on virtual currency may adversely affect Changyou’s online game revenues.

Changyou’s online game revenues are collected through the online sale of game points and sale of its prepaid cards, which are considered to be the “virtual currency” as such term is defined in the Notice on Strengthening the Administration of Online Game Virtual Currency, or the Virtual Currency Notice, which was jointly issued by the MCT and the MOFCOM in 2009. PRC laws and regulations, including the Virtual Currency Notice, have provided various restrictions on virtual currency and imposed various requirements and obligations on online game operators with respect to the virtual currency used in their games, including that (i) the total amount of virtual currency issued by online game operators and the amount purchased by individual users in the PRC is subject to limits, and online game operators are required to report the total amount of their issued virtual currency on a quarterly basis and are prohibited from issuing disproportionate amounts of virtual currency in order to generate revenues; (ii) virtual currency may only be provided to users in exchange for payment in RMB and may only be used to pay for virtual goods and services of the issuer of the currency, and online game operators are required to keep transaction data records for no less than 180 days; (iii) online game operators are prohibited from providing lucky draws or lotteries that are conducted on the condition that participants contribute cash or virtual currency in exchange for game props or virtual currencies; (iv) online game operators are prohibited from providing virtual currency trading services to minors; and (v) companies involved with virtual currency in the PRC must be either issuers or trading platforms, and may not operate simultaneously as issuers and as trading platforms. On December 1, 2016, the MCT issued Notice of Ministry of Culture on Regulating Online Game Operation Strengthening Interim and Ex-post Supervision, or the Online Game Operation Notice, which became effective on May 1, 2017. The Online Game Operation Notice stipulates that online game operators may not allow online game virtual currency to be exchanged for real currency or physical items, except that, when online game operators cease offering their online game products and services to users, the operators may repay the users with real currency or other actual physical or intangible assets for unused virtual currency. Changyou must tailor its business model carefully, including designing and operating its databases to maintain users’ information for the minimum required period, in order to comply with the requirements of current PRC laws and regulations, including the Virtual Currency Notice and the Online Game Operation Notice, in a manner that in many cases can be expected to result in relatively lower sales of its game coins and an adverse impact on its online game revenues.

Changyou’s business may be adversely affected by public opinion and governmental policies in China as well as in other jurisdictions where it operates its online games or licenses its online games to third parties.

Currently, most of Changyou’s game players in China are young males, many of whom are students. Due to relatively easy access to personal computers and Internet cafés, the increasing use and popularity of mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets connected to the Internet, and the lack of other appealing forms of entertainment in China, many teenagers in China frequently play online games. This may result in these teenagers spending less time on or refraining from other activities, including education, vocational training, sports, and resting, which could result in adverse public reaction and stricter government regulation. For example, the PRC government has promulgated anti-fatigue-related regulations to limit the amount of time minors can play online games.

 

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Adverse public opinion could discourage game players from playing Changyou’s games, and could result in government regulations that impose additional limitations on the operations of online games as well as game players’ access to online games. For example, under the Monitor System Circular online game operators are required to adopt various measures to maintain a system to communicate with the parents of minors playing online games and are required to monitor the activities of minors and suspend the accounts of minors if so requested by their parents. We believe that stricter government regulations, such as regulations imposing stricter age and hour limits, limiting the issuance of virtual currency by online game operators or the amount of virtual currency that can be purchased by an individual game player, and extending anti-fatigue-related regulations to adults, could be implemented in the future. Any such adverse public opinion or tightened government regulations could adversely affect Changyou’s ability to maintain or increase its revenues.

In addition, the PRC State Administration of Taxation, or the SAT, has announced that it will tax game players on the income derived from the trading of virtual currencies at the rate of 20%. It is currently unclear how the tax will be collected or if there will be any effect on Changyou’s game players or its business, but collection of such a tax might discourage players who are interested in trading virtual currencies from playing its games, which could reduce its revenues.

Moreover, similar adverse public reaction may arise, and similar government policies may be adopted, in other jurisdictions where Changyou licenses or operates its games, which could similarly adversely affect its revenues.

Regulation and censorship of information disseminated over the Internet in China may adversely affect our business, and Changyou may be liable for information displayed on, retrieved from or linked to its Websites.

The PRC government has adopted regulations governing Internet access and the distribution of news and other information over the Internet. Under these regulations, Internet content providers and Internet publishers are prohibited from posting or displaying over the Internet any content that, among other things, violates PRC law and regulations, impairs the national dignity of China, or is obscene, superstitious, fraudulent or defamatory. When Internet content providers and Internet publishers, including online game operators, find that information falling within the above scope is transmitted on their Websites or is stored in their electronic bulletin service systems, they are required to terminate the transmission of such information or delete such information immediately, keep records, and report to relevant authorities. Failure to comply with these requirements could result in the revocation of Changyou’s ICP license and other required licenses and the closure of its Websites. Internet content providers may also be held liable for prohibited information displayed on, retrieved from or linked to their Websites.

In addition, the MIIT has published regulations that subject Internet content providers to potential liability for the actions of game players and others using their Websites, including liability for violations of PRC law prohibiting the dissemination of content deemed to be socially destabilizing. As these regulations are subject to interpretation by the relevant authorities, it is not possible for Changyou to determine in all cases the type of content that could result in liability for it as a developer and operator of online games, and as an operator of the 17173.com Website. In addition, Changyou may not be able to control or restrict the content of other Internet content providers linked to or accessible through its Websites, or content generated or placed on its Websites by its game players, despite its attempt to monitor such content. To the extent that regulatory authorities find any portion of its content objectionable, they may require Changyou to curtail its games, which may reduce its game player base, the amount of time its games are played or the purchases of virtual items.

There are currently no laws or regulations in the PRC governing property rights with respect to virtual assets and therefore it is not clear what liabilities, if any, Changyou may have relating to the loss of virtual assets by its game players.

In the course of playing Changyou’s games, game players can acquire and accumulate virtual assets, such as game player experience, skills and weaponry. Such virtual assets can be highly valued by game players and in some cases are traded among game players for real money or assets. In practice, virtual assets can be lost for various reasons, such as data loss caused by delay of network service by a network crash, or by hacking activities. There are currently no PRC laws or regulations governing property rights with respect to virtual assets. As a result, it is unclear who the legal owner of virtual assets is and whether the ownership of virtual assets is protected by law. In addition, it is unclear under PRC law and regulations whether an operator of online games such as Changyou would have any liability (whether in contract, tort or otherwise) for loss of such virtual assets by game players. Based on several judgments regarding the liabilities of online game operators for loss of virtual assets by game players, the courts have generally required the online game operators to provide well-developed security systems to protect such virtual assets owned by game players. In the event of a loss of virtual assets, Changyou may be sued by game players and may be held liable for damages.

Changyou’s online game operations may be adversely affected by implementation of anti-fatigue-related regulations.

The PRC government may decide to adopt more stringent policies to monitor the online game industry as a result of adverse public reaction to perceived addiction to online games, particularly by minors. Eight PRC government authorities, including the SAPPRFT, the Ministry of Education and the MIIT, jointly issued regulations, or the Anti-Fatigue Notice, requiring all Chinese online game operators to adopt an “anti-fatigue system” in an effort to curb addiction to online games by minors. Under the anti-fatigue system, three hours or less of continuous play is defined to be “healthy,” three to five hours is defined to be “fatiguing,” and five hours or more is defined to be “unhealthy.” Game operators are required to reduce the value of game benefits for minor game players by half when those game players reach the “fatiguing” level, and to zero when they reach the “unhealthy” level. In addition, online game players in China are now required to register their identity card numbers before they can play an online game. This system allows game operators to identify which game players are minors. These restrictions could limit Changyou’s ability to increase its business among minors. If these restrictions were expanded to apply to adult game players in the future, Changyou’s revenues could be adversely affected.

 

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These eight PRC government authorities subsequently promulgated additional regulations, including a Notice on Initializing the verification of Real-name Registration for Anti-Fatigue System on Internet Games, or the Real-name Registration Notice, to strengthen the implementation of the anti-fatigue system and real-name registration. The Real-name Registration Notice’s main focus is to prevent minors from using an adult’s identity to play Internet games and, accordingly, provides stringent punishment for online game operators for not implementing the anti-fatigue and real name registration measures properly and effectively. The most severe punishment contemplated by the Real-name Registration Notice is termination of the operation of the online game if it is found to be in violation of the Anti-Fatigue Notice, the Real-name Registration Notice or the circular entitled Implementation of Online Game Monitor System of the Guardians of Minors, or the Monitor System Circular. The Real-name Registration Notice increases Changyou’s operating risks, as it will be required to spend more resources on the real-name verification and anti-fatigue system, which will lead to an increase in its operating costs. In addition, the amount of time that minors will be able to spend playing online games such as Changyou’s will be further limited, which can be expected to lead to a reduction in its revenues. Furthermore, if it is found to be violating these regulations, Changyou may be required to suspend or discontinue its online game operations.

In February 2013, 15 PRC government authorities, including the SAPPRFT, the Ministry of Education, the MCT and the MIIT, jointly issued the Work Plan for the Integrated Prevention of Minors Online Game Addiction, or the Work Plan, implementing integrated measures by different authorities to prevent minors from being addicted to online games. Under the Work Plan, the current relevant regulations will be further clarified and additional implementation rules will be issued by relevant authorities. As a result, Changyou may have to impose more stringent limits for minor game players, which may lead to an increase in its operating expenses and a reduction in its revenues from minor game players.

In July 2014, the SAPPRFT issued the Notice on Further Launch Verification of Real-name Registration for Anti-Fatigue System on Internet Games, stating that, in view of some of the hardware and functionality limitations inherent in mobile devices, anti-fatigue system requirements applicable to Internet games do not currently apply to mobile games. If the SPPA, as a successor agency to the SAPPRFT, in the future decides to expand the anti-fatigue system requirements to mobile games, Changyou’s operating expenses would be likely to increase.

 

ITEM 4.

INFORMATION ON THE COMPANY

HISTORY AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE COMPANY

In August 1996, Sohu.com Inc., our predecessor, was incorporated in Delaware as Internet Technologies China Incorporated, and in January 1997 we launched our original Website, itc.com.cn. In February 1998, we re-launched our Website under the domain name Sohu.com and, in September 1999, we renamed our company Sohu.com Inc. On July 17, 2000, we completed our IPO on NASDAQ trading under the symbol “SOHU.” In 2003, Sohu.com Limited was incorporated in the Cayman Islands as a direct wholly-owned subsidiary of Sohu.com Inc. On May 31, 2018, pursuant to a proposal (the “Liquidation Proposal”) for the dissolution of Sohu.com Inc. and adoption of a plan of complete liquidation and dissolution of Sohu.com Inc. that was approved by the stockholders of Sohu.com Inc. at a special meeting of stockholders held on May 29, 2018, Sohu.com Inc. was dissolved, all outstanding shares of the common stock of Sohu.com Inc. were delisted and cancelled, and ADSs representing all outstanding ordinary shares of Sohu.com Limited were distributed on a share-for-share basis to the stockholders of Sohu.com Inc. On June 1, 2018 our ADSs began trading on the NASDAQ Global Select Market under the same “SOHU” symbol in place of the common stock of Sohu.com Inc. Sohu.com Limited replaced Sohu.com Inc. as the top-tier, publicly-traded holding company of the Sohu Group. The Liquidation Proposal is described in detail in Sohu.com Inc.’s and our joint proxy statement/prospectus filed with the SEC on April 23, 2018.

In 2006, we undertook a reorganization of our search and search-related businesses. As part of the reorganization, we transferred most of our search and search-related businesses to Sogou Inc., a Cayman Islands company that was incorporated in 2005 by us. In 2010, we undertook another reorganization in preparation for Sogou’s issuance of Sogou Pre-IPO Series A Preferred Shares in a financing transaction, and transferred other businesses and employees related to the search and search-related businesses to Sogou. On November 13, 2017, Sogou completed its IPO on NYSE, trading under the symbol “SOGO.”

In 2007, we reorganized our online games business. As part of the reorganization, Changyou.com Limited was incorporated in the Cayman Islands on August 6, 2007 as our indirect wholly-owned subsidiary to hold the PC games business of the Group. We transferred to Changyou, effective December 1, 2007, all of the assets and operations relating to the PC games business, and Changyou assumed all the liabilities associated with our games business. On April 2, 2009, Changyou completed its IPO on NASDAQ, trading under the symbol “CYOU.”

Our principal executive offices are located at Sohu.com Media Plaza, No. 2, Kexueyuan South Road, Haidian District, Beijing, 100190, People’s Republic of China. Our telephone number at this address is +86 10-6272-6666. Our registered office in the Cayman Islands is located at the offices of Maples Corporate Services Limited, P.O. Box 309, Ugland House, Grand Cayman, KY1-1104, Cayman Islands.

 

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BUSINESS OVERVIEW

We are a leading Chinese online media, search and game service group providing comprehensive online products and services on PCs and mobile devices in China. Our businesses are conducted by the Sohu Group, which consists of Sohu, Sogou and Changyou. Sogou and Changyou are our indirect controlled subsidiaries. Sohu is a leading Chinese language online media content and services provider, Sogou is an innovator in search and a leader in China’s Internet industry, and Changyou is a leading online game developer and operator in China that engages primarily in the development, operation, and licensing of online games for PCs and mobile devices. Most of our operations are conducted through our China-based subsidiaries and VIEs.

Through the operation of Sohu, Sogou and Changyou, we generate online advertising revenues, including brand advertising revenues and search and search-related advertising revenues; online games revenues; and other revenues. Online advertising and online games are our core businesses. For the year ended December 31, 2018, total revenues generated by Sohu, Sogou and Changyou were approximately $1.88 billion, including total brand advertising revenues of $231.9 million, total search and search-related advertising revenues of $1.02 billion, total online game revenues of $389.8 million, and total other revenues of $238.8 million.

Sohu: total revenues generated by Sohu were $274.2 million.

 

   

$212.2 million in brand advertising revenues, of which $127.3 million was from Sohu Media Portal, $53.8 million was from Sohu Video, and $31.1 million was from Focus; and

 

   

$62.0 million in other revenues, mainly attributable to revenues from paid subscription services, interactive broadcasting services, and content provided through the platforms of the three main telecommunications operators in China.

Sogou: total revenues generated by Sogou were $1.12 billion.

 

   

$1.02 billion in search and search-related advertising revenues; and

$100.5 million in other revenues, attributable to Sogou’s offering of IVAS, primarily with respect to the operation of Web games and mobile games developed by third parties and the provision of online reading services, as well as Sogou’s offering of other products and services, including smart hardware products.

Changyou: total revenues generated by Changyou were $485.8 million.

 

   

$389.8 million in online game revenues, of which $236.7 million was from PC games, $151.7 million was from mobile games, and $1.3 million was from games other than PC games and mobile games;

 

   

$19.7 million in brand advertising revenues, mainly attributable to Changyou’s 17173.com Website; and

 

   

$76.3 million in other revenues attributable to Changyou’s cinema advertising business and IVAS business.

Sohu’s Business

Brand Advertising Business

Sohu’s main business is the brand advertising business, which offers to users, over our matrices of Chinese language online media, various content, products and services across multiple Internet-enabled devices, such as PCs, mobile phones and tablets. The majority of our products and services are provided in China through Sohu Media Portal, Sohu Video and Focus.

 

   

Sohu Media Portal. Sohu Media Portal is a leading online news and information provider in China. It provides users with access to comprehensive content through the mobile phone application Sohu News APP, www.sohu.com for PCs and the mobile portal m.sohu.com;

 

   

Sohu Video. Sohu Video is an online video content and service provider in China through tv.sohu.com for PCs and the mobile phone application Sohu Video APP; and

 

   

Focus. Focus (www.focus.cn) is an online real estate information and services provider in China.

 

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Revenues generated by the brand advertising business are classified as brand advertising revenues in our consolidated statements of comprehensive income.

Other Sohu Business

Sohu also engages in the other business, which consists primarily of paid subscription services, interactive broadcasting services, and content provided through the platforms of the three main telecommunications operators in China. Revenues generated by Sohu from the other business are classified as other revenues in our consolidated statements of comprehensive income.

Sogou’s Business

Search and Search-related Business

The search and search-related business consists primarily of search and search-related advertising services offered by Sogou. Search and search-related advertising services enable advertisers’ promotional links to be displayed on Sogou’s search results pages and other Internet properties and third parties’ Internet properties where the links are relevant to the subject and content of searches and such properties. Sogou’s advertising services expand distribution of advertisers’ promotional links and advertisements by leveraging traffic on third parties’ Internet properties, including Web content, software, and mobile applications. Our search and search-related business benefits from Sogou’s collaboration with Tencent, which provides Sogou access to traffic and content generated from products and services provided by Tencent.

Revenues generated by the search and search-related business are classified as search and search-related advertising revenues in our consolidated statements of comprehensive income.

Other Sogou Business

Sogou also offers IVAS, primarily with respect to the operation of Web games and mobile games developed by third parties and the provision of online reading services, and offers other products and services, including smart hardware products. Revenues generated by Sogou from other business are classified as other revenues in our consolidated statements of comprehensive income.

Initial Public Offering of Sogou

On November 13, 2017, Sogou completed its IPO on the NYSE, trading under the symbol “SOGO.”

Sogou’s Ordinary Shares are divided into Sogou Class A Ordinary Shares and Sogou Class B Ordinary Shares. Holders of Sogou Class A Ordinary Shares and holders of Sogou Class B Ordinary Shares have identical rights with the exception of voting and conversion rights. Each Sogou Class A Ordinary Share is entitled to one vote per share and is not convertible. Each Sogou Class B Ordinary Share is entitled to ten votes per share and is convertible into one Sogou Class A Ordinary Share at any time.

Sogou issued and sold in its IPO 50,643,856 Sogou Class A Ordinary Shares represented by 50,643,856 ADSs, including 5,643,856 Sogou Class A Ordinary Shares represented by 5,643,856 ADSs sold pursuant to the exercise of the underwriters’ over-allotment option. Proceeds to Sogou from the IPO were approximately $622.1 million, after deducting underwriting discounts and commissions and offering expenses.

Following the completion of Sogou’s IPO, pursuant to the Voting Agreement, we have the right to appoint a majority of Sogou’s Board of Directors, and we continue to consolidate Sogou in our financial statements and provide for noncontrolling interests reflecting ordinary shares in Sogou held by shareholders other than us.

In the fourth quarter of 2017, we recognized a one-time gain of $278.4 million in shareholders’ equity in our consolidated balance sheets to reflect the increase in the value of our equity in Sogou that resulted from the completion of Sogou’s IPO.

Voting Agreement between Sohu, Tencent and Sogou

Pursuant to the Voting Agreement, Sohu and Tencent agreed that, subject to certain exceptions, (1) within three years following the completion of Sogou’s IPO, Sohu will vote all Sogou Class B Ordinary Shares and any Sogou Class A Ordinary Shares held by it and Tencent will vote 45,578,896 of its Sogou Class B Ordinary Shares to elect a Board of Directors consisting of seven directors, four of whom will be appointed by Sohu, two of whom will be appointed by Tencent, and the seventh of whom will be Sogou’s then chief executive officer, and (2) after three years following the completion of Sogou’s IPO, Sohu will be entitled to choose to change the size and composition of Sogou’s Board of Directors, subject to Tencent’s right to appoint at least one director. The effect of these provisions is to give Sohu the power to appoint a majority of Sogou’s Board of Directors, and to give Tencent the power to appoint two directors within three years following the completion of Sogou’s IPO and at least one director after three years after the completion of Sogou’s IPO. The Voting Agreement also provides that, subject to certain conditions, for so long as Sohu and Tencent together hold more than 50% of the total voting power of the Sogou Class A Ordinary Shares and the Sogou Class B Ordinary Shares, Sohu or Tencent may remove and replace any director appointed by it. These provisions of the Voting Agreement are also reflected in Sogou’s Amended and Restated Memorandum of Association and Amended and Restated Articles of Association.

 

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Due to the additional voting power of the Sogou Class B Ordinary Shares held by Sohu and Tencent, as of the date of this report Sohu holds approximately 33% of the total of Sogou’s outstanding Class A and Class B Ordinary Shares and controls approximately 44% of the total voting power of the combined total of Sogou’s outstanding Class A and Class B Ordinary Shares; Tencent has an indirect shareholding of approximately 38% of the total of Sogou’s outstanding Class A and Class B Ordinary Shares and controls approximately 52% of the total voting power of the combined total of Sogou’s outstanding Class A and Class B Ordinary Shares; and Sohu and Tencent together have the power to decide all matters that may be brought to a vote of Sogou’s shareholders.

The Voting Agreement and Sogou’s Amended and Restated Articles of Association also specify that for so long as Sohu or Tencent holds not less than 15% of Sogou’s issued shares (calculated on a fully diluted basis), consent from the holder of 15% or more (either or both of Sohu or Tencent, as the case may be) will be required (1) to amend Sogou’s Amended and Restated Memorandum of Association or Amended and Restated Articles of Association, (2) to make material changes in Sogou’s principal lines of business, (3) to issue any additional Sogou Class B Ordinary Shares, (4) to create any new class or series of shares that is pari passu with or senior to the Sogou Class A Ordinary Shares, (5) for Sogou to approve a liquidation, dissolution or winding up of Sogou, or a merger or consolidation resulting in a change in control, or any disposition of all or substantially all of Sogou’s assets, or (6) for Sogou to enter into any transactions with affiliates of Sohu, other than in the ordinary course of business. Of these corporate actions that are subject to consent of Sohu or Tencent (as applicable), shareholder approval is required under the Companies Law of the Cayman Islands for any amendment of Sogou’s Amended and Restated Memorandum of Association or Amended and Restated Articles of Association, any winding-up of Sogou Inc., or any merger or consolidation with a third-party entity. The Voting Agreement and Sogou’s Amended and Restated Articles of Association further provide that if Sogou’s shareholders have voted in favor of any of these actions requiring the approval of Sogou’s shareholders but consent from Sohu or Tencent (as applicable) has not been obtained, then the holders of all classes of Sogou’s shares who have voted against such action will be deemed to have such number of votes as are equal to the aggregate number of votes cast in favor of such actions plus one additional vote. Under these provisions of the Voting Agreement and Sogou’s Amended and Restated Articles of Association, if an action is proposed for which the consent of either Tencent or Sohu is required, the failure to obtain the consent of Tencent or Sohu will have the effect of the proposed action’s not being approved, even if Sogou’s other shareholders approve it.

The Voting Agreement and Sogou’s Amended and Restated Articles of Association also specify that if at any time Sohu alone holds more than 50% of the total voting power of the Sogou Class A Ordinary Shares and Class B Ordinary Shares, the voting arrangements with respect to the size and composition of Sogou’s Board of Directors will be automatically suspended until such time within five years after the completion of Sogou’s IPO as Sohu’s voting power again drops to 50% or less, in which case the original voting arrangements will be reinstated, provided that Tencent will only be required to vote the lower of 45,578,896 Sogou Class B Ordinary Shares held by it or such number as would give Sohu combined voting power of 50.1%. If such a suspension continues after the fifth anniversary of the completion of Sogou’s IPO, the voting arrangements with respect to the size and composition of Sogou’s Board of Directors will terminate.

All of the Sogou Class B Ordinary Shares held by Sohu will be converted into Sogou Class A Ordinary Shares if there is a transaction resulting in change of control of Sohu that was not approved by Sohu’s board of directors, if specified competitors of Tencent control Sohu, or if a majority of Sohu’s board of directors consist of nominees of specified competitors of Tencent. The provisions with respect to the size and composition of Sogou’s Board of Directors set out in the Voting Agreement and Sogou’s Amended and Restated Articles of Association will terminate upon occurrence of any such event. Such arrangements will also terminate (1) if Dr. Charles Zhang, the chairman of the board of directors of Sohu and the chief executive officer, both ceases being the chairman of the board of directors of Sohu and ceases being the single largest beneficial owner of Sohu’s outstanding shares; (2) if Sohu transfers 30% or more of the Sogou Class B Ordinary Shares that Sohu held upon the completion of Sogou’s IPO; (3) if Sogou fails to provide irrevocable instructions to the person maintaining Sogou’s register of members to accept instructions from Tencent, under certain circumstances, with respect to the conversion of Sogou Class B Ordinary Shares held by Sohu; (4) or Sogou changes, without Tencent’s consent, the person that maintains Sogou’s register of members; (5) or if Tencent ceases to own any Sogou Class B Ordinary Shares.

Under the Voting Agreement, Sohu and Tencent are subject to certain restrictions on transfer of their Sogou Class A and Class B Ordinary Shares. In particular, a transfer of Sogou Class B Ordinary Shares by either Sohu or Tencent, respectively, to any person or entity that is not a direct or indirect wholly-owned subsidiary of Sohu or Tencent, respectively, will cause such Sogou Class B Ordinary Shares to be converted into Sogou Class A Ordinary Shares.

Voting Agreement between Sohu, Photon and Sogou Management

Sohu may be deemed to have beneficial ownership attributable to shared voting power of Sogou Class A Ordinary Shares beneficially owned by Photon Group Limited (“Photon”), an investment vehicle of our Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Charles Zhang, Sogou’s chief executive officer Xiaochuan Wang, and certain other members of the Sogou management as a result of a voting agreement by and among Sohu, Photon, Mr. Wang, and the other members of Sogou management, pursuant to which Photon, Mr. Wang, and the other members of Sogou Management have agreed to vote their Sogou Class A Ordinary Shares (not including shares acquired by Mr. Wang in the public market following Sogou’s IPO) to elect Sohu’s designees to Sogou’s Board of Directors.

 

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Sogou’s Share Structure

As of December 31, 2018, Sogou had a combined total of 397,158,375 Sogou Class A and Class B Ordinary Shares issued and outstanding, consisting of:

 

(i)

Sohu.com Limited: 127,200,000 Sogou Class B Ordinary Shares held by Sohu for its own account, and 3,717,250 Sogou Class A Ordinary Shares held by Sohu for the purpose of issuance upon the exercise of outstanding share-based awards and future share-based awards;

 

(ii)

Tencent: 151,557,875 Sogou Class B Ordinary Shares;

 

(iii)

Photon, an investment vehicle of the Sohu Group’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Charles Zhang: 24,686,863 Sogou Class A Ordinary Shares; and

 

(iv)

Shareholders other than Sohu, Tencent, and Photon: 89,996,387 Sogou Class A Ordinary Shares, including Sogou Class A Ordinary Shares represented by Sogou ADSs.

The totals of Sogou outstanding shares listed above include 5,805,000 Sogou Class A Ordinary Shares that are outstanding for legal purposes, but have been determined to be Sogou treasury stock for accounting purposes. See Note 17 to our audited consolidated financial statements, which begin on page F-1 of this annual report.

Changyou’s Business

Changyou’s business lines consist of the online game business; the platform channel business, which consists primarily of online advertising and IVAS; and the cinema advertising business.

Online Game Business

Changyou’s online game business offers PC games and mobile games to game players. All of Changyou’s games are operated under the item-based revenue model, meaning that game players can play the games for free, but may choose to pay for virtual items, which are non-physical items that game players can purchase and use within a game, such as gems, pets, fashion items, magic medicine, riding animals, hierograms, skill books and fireworks. Revenues derived from the operation of online games are classified as online game revenues in our consolidated statements of comprehensive income.

PC Games

PC games are interactive online games that are accessed and played simultaneously by hundreds of thousands of game players through personal computers and require that local client-end game access software be installed on the computers used. Changyou’s dominant game is TLBB, a PC based client-end game. For the year ended December 31, 2018, revenues from TLBB were $200.9 million, accounting for approximately 52% of Changyou’s online game revenues, approximately 41% of Changyou’s total revenues and approximately 11% of the Sohu Group’s total revenues.

Mobile Games

Mobile games are played on mobile devices and require an Internet connection. In the second quarter of 2017, Changyou launched a mobile game, Legacy TLBB Mobile, which is operated by Tencent under license from Changyou. For the year ended December 31, 2018, revenues from Legacy TLBB Mobile were $102.6 million, accounting for approximately 26% of Changyou’s online game revenues, approximately 21% of Changyou’s total revenues, and approximately 5% of the Sohu Group’s total revenues.

Platform Channel Business

Changyou’s platform channel business consists primarily of the operation of the 17173.com Website and RaidCall. Prior to the sale of MoboTap in March 2018, Changyou’s platform channel business also included MoboTap.

17173.com Website

 

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The 17173.com Website provides news, electronic forums, online videos and other information services regarding online games to game players in China. All revenues generated by the 17173.com Website are classified as brand advertising revenues.

RaidCall

RaidCall provides online music and entertainment services, primarily in Taiwan. IVAS revenues generated by RaidCall are classified as other revenues in our consolidated statements of comprehensive income.

Cinema Advertising Business

Changyou also operates a cinema advertising business, which consists primarily of the acquisition from operators of movie theaters, and the sale to advertisers, of pre-film advertising slots, which are advertisements shown before the screening of a movie in a cinema theatre. Revenues generated by Changyou’s cinema advertising business are classified as other revenues in our consolidated statements of comprehensive income.

Changyou’s Share Structure

As of December 31, 2018, Changyou had a combined total of 106,501,420 Changyou Class A and Class B Ordinary Shares issued and outstanding, consisting of:

 

(i)

Sohu.com Limited.: 1,500,000 Changyou Class A Ordinary Shares and 70,250,000 Changyou Class B Ordinary Shares;

 

(ii)

Public shareholders: 34,751,420 Changyou Class A Ordinary Shares represented by ADSs.

As of December 31, 2018 and the date of this report, we held and hold approximately 67% of the combined total of Changyou’s outstanding ordinary shares, and controlled and control approximately 95% of the total voting power in Changyou. As Changyou’s controlling shareholder, we consolidate Changyou in our financial statements and provide for noncontrolling interests reflecting ordinary shares in Changyou held by shareholders other than us.

PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Sohu’s Business

Brand Advertising Business

Sohu’s main business is the brand advertising business, which offers to users, over our matrices of Chinese language online media, various content, products and services across multiple Internet-enabled devices, such as PCs, mobile phones and tablets. The majority of our products and services are provided through Sohu Media Portal, Sohu Video and Focus.

Sources

Sohu Media Portal

Sohu Media Portal is a leading online news and information provider in China. We provide users comprehensive content by aggregating content from other media organizations and partnering with independent contributors, and also use content generated by our in-house editorial teams. We use algorithms to recommend to users personalized content that may interest them. We provide content through www.sohu.com for PCs, the mobile phone application Sohu News APP and the mobile portal m.sohu.com.

Sohu Video

Sohu Video is an online video content and service provider in China. We deliver premium purchased video content, self-developed video content, and UGC. PGC is a sub-category of UGC where the content is made by a large group of professional or semi-professional content studios. We provide users free access to the majority of our extensive and comprehensive video content library, which includes popular domestic and overseas television dramas, variety shows, movies, animations, PGC, documentaries, interactive broadcasting, and self-developed video content. We also offer selected fee-based content, which includes overseas television dramas, self-developed video content, and movies. Users can access our video content via PCs through tv.sohu.com, or via mobile devices by visiting our mobile video site or installing Sohu Video APP, our mobile video application.

Focus

 

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Focus (www.focus.cn) is an online real estate information and services provider in China. Focus provides diversified online content consisting of new homes for sale, properties for re-sale and home furnishing services, and other comprehensive services and solutions for real estate developers, house seekers and homeowners. Focus has also developed a transaction platform to offer online and offline services that facilitate the purchase of new homes by buyers.

Business Model

In the brand advertising business, we enjoy a strong competitive position as one of the leading Internet companies in China. Through the platforms described above, we have built a sizeable user base through good user experiences provided by our products and services. This user base is appealing to advertisers. Through PCs and mobile devices, we provide advertisement placements to our advertisers on different Internet platforms and in different formats, which include banners, links, logos, buttons, full screen, pre-roll, mid-roll, post-roll video screens, pause video screens, loading page ads, news feed ads and in-feed video infomercial ads. We rely on both direct sales by our internal sales force and sales by advertising agents for advertising on our Internet platforms. Our advertisers include multinational companies and Chinese domestic medium-sized and small companies.

Currently we have three main types of pricing models, consisting of the Fixed Price model, the Cost Per Impression (“CPM”) model, and the Cost Per click (“CPC”) model.

Fixed Price model

Under the Fixed Price model, a contract is signed to establish a fixed price for the advertising services to be provided. Given that advertisers benefit from displayed advertisements evenly over the period the advertisements are displayed, we recognize revenue on a straight-line basis over the period of display, provided all revenue recognition criteria have been met.

CPM model

Under the CPM model, the unit price for each qualifying display is fixed and stated in the contract with the advertiser. A qualifying display is defined as the appearance of an advertisement, where the advertisement meets criteria specified in the contract. Given that the fees are priced consistently throughout the contract and the unit prices are fixed in accordance with our pricing practices for similar advertisers, we recognize revenue based on the fixed unit prices and the number of qualifying displays upon their occurrence, provided all revenue recognition criteria have been met.

CPC model

Under the CPC model, there is no fixed price for advertising services stated in the contract with the advertiser and the unit price for each click is auction-based. We charge advertisers on a per-click basis, when the users click on the advertisements. Given that the fees are priced consistently throughout the contract and the unit prices are fixed in consistence with our pricing practices with similar advertisers, we recognize revenue based on qualifying clicks and the unit price upon the occurrence of the clicks, provided all revenue recognition criteria have been met.

Other Sohu Business

Sohu also engages in the other business, which consists primarily of paid subscription services, interactive broadcasting services, and content provided through the platforms of the three main telecommunications operators in China. Revenues generated by Sohu from the other business are classified as other revenues in our consolidated statements of comprehensive income.

Sogou’s Business

Search and Search-related Business

Products and Services for Users

Sogou’s suite of products and services for users focuses on search and search related services that cover a wide variety of use cases, from online search to input methods.

Sogou Search

Sogou Search makes information easily accessible for Chinese Internet users. Through Sogou Search, Sogou enables its users to conveniently find relevant, high quality, and comprehensive information anytime, anywhere. Sogou Search offers users general and vertical search services through its website sogou.com and its mobile search application. In addition, Sogou Search is the default general search engine for popular Internet portals such as qq.com and sohu.com, and popular browsers such as the Mobile QQ Browser and the Sogou Browser. Sogou Search was the second largest search engine in China with an 18.5% market share by mobile queries in December 2018, according to CTR.

 

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Sogou Search strives to offer differentiated content in its search products and services in order to improve its search results and provide an enhanced search experience for its users. Through collaborations with industry-leading content providers, it offers a variety of vertical search services. For example, Sogou Weixin Search is the sole general search engine with access to search all content published on Weixin Official Accounts. Sogou Healthcare Search provides authoritative healthcare information through collaboration with national healthcare authorities and third-party healthcare information platforms. Sogou English is the cross-language search service that enables Chinese users to discover English content on the Internet by querying in Chinese and reading content that Sogou has translated into Chinese. Through a collaboration with Zhihu, the leading online knowledge-sharing platform in China according to iResearch, Sogou provides users with up-to-date knowledge, experience, and insights shared within the Zhihu Community.

Sogou Input Method

Sogou Input Method, the first cloud-based Chinese language input software, was launched in 2006 and has become an indispensable Chinese language input software tool for PC and mobile users. Sogou Input Method had achieved a penetration rate of 98% among PC Internet users in China in December 2018, according to iResearch. It was the second most widely used PC software in China by DAU and the number one Chinese language input software for PC users in terms of MAU in December 2018, according to iResearch, with 242 million PC MAU. Sogou Mobile Keyboard, the mobile application of Sogou Input Method, had achieved a penetration rate of over 66% among mobile users of third-party Chinese language input applications in December 2018, according to iResearch. It was the third most widely used mobile application in China by DAU and the number one Chinese language input application for mobile users in terms of MAU in December 2018, according to iResearch, with 558 million mobile MAU. Sogou’s core AI technologies, including voice, translation and conversation, have driven product innovation for Sogou Mobile Keyboard by providing more intelligent user interactions and expressions. Sogou Mobile Keyboard processed as many as up to 540 million voice inputs in the fourth quarter of 2018, handled millions of translation requests per day, and provided many AI-enabled functions such as SmartShare, which generates a diverse range of automated personalized response options for user chats. Sogou Mobile Keyboard possesses a large library of language data, with over 100 billion Chinese character inputs per day that Sogou’s users have generated across a wide variety of Internet use cases, such as social media, news, entertainment, shopping, travel, and financial services.

Other Products

Sogou Browser

Sogou Browser is designed to make Web navigation fast and easy. Sogou continually upgrades the browser to expand functionality from a browsing tool to a content distribution platform for an enriched user experience. In addition to a range of vertical services, Sogou also provides personalized newsfeeds leveraging Sogou’s big data capabilities based on users browsing habits and history.

Sogou Web Directory

Sogou Web Directory, a content aggregation and distribution platform, is a one-stop shop for navigation of the Chinese Web.

Sogou Translation

Sogou Translation incorporates neural machine translation technology and a massive linguistic database to deliver language translation. It is web-based and also available as a mobile application. In addition to written text translation, the Sogou Translation mobile application supports speech, Optical Character Recognition, and augmented reality translation.

Monetization

Sogou generates revenue primarily from its search and search-related advertising services. Search and search-related advertising services enable advertisers’ promotional links to be displayed on Sogou’s search result pages and other properties and third parties’ Internet properties where the links are relevant to search queries and such properties. Sogou’s large user base and big data capabilities allow Sogou to enhance the effectiveness of its targeted advertising services, thereby strengthening its monetization capabilities.

Search and search related advertising services consist primarily of auction-based pay-for-click services, for which Sogou charges advertisers on a per click basis when users click on the advertisers’ promotional links displayed on Sogou’s and third parties’ Internet properties.

Other Sogou Business

 

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Sogou also offers IVAS, primarily with respect to the operation of Web games and mobile games developed by third parties and the provision of online reading services, and offers other products and services including smart hardware products. Revenues generated by Sogou from the other business are classified as other revenues in our consolidated statements of comprehensive income.

Changyou’s Business

Online Game Business

Business Model

Changyou’s game players typically access Changyou’s games through personal computers and mobile devices, such as mobile phones and tablets, connected to the Internet. In order to access Changyou’s PC games, game access software must be installed in the computer being used. Game players using PCs can typically download Changyou’s game access software, interim updates and expansion packs directly from its main game Website. Game players access Changyou’s mobile games by downloading its mobile game applications, primarily from third-party mobile application stores or, to a lesser extent, from Changyou’s game Website. Prior to the sale of Shenzhen 7Road in August 2015, Changyou’s online games also included Web games, which became a relatively insignificant part of its online games business following the sale.

Changyou’s online games include a variety of game genres, including MMORPGs and advanced casual games such as collectible card games (“CCGs”). Changyou is also developing, and plans to expand its game portfolio with, additional types of advanced casual games, such as MOBAs and simulation games (“SLGs”). MMORPGs allow a large number of players to take on the role of a character and interact with one another within a virtual world. Advanced casual games include CCGs, in which players collect cards and compete to win by using card sets with different functions; MOBAs, in which a player can join a team and work with his or her teammates to compete in a mapped field in order to achieve a common goal; and SLGs, in which players can control, manage and use game characters and items and to design and implement their own strategies to win the games.

Changyou’s games are operated under the item-based revenue model, meaning game players can play Changyou’s games for free, but may choose to pay for virtual items, which are non-physical items that game players can purchase and use within a game, such as gems, pets, fashion items, magic medicine, riding animals, hierograms, skill books and fireworks. Through virtual items, players are able to enhance or personalize their game environments or game characters, accelerate their progress in Changyou’s games and share and trade with friends.

For players who choose to purchase virtual goods, Changyou delivers enhanced gameplay experiences and benefits, such as:

Accelerated Progress. Many of Changyou’s games offer players the option to purchase items that can accelerate their progress in the game and increase their capabilities, so that they level up more quickly and compete more effectively against others in the game. While Changyou sells many items that accelerate progress in its games, Changyou monitors and carefully balances the disparity in capabilities between paying and non-paying game players to avoid discouraging non-paying game players and to keep the game challenging and interesting for paying game players.

Enhanced Social Interaction. Changyou uses a variety of virtual items to promote interaction and to facilitate relationship-building among game players in its games.

Personalized and Customized Appearance. Many of Changyou’s games offer players the option to purchase decorative and functional items to customize the appearance of their characters, pets, vehicles, houses and other in-game possessions to express their individuality.

Gifts. Many of Changyou’s games offer players the option to purchase gift items to send to their friends. Examples of gift items include decorative items and time-limited items for special holiday events and festivals, such as Valentine’s Day, Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) and Christmas.

Changyou’s online game business includes games that it self-operates and games that it licenses out to third-party operators.

Self-Operated Games

For self-operated games, Changyou determines the price of virtual items based on the demand or expected demand for such virtual items. Changyou may change the pricing of certain virtual items based on its consumption patterns. Changyou hosts the games on its own servers and is responsible for sales and marketing of the games as well as customer service. Changyou’s self-operated games include PC games and mobile games developed in house as well as PC games and mobile games that Changyou licenses from or jointly develops with third party developers.

 

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Licensed-Out Games

Changyou also authorizes third parties to operate its online games. In 2016 and 2018, Changyou entered into an agreement with Tencent pursuant to which Changyou granted an exclusive license to Tencent to distribute and operate within China its mobile game Legacy TLBB Mobile and Xuan Yuan Jian, which were launched in May 2017 and October 2018, respectively. Changyou has also licensed other third-party operators to distribute and operate within China certain of its other mobile games, including Legend of Sword and Fairy 5. In addition, Changyou licenses its PC game TLBB and mobile games Legacy TLBB Mobile, TLBB 3D and Fengyun to third-party operators in selected overseas markets outside of China, including Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and South Korea.

The licensed-out games include PC games and mobile games developed in house as well as mobile games licensed from and jointly developed with third-party developers. Under Changyou’s licensing arrangements with third-party operators, the operators pay Changyou upfront license fees and Changyou has revenue sharing rights over the terms of the licenses. The licenses are typically for a term of one to three years. Changyou provides updates and expansion packs for the licensed games, typically after it launches the updates and expansion packs in China.

For licensed-out games, the third-party operators are responsible for all operations and costs, including marketing and customer service, as well as the leasing and maintenance of servers.

Platform Channel Business

Changyou’s platform channel business consists primarily of the operation of the 17173.com Website and RaidCall. Prior to the sale of MoboTap in March 2018, Changyou’s platform channel business also included MoboTap.

17173.com Website

The 17173.com Website provides news, electronic forums, online videos and other information services regarding online games to game players in China. All revenues generated by the 17173.com Website are classified as brand advertising revenues.

RaidCall

RaidCall provides online music and entertainment services, primarily in Taiwan. All revenues generated by RaidCall from IVAS are classified as other revenues in our consolidated statements of comprehensive income.

Cinema Advertising Business

Changyou also operates a cinema advertising business, which consists primarily of the acquisition, from operators of movie theaters, and the sale, to advertisers, of pre-film advertising slots, which are advertisements shown before the screening of a movie in a cinema theatre. Revenues generated by Changyou’s cinema advertising business are classified as other revenues in our consolidated statements of comprehensive income.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY AND PROPRIETARY RIGHTS

We regard our patents, copyrights, service marks, trademarks, trade secrets and other intellectual property as critical to our success. We rely on patent, trademark and copyright law, trade secret protection, non-competition and confidentiality and/or license agreements with our employees, customers, partners and others to protect our intellectual property rights. Before we launch any new products or services, we generally apply for registration of related patents, trademarks, and software copyrights. Despite our precautions, it may be possible for third parties to obtain and use our intellectual property without authorization. Furthermore, the validity, enforceability and scope of protection of intellectual property rights in Internet-related industries are uncertain and still evolving. The laws of the PRC and certain other countries do not protect intellectual property to the same extent as do the laws of the United States.

We have been issued 1,094 patents in China and 40 patents in countries and regions outside of China covering inventions, utility models, and designs; we have 1,560 patent applications currently pending in China and 109 patent applications currently pending in countries and regions outside of China; we have submitted 90 international patent applications through the procedures under the Patent Cooperation Treaty, or PCT; and we intend to apply for more patents to protect our core technologies and intellectual property.

 

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We have registered three service marks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, consisting of Sohu.com, registered on August 1, 2000; Sohu.com (stylized), registered on August 1, 2000; and Sohu, registered on June 13, 2000. We have registered 4,253 trademarks with the Trademark Office of the State Administration for Industry and Commerce in China, including the mark “SOHU.com,” and such marks relating to our products as Sohu.com logos, Sohu Fox logos, GoodFeel logos, Go2Map, Sogou logos, Sohu Focus, TLBB, ChangYou.com, cyou.com, TL logos, Blade Online, 17173 and their corresponding Chinese version marks; and we are in the process of applying for the registration of 933 other trademarks. We are the registered owner of 455 registered trademarks and have also applied for 344 trademarks in countries and regions outside of China. In addition, we are in the process of applying for recognition of certain of our marks as famous Beijing trademarks and well-known Chinese trademarks. We also filed registration of trademarks relating to our subsidiary companies’ names and Changyou’s online games and other businesses in various countries and regions, such as the United States, European Union, Turkey, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Brazil, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Our rights to these marks could be affected adversely if any of our applications are rejected. It is possible that our competitors will adopt product or service names similar to ours, thereby impeding our ability to distinguish our brand and possibly leading to customer confusion. In addition, if Changyou is unable to agree on relevant renewal terms for the existing licenses from the estate of Louis Cha for Changyou’s mobile games TLBB 3D and Legacy TLBB Mobile and for Changyou’s PC game TLBB, Changyou could lose the rights to trademarks related to Tian Long Ba Bu. See “Risk Factors—Risks Related to Changyou.com LimitedRisks Relating to Changyou’s Business and Industry—Overall Risks—Changyou may need to incur significant expenses to enforce its proprietary rights, and if it is unable to protect such rights, its competitive position and financial performance could be harmed” and “—Changyou may not have exclusive rights to trademarks, designs and technologies that are crucial to its business” in Item 3.

We are the registered owner of 769 software copyrights and 439 copyrights for works in China, each of which we have registered with the State Copyright Bureau of China and its local branches.

We own the rights to 480 domain names that we use in connection with the operation of our business, including the Sohu, Sogou, and Changyou websites.

Many parties are actively developing chat, search, Web directory and related Web technologies. We expect these parties to continue to take steps to protect these technologies, including seeking patent protection. There may be patents issued or pending that are held by others and cover significant parts of our technology, business methods or services. For example, we are aware that a number of patents have been issued in the areas of e-commerce, Web-based information indexing and retrieval and online direct marketing. Disputes over rights to these technologies may arise in the future. We cannot be certain that our products do not or will not infringe valid patents, copyrights or other intellectual property rights held by third parties. We may be subject to legal proceedings and claims, from time to time, relating to the intellectual property of others in the ordinary course of our business. See “Item 8. Financial Information—Legal Proceedings”.

We also intend to continue licensing technology from third parties. The market is evolving and we may need to license additional technologies to remain competitive. We may not be able to license these technologies on commercially reasonable terms or at all. In addition, we may fail to successfully integrate any licensed technology into our services. Our inability to obtain any of these licenses could delay product and service development until alternative technologies can be identified, licensed and integrated.

TECHNOLOGY INFRASTRUCTURE

The Sohu Group has built what we believe is a reliable and secure network infrastructure, that will fully support our operations. We have professional technical support teams to maintain our current technology infrastructure and online operating platform, as well as develop new software features to further enhance the functionality of our management and security systems. We monitor the operation of our server network 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our remote control system allows us to track our concurrent online users in real time, and discover and fix hardware or software problems on our server network in a timely fashion.

Content and Services provided by Sohu

As of December 31, 2018, Sohu maintained approximately 15,000 servers in China. To fully support the operation of Sohu’s content and services, Sohu established these data centers primarily through China Mobile, China United Network Communication Group Company Limited (“China Unicom”), and China Telecom Corporation (“China Telecom”), which are the three largest Internet connection service providers in China, to support most of Sohu’s core services. In addition, Sohu has established branch nodes in different provinces throughout China through different telecommunication operators in order to establish national coverage and provide fast and stable access to Sohu’s Internet platforms properties to users across China. In addition, Sohu has developed cooperation with several smaller private Internet service providers.

Sohu has developed close working relationships with China Mobile, China Unicom, China Telecom and smaller-size telecommunication operators. Sohu’s operations depend on the ability of China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Telecom to protect Sohu’s systems against damage from fire, power loss, telecommunications failure, break-ins and other events. These telecommunication operators provide Sohu with support services twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week. They also provide connectivity for Sohu’s servers through multiple high-speed connections. All facilities are protected by Uninterruptible Power Supplies.

 

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For reliability, availability, and serviceability, Sohu has created an environment in which each server can function independently. Key components of Sohu’s server architecture are served by multiple redundant machines. Sohu also uses in-house and third-party monitoring software. Sohu’s reporting and tracking systems generate daily traffic, demographic and advertising reports. Sohu deploys load balance equipment and cloud computing to avoid single point failure.

Sohu’s operations must accommodate a high volume of traffic and deliver frequently updated information. Components or features of Sohu’s products and services have in the past suffered outages or experienced slower response times because of equipment or software down time. These events have not had a material adverse effect on Sohu’s business to date, but such events could have a material adverse effect in the future.

Content and Services provided by Sogou

As of December 31, 2018, Sogou owned approximately 33,000 servers located in eight Internet data centers in China. Sogou has also obtained what it believes is a sufficient amount of connectivity bandwidth to meet the current and anticipated needs of its operations, and has established a large-scale GPU service cluster to provide computing power for its AI technologies.

Online Games provided by Changyou

Changyou supports its operations with a network of reliable and secure physical and cloud-based servers that have fully supported its operations for many years. As of December 31, 2018, Changyou maintained for its online game business approximately 4,000 physical servers that are located in Internet data centers in 13 major cities in China, and 3,500 cloud-based servers that are spread across mainland China, Hong Kong, other Asia-pacific regions, Europe and North America. In order to enhance Changyou’s game players’ experience and to improve connectivity, Changyou has located its physical game servers in a number of regions throughout China. This allows its players to connect to the nearest servers that are located in their region without exchanging data across the national backbone network. Furthermore, to ensure high quality services for its game players, Changyou works with leading domestic cloud technology firms to provide efficient and stable game services using cloud-based resources.

MARKETING

We are a leading Chinese online media company and our brand effectively provides us with built-in word-of-mouth marketing. While we have significantly benefited from recognition of our brand in China, in 2018 we rolled out online and offline marketing campaigns to further promote our brand and products. We have online marketing such as advertising-for-advertising barter activities with other media companies to maintain our brand awareness, and we access online social media such as Weibo to promote our self-produced video programs. For offline marketing channels, we work closely with mobile application stores as well as performance-based online advertising platforms. Moreover, to strengthen our precision marketing, we reach out and seek cooperation with market-dominant mobile phone manufacturers to pre-install our mobile APPs into certain models of their mobile phones. Such partnerships enable us to target different user groups by gender, demographics, age, and other categories.

COMPETITION

The Internet and Internet-related markets in China are rapidly evolving. We believe the rapid increase in China’s online population will draw more attention to the PRC Internet market from both domestic and multinational competitors. Our existing competitors may in the future achieve greater market acceptance and gain additional market share. It is also possible that new competitors may emerge and acquire significant market share. In addition, our competitors may leverage their existing Internet platforms to cross-sell newly launched products and services. It is also possible that, as a result of deficiencies in legal protections afforded intellectual property in the Internet industry in China, or inadequate enforcement of existing PRC laws protecting such intellectual property, we may not be able to prevent existing or new competitors from accessing and using our in-house developed Web content or technologies.

Competition for Sohu’s Business

In the PRC Internet space, competition for brand advertising business is intense and is expected to increase significantly in the future. We compete with our peers and competitors in China primarily on the following basis:

 

   

access to financial resources;

 

   

gateway to host of Internet users activities;

 

   

technological advancements;

 

   

attractiveness of products;

 

   

brand recognition;

 

   

volume of traffic and users;

 

   

quality of Internet platforms and content;

 

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quality and quantity of purchased video content, self-developed video content, and user-generated content;

 

   

strategic relationships;

 

   

quality of services;

 

   

effectiveness of sales and marketing efforts;

 

   

talent of staff; and

 

   

pricing.

Over time, our competitors may gradually build certain competitive advantages over us in terms of:

 

   

greater brand recognition among Internet users and clients;

 

   

better products and services;

 

   

larger user and advertiser bases;

 

   

more extensive and well developed marketing and sales networks; and

 

   

substantially greater financial and technical resources.

There are a number of existing or new PRC Internet companies, including those controlled or sponsored by private entities and by PRC government entities. As an Internet portal, we compete with various portals, including Alibaba, Baidu, and Tencent, the three dominating Internet Companies, as well as Autohome, BitAuto, Century Cruises (formerly known as Giant Interactive Group Inc.), Da Xing (formerly known as Perfect World Co., Ltd.), Google, IGG Inc., iQIYI, Kalends Inc., Kingsoft, Leju, Microsoft, NetDragon, NetEase, Ourpalm Corporate limited, Phoenix, Qihoo, Qutoutiao, Shulong Technologies (formerly known as Shanda Games Limited), Sina, SouFun, TouTiao.com, UCWeb, Youku Tudou, and YY.

We also compete with traditional forms of media, such as newspapers, magazines, radio and television, for advertisers, advertising revenues and content. Some of these traditional media, such as CCTV, Xinhua News Agency and People’s Daily, have extended their businesses into the Internet market. As a result, we expect to face more intense competition with traditional media companies in both their traditional media and in the Internet-related markets.

Competition for Sogou’s Business

Sogou’s business consists primarily of search and search-related services. Sogou faces intense competition in these areas primarily from Baidu and ShenMa. Sogou also faces competition for both users and advertisers from websites that provide specialized search services in China, including travel services and information platforms such as Ctrip and Qunar; group-buy platforms such as Meituan Dianping; online classified advertisement platforms such as 58.com; and newsfeeds such as Toutiao. Sogou competes for advertisers not only with Internet companies, but also with other types of advertising media such as newspapers and magazines, billboards and bus advertisements, television, and radio.

Sogou’s existing and potential competitors compete with Sogou for users and advertisers on the basis of the quality and quantity of search results; the features, availability, and ease of use of products and services; and the number and quality of advertising distribution channels. They also compete with Sogou for talent with technological expertise, which is critical to the sustained development of Sogou’s products and services.

Competition for Changyou’s Business

Online Game Business

In the online game industry, Changyou competes principally with the following three groups of competitors in China:

 

   

online game developers and/or operators in China that are publicly traded in the United States and in Hong Kong, including IGG Inc., Kingsoft Corporation Limited, NetEase, Inc., and Tencent;

 

   

other companies in China devoted to game development and/or operation that are publicly traded in China, such as 37 Interactive Entertainment(Shanghai) Technology Co., Ltd., Giant Network Group Co., Ltd., Kalends Inc., Perfect World Co., Ltd., YOOZOO GAMES Co., Ltd., or privately-held companies, usually backed by venture capital or private equity, including Shulong Technologies (formerly known as Shanda Games Limited); and

 

   

international competitors.

Platform Channel Business

 

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In the platform channel business, Changyou’s game information portal operated through the 17173.com Website currently competes in China with, among others, the following game information portals:

 

   

Duowan.com, operated by YY Inc.; and

 

   

Game.sina.com.cn, operated by Sina Corporation.

Cinema Advertising Business

In the cinema advertising industry, Changyou competes primarily with the following competitors in China:

 

   

Focus Film, operated by Focus Media Group; and

 

   

China Movie Media Group, operated by Wanda Cinema Line, a Wanda Group company.

The existing and potential competitors in the online games industry compete with Changyou for talent, game player spending, time spent on game playing, marketing activities, quality of games, and distribution network. The existing and potential competitors in the online advertising industry compete with Changyou for talent, advertiser spending, number of unique visitors, number of page views, visitors’ time spent on Websites, and quality of service. The existing and potential competitors in the cinema advertising industry compete with Changyou for cooperative relationships with operators of movie theaters that are popular among movie-goers, market share of quality pre-film advertisement slots, advertiser spending, and experienced sales and marketing personnel.

FACILITIES

Sohu

In February 2007, we purchased an office building of approximately 18,265 square meters in Beijing, for consideration of approximately $35.3 million, of which approximately 18,228 square meters have been leased to Sogou since November 2013.

In November 2009, we entered into a contract for the purchase and development of an office building of approximately 41,283 square meters in Beijing to serve as our headquarters, for consideration of approximately $162 million. The office building was placed in service in May 2013.

As of December 31, 2018, we leased office space in Beijing of approximately 2,413 square meters. We also leased office space of approximately 10,532 square meters in other cities in the PRC.

Sogou

As of December 31, 2018, Sogou leased approximately 8,469 square meters of office space in Beijing, in addition to office space that Sogou leased from Sohu. Sogou also leased office space of approximately 10,402 square meters in other cities in the PRC.

Changyou

In August 2009, Changyou purchased an office building of approximately 14,950 square meters in Beijing, for consideration of approximately $33.4 million. Since January 1, 2016, Changyou has leased out this building to third-party business tenants.

In August 2010, Changyou entered into a contract for the purchase and development of an office building of approximately 56,549 square meters in Beijing to serve as its headquarters, for consideration of approximately $171 million. The office building was placed in service in December 2013.

As of December 31, 2018, Changyou leased additional office space in Beijing of approximately 782 square meters. Changyou also leased office space of approximately 9,185 square meters in other cities in the PRC and in other countries.

GOVERNMENT REGULATION AND LEGAL UNCERTAINTIES

The following description of PRC laws and regulations is based upon the opinion of Haiwen & Partners, or Haiwen, our PRC legal counsel. The laws and regulations affecting China’s Internet industry and other aspects of our business are at an early stage of development and are evolving. There are substantial uncertainties regarding the interpretation and enforcement of PRC laws and regulations. We cannot assure you that the PRC regulatory authorities would find that our corporate structure and business operations strictly comply with PRC laws and regulations. If we are found to be in violation of PRC laws and regulations by the PRC government, we may be required to pay fines, obtain additional or different licenses or permits, and/or change, suspend or discontinue our business operations until we are found to comply with applicable laws. For a description of legal risks relating to our ownership structure and business, see “Item 3—Key Information—Risk Factors.”

 

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Overview

The Chinese government has enacted an extensive regulatory scheme governing Internet-related areas, such as telecommunications, Internet information services, international connections to computer information networks, online game services, information security and censorship.

Various aspects of the PRC Internet industry are regulated by various PRC governmental authorities, including:

 

   

the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (the “MIIT”), which resulted from the merger of the former Ministry of Information Industry and other governmental departments;

 

   

the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the People’s Republic of China (the “MCT”), which was established in March 2018 and resulted from the merger of the former Ministry of Culture (the “MOC”), and the former China National Tourism Administration (the “CNTA”). The “MCT” as used in this report refers to the governmental authority that resulted from the merger, as well as to the MOC and the CNTA separately for periods prior to the merger;

 

   

the Ministry of Public Security (“MPS”);

 

   

the Ministry of Commerce (“MOFCOM”);

 

   

the State Administration of Market Regulation (the “SAMR”), which resulted from the merger of, and assumed the responsibilities previously held by, the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (the “SAIC”), the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (the “AQSIQ”) the Certification and Accreditation Administration, the Standardization Administration of China (the “SAC”), and the State Food and Drug Administration (the “SFDA”). The “SAMR” as used in this report refers to the governmental authority that resulted from the merger, as well as to the SAIC, the AQSIQ, the SAC, and the SFDA separately for periods prior to the merger;

 

   

the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (the “SAPPRFT”) was reorganized into three separate governmental authorities, the National Radio and Television Administration (“NRTA”), the National Film Administration (the “NFA”), and the State Press Publication Administration (the “SPPA”), in March 2018. The SAPPRFT had resulted from the merger of the former General Administration of Press and Publication (the “GAPP”) with the former State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (the “SARFT”) in March 2013. The “NRTA,” the “NFA” and the “SPPA” as used in this report refer to the respective governmental authorities after the reorganization; the “SAPPRFT” as used in this report refers to the governmental authority that resulted from the merger for the period after the merger and prior to the reorganization, as well as to the GAPP and the SARFT separately for periods prior to the merger;

 

   

the PRC State Council Information Office (the “SCIO”);

 

   

the Cyberspace Administration of China (the “CAOC”); and

 

   

the State Administration of Foreign Exchange (the “SAFE”).

Specific Statutes and Regulations

Requirements for Establishment of WFOEs

Under the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Foreign Investment Enterprises (the “Foreign Investment Enterprises Law”), promulgated on April 12, 1986 and amended on October 31, 2000, the establishment of a WFOE was required to be approved by MOFCOM or one of its local branches. On September 3, 2016, the Foreign Investment Enterprises Law was further amended by the Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on Amending Four Laws including the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprises, issued by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, and on October 8, 2016 MOFCOM issued the Interim Measures for the Administration of Filing for Establishment and Change of the Foreign Investment Enterprises (the “Interim Filing Measures”), which were further amended on July 30, 2017 and June 29, 2018, respectively. The Foreign Investment Enterprises Law and the Interim Filing Measures provide that, with certain exceptions, the establishment of foreign-invested enterprises is only subject to certain filing requirements with, and no longer requires prior approval by, MOFCOM or its local branches.

 

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On March 15, 2019, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress issued the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Foreign Investment (“Foreign Investment Law”), which will take effect as of January 1, 2020 and then replace the Foreign Investment Enterprises Law and other laws relating to foreign investment. The stated purpose of the Foreign Investment Law is expanding China’s opening-up to the outside world, promoting and regulating foreign investment, and protecting the rights and interests of foreign investors. To achieve the above purpose, it provides, for example, that treatment given to foreign investors and their investment during the investment access stage shall not be inferior to treatment afforded to PRC domestic investors and their investment except where a foreign investment is captured by the negative list. The Foreign Investment Law also provides that the state will establish an information report system, and that foreign investors or foreign invested enterprises shall submit investment information through the enterprise registration system and the enterprise credit information publicity system. However, since the Foreign Investment Law is newly promulgated, at current stage, its impact upon the current procedures required for the establishment of a foreign-invested enterprise remains unclear and is pending further clarification and guidance from the MOFCOM and other relevant governmental authorities.

Each of our WFOEs established before September 3, 2016 was established with proper approval, and we have not established any WFOEs since September 3, 2016.

Requirements for Obtaining Business Licenses

All China-based companies may commence operations only upon the issuance of a business license by the relevant local branch of the SAMR. All of our China-Based Subsidiaries and VIEs have been issued business licenses by the relevant local branches of the SAMR.

In the opinion of Haiwen, our principal China-Based Subsidiaries and principal VIEs have satisfied the requirements for business licenses.

Regulation of Value-added Telecommunications Services

The Telecommunications Regulations of the People’s Republic of China (“Telecom Regulations”), implemented on September 25, 2000 and amended on July 29, 2014 and February 2, 2016, are the primary PRC law governing telecommunication services, and set out the general framework for the provision of telecommunication services by domestic PRC companies. The Telecom Regulations require that telecommunications service providers procure operating licenses prior to commencing operations. The Telecom Regulations draw a distinction between “basic telecommunications services,” which we generally do not provide, and “value-added telecommunications services.” The Telecom Regulations define value-added telecommunications services as telecommunications and information services provided through public networks. The Catalogue of Telecommunications Business (“Catalogue”), which was issued as an attachment to the Telecom Regulations and updated in February 2003 and December 2015, identifies Internet data centers, content delivery networks, domestic Internet virtual private networks, Internet access, online data and transaction processing, on-demand voice and image communications, message storage and forwarding (including voice mailbox, e-mail and online fax services), call centers, and online information and data search as value-added telecommunications services. We engage in various types of business activities that are value-added telecommunications services as defined and described by the Telecom Regulations and the Catalogue.

On July 3, 2017, the MIIT issued the Administration Measures for Telecommunications Business Operating Permits (the “Telecom License Measures”), which became effective on September 1, 2017, to supplement the Telecom Regulations and replace the previous Measures on the Administration of Telecommunications Business Operating Permits promulgated in 2009. The Telecom License Measures provide requirements and procedures for obtaining licenses for value-added telecommunications services, and stipulate that the competent governmental authorities will mandate improved credit management mechanisms for telecommunication business operators, and will establish an online platform in connection with telecommunication business operating permits. The Telecom License Measures also confirm that there are two types of telecom operating licenses for operators in China, one for basic telecommunications services and one for value-added telecommunications services. A distinction is also made as to whether a license is granted for “intra-provincial” or “trans-regional” (inter-provincial) activities. An appendix to each license granted will detail the permitted activities of the enterprise to which it was granted. An approved telecommunication services operator must conduct its business (whether basic or value-added) in accordance with the specifications recorded in its Telecommunications Services Operating License.

The business activities of Sohu Internet and Sogou Information include providing content to mobile phone users through the platforms of China’s main three telecommunications operators. The business activities of Sogou Information also include providing search services to mobile phone users through the platforms of China’s main three telecommunications operators. On April 25, 2004, the MIIT issued a notice stating that China mobile network operators may only provide mobile network access to those mobile Internet service providers which have obtained licenses from the relevant local arm of the MIIT before conducting operations. On the basis of the notice, China Mobile Communication Corporation (“China Mobile”) has required each of its mobile Internet service providers to first obtain a license for trans-regional value-added telecommunications services in order to gain full access to its mobile network, which is a nationwide policy in line with a similar notice issued by the Beijing branch of China Mobile on April 12, 2004.

 

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On August 8, 2014 and January 30, 2015, respectively, the MIIT issued to Sohu Internet and Guangzhou Qianjun Value-Added Telecommunications Services Operating Licenses that authorize the provision of trans-regional mobile services classified as value-added telecommunication services. Sohu Internet’s license was renewed on March 21, 2018, and Guangzhou Qianjun’s license was renewed on May 11, 2018. On June 2, 2016, the MIIT issued to Sogou Information the Value-Added Telecommunications Services Operating Licenses that authorize the provision of information services, Internet data centers and Internet access classified as value-added telecommunication services. The licenses are subject to the filing of annual reports, and these licenses were renewed on November 28, 2018.

Regulation of Foreign Direct Investment in Value-Added Telecommunications Companies

Various PRC regulations currently restrict foreign-invested entities from engaging in value-added telecommunication services, including providing Internet information services and operating online games. Foreign direct investment in telecommunications companies in China is regulated by the Regulations for the Administration of Foreign-Invested Telecommunications Enterprises (“FITE Regulations”), which were issued by the PRC State Council, or State Council, on December 11, 2001, became effective on January 1, 2002 and were amended on September 10, 2008 and February 6, 2016. The FITE Regulations stipulate that foreign invested telecommunications enterprises in the PRC (“FITEs”) must be established as Sino-foreign equity joint ventures. Under the FITE Regulations and in accordance with WTO-related agreements, the foreign party to a FITE engaging in value-added telecommunications services may hold up to 50% of the equity of the FITE, with no geographic restrictions on the FITE’s operations. On June 30, 2016, the MIIT issued an Announcement of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology on Issues concerning the Provision of Telecommunication Services in the Mainland by Service Providers from Hong Kong and Macao (the “MIIT Announcement”), which provides that investors from Hong Kong and Macau may hold more than 50% of the equity in FITEs engaging in certain specified categories of value-added telecommunications services.

For a FITE to acquire any equity interest in a value-added telecommunications business in China, it must satisfy a number of stringent performance and operational experience requirements, including demonstrating a track record and experience in operating a value-added telecommunications business overseas. FITEs that meet these requirements must obtain approvals from the MIIT and the MOFCOM or their authorized local counterparts, which retain considerable discretion in granting approvals.

On July 13, 2006, the Notice of the Ministry of Information Industry on Intensifying the Administration of Foreign Investment in Value-added Telecommunications Services (the “MIIT Notice”), which reiterates certain provisions of the FITE Regulations, was issued. Under the MIIT Notice, if a FITE intends to invest in a PRC value-added telecommunications business, the FITE must be established and must apply for a telecommunications business license applicable to the business. Under the MIIT Notice, a domestic company that holds a license for the provision of Internet content services, or an ICP license, is considered to be a type of value-added telecommunications business in China, and 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 to conduct value-added telecommunications businesses illegally in China. Trademarks and domain names that are used in the provision of Internet content services must be owned by the ICP license holder or its shareholders. The MIIT Notice requires each ICP license holder to have appropriate facilities for its approved business operations and to maintain such facilities in the regions covered by its license. In addition, all value-added telecommunications service providers are required to maintain network and information security in accordance with standards set forth in relevant PRC regulations. Our VIEs, rather than our subsidiaries, hold ICP licenses, own our domain names, and hold or have applied for registration in the PRC of trademarks related to our business and own and maintain facilities that we believe are appropriate for our business operations.

On November 27, 2017, the MIIT promulgated the Notice Regulating the Use of Domain Names in the Provision of Internet-based Information Services, or the Domain Names Notice, which became effective on January 1, 2018. Under the Domain Names Notice, a domain name used by a provider of Internet-based information services must be registered and owned by the provider or, if the provider is an entity, by a shareholder or senior management of the provider.

In view of these restrictions on foreign direct investment in the value-added telecommunications sector, we established or acquired several domestic VIEs to engage in value-added telecommunications services. For a detailed discussion of our VIEs, please refer to “Our Corporate Structure” above. Due to a lack of interpretative materials from the relevant PRC authorities, there are uncertainties regarding whether PRC authorities would consider our corporate structure and contractual arrangements to constitute foreign ownership of a value-added telecommunications business. See “Risks Related to Our Corporate Structure.” In order to comply with PRC regulatory requirements, we operate our main business through companies with which we have contractual relationships but in which we do not have an actual ownership interest. If our current ownership structure is found to be in violation of current or future PRC laws, rules or regulations regarding the legality of foreign investment in the PRC Internet sector, we could be subject to severe penalties.

In the opinion of Haiwen, subject to the uncertainties and risks disclosed elsewhere in this report under the heading “Risk Factors” and “Government Regulation and Legal Uncertainties,” the ownership structures of our principal PRC Subsidiaries and our principal VIEs comply with all existing laws, rules and regulations of the PRC and each of such companies has the full legal right, power and authority, and has been duly approved, to carry on and engage in the business described in its business license.

Regulation of the Provision of Internet Content

 

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Internet Information Services

On September 25, 2000, the State Council issued the Measures for the Administration of Internet Information Services (“ICP Measures”), which were amended on January 8, 2011. Under the ICP Measures, entities that provide information to online users on the Internet (“ICPs”) are obliged to obtain an operating license from the MIIT or its local branch at the provincial or municipal level in accordance with the Telecom Regulations described above.

The ICP Measures further stipulate that entities providing online information services regarding news, publishing, education, medicine, health, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment must procure the consent of the national authorities responsible for such areas prior to applying for an operating license from the MIIT or its local branch at the provincial or municipal level. Moreover, ICPs must display their operating license numbers in conspicuous locations on their home pages. ICPs are required to police their Internet platforms and remove certain prohibited content. Many of these requirements mirror Internet content restrictions that have been announced previously by PRC ministries, such as the MIIT, the MCT, and the SAPPRFT, that derive their authority from the State Council.

Sogou Information, Sohu Internet, Focus Interactive, Guangzhou Qianjun, Shanghai ICE, Guanyou Gamespace, and Gamease hold Telecommunications and Information Services Operating Licenses (each an “ICP license”), each of which is subject to the filing of an annual report.

In 2000, the MIIT promulgated the Internet Electronic Bulletin Service Administrative Measures (“BBS Measures”). The BBS Measures required ICPs to obtain specific approvals before they provided BBS services, which included electronic bulletin boards, electronic forums, message boards and chat rooms. On September 23, 2014, the MIIT abolished the BBS Measures in a Decision on Abolishment and Amendment Certain Regulations and Rules. However, in practice certain local authorities still require operating companies to obtain approvals or make filings for the operation of BBS services. The ICP licenses held by Sohu Internet, Sogou Information, Focus Interactive, Gamease and Guanyou Gamespace include such specific approval of the BBS services that they provide.

On December 29, 2011, the MIIT issued Several Provisions for Standardizing the Market Order of Internet Information Services (the “Several Provisions”) which took effect on March 15, 2012. With the aim of promoting the healthy development of the Internet information services market in China, the Several Provisions strengthen the regulation of the operations of Internet information service providers, including prohibiting Internet information service providers from infringing the rights and interests of other Internet information service providers, regulating evaluations provided by Internet information service providers regarding the services and products of other Internet information service providers, and regulating the installation and running of software by Internet information service providers. The Several Provisions also provide various rules to protect the interests of Internet information users, such as requesting Internet information service providers to take measures to protect the privacy information of their users and prohibiting Internet information service providers from cheating and misleading their users.

On August 25, 2017, the CAOC issued the Administration Measures for Internet Forum Community Service, effective on October 1, 2017, to regulate the provision of online interactive social network services for information dissemination. On August 25, 2017, the CAOC issued the Administration Measures for Internet Comment Thread Services, effective on October 1, 2017, regulating the provision of services by websites, applications, interactive broadcasting platforms, and other communication platforms with news and media characteristics that allow users to release text, photos, audio, and video. On February 20, 2018, the CAOC issued the Administrative Provisions on Micro-blogging and Blogging Information Services, effective on March 20, 2018, further regulating the provision of platform services for publishing and distributing information through micro-blogs and blogs. On September 7, 2017, the CAOC issued the Administration Measures for Internet Chat Group Services, effective on October 8, 2017, to regulate the provision of platform services for that allow Internet user groups to exchange information online. On September 7, the CAOC issued the Administration Measures for Internet Users’ Social Account Information Services, effective on October 8, 2017. These measures provide, among other things, that Internet platform operators providing the covered services will be responsible for the security of information and content published over their platforms, and provide enhanced requirements for user registration, information review, emergency response, and security.

On November 15, 2018, the CAOC promulgated the Provisions on the Security Assessment of Internet-based Information Services with Attribute of Public Opinions or Capable of Social Mobilization, which require that Internet information service providers that provide Internet services with the potential to influence public opinion or provoke social movement, including BBS, blog, and micro-blog services, must conduct a security self-assessment and file with the local office of the CAOC a self-assessment report regarding their such Internet services and supporting technologies, their user base characteristics, and any significant changes in user opinions and potential risks concerning public security issues.

Online News Dissemination and Online News Search Services

In May 2017, the Administrative Regulations for Internet News Information Services and Implementation Rules on the Administration of Internet News Information Services Permits (collectively the “News Regulations”) were promulgated by the CAOC to replace the Administrative Rules for Internet News Information Services promulgated by the SCIO in 2005 (the “Old News Rules”). The News Regulations stipulate that Internet news information services include production, publishing, and republishing services and platforms providing for the dissemination of news over the Internet, and specify that platforms providing for the dissemination of news over the Internet will be required to obtain an Internet news information services permit.

 

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Requirements of News Regulations include, among other things, the following:

 

   

Internet news information service providers must be entities duly incorporated within the territory of the PRC;

 

   

Managers and chief editors of Internet news information service providers must be Chinese citizens;

 

   

Internet news information service providers must have personnel who have appropriate qualification and professional training;

 

   

Internet news information service providers must have sound Internet news information service management systems;

 

   

Internet news information service providers must have rigorous information security management systems;

 

   

Internet news information service providers must have facilities that are suitable for their proposed services, and must be adequately funded; and

 

   

Internet news information service providers may only republish news published by governmental news agencies and must ensure the original sources are traceable.

On July 3, 2016, the CAOC issued a Notice on Further Strengthening the Management and Prevention of Fake News (the “Fake News Notice”). The Fake News Notice requires all providers of online news services, including news applications, Weibo, and WeChat, to establish and maintain rigorous internal supervision and management systems and to not provide any news without identifying the sources of the news, invent news, report news based on hearsay, or distort facts.

On May 11, 2004, Sohu Internet obtained from the Information Office of the Beijing Municipal Government (the local arm of the SCIO) an Internet news information services permit, which was updated by the SCIO on June 6, 2006 and April 4, 2018, respectively. There is uncertainty as to whether the provision of news search services and aggregation of news links fit within the definition of news dissemination services. Sogou Information is currently in the process of applying for an online news services license.

Internet Publishing

On February 4, 2016, the SAPPRFT and MIIT jointly issued the Rules for the Administration for Internet Publishing Services (the “Internet Publishing Rules”), which took effect on March 10, 2016, to replace the Provisional Rules for the Administration for Internet Publishing that had been jointly issued by the SAPPRFT and the MIIT on June 27, 2002. The Internet Publishing Rules define “Internet publications” as digital works that are edited, produced or processed to be published and provided to the public through the Internet, including (a) original digital works, such as pictures, maps, games, and comics; (b) digital works with content that is consistent with the type of content that, prior to the Internet age, typically was published in media such as books, newspapers, periodicals, audio-visual products, and electronic publications; (c) digital works in the form of online databases compiled by selecting, arranging and compiling other types of digital works; and (d) other types of digital works identified by the SAPPRFT. Under the Internet Publishing Rules, Internet operators distributing such Internet publications via information networks, including Web portals such as ours, are required to apply to and register with the SAPPRFT before distributing Internet publications.

On December 22, 2010, Sohu Internet obtained an Internet publishing license issued by the SAPPRFT, which was renewed on January 1, 2017. Sogou Information plans to apply for an Internet publishing license. For the details of the Internet publishing licenses held by Changyou’s VIEs, see “Specific Statutes and Regulations—Regulation of Online Game Services—Online Games and Cultural Products.”

Online Audiovisual Transmission Through the Public Internet

On December 20, 2007, the SAPPRFT and the MIIT jointly issued Rules for the Administration of Internet Audiovisual Program Services (“Document 56”), which came into effect as of January 31, 2008 and was amended on August 28, 2015. Document 56 requires all online audio and video service providers to be either state-owned or state-controlled and to obtain a permit for the Network Transmission of Audiovisual Programs. However, at a press conference held on February 3, 2008 the SAPPRFT and the MIIT clarified that online audio-visual service providers that were already lawfully operating prior to the issuance of Document 56 may re-register and continue to operate without becoming state-owned or controlled, provided that such providers do not engage in any unlawful activities. This exemption will not be granted to service providers set up after Document 56 was issued. As we were already engaged in online audiovisual transmission prior to the issuance of Document 56, we are presumably exempted from the requirement of being state-owned or state-controlled. Sohu Internet and Guangzhou Qianju currently hold permits, both for PC and for Mobile Apps, for the Network Transmission of Audiovisual Programs.

 

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On March 30, 2009, the SAPPRFT released a Notice on Strengthening the Administration of Online Audiovisual Content (the “March 2009 SAPPRFT notice”). March 2009 SAPPRFT notice requires the operators of audiovisual Websites to enhance their processes for protecting copyrights, and to take appropriate measures to protect the rights and interests of copyright holders. Operators of such sites must hold, or have a license to, the copyright to all content that they transmit. In addition, the March 2009 SAPPRFT notice stipulates that only those films or TV programs that have already obtained from the SAPPRFT a Film Public Screening Permit, TV Drama Distribution Permit, TV Animation Distribution Permit, or TV Documentary Film Screening Permit are allowed to be transmitted via audiovisual Websites. These permits are mandatory for all films and programs shown on TV and in cinemas in China and must be obtained before such film or TV or program is allowed to be released. The approval applications for the Film Public Screening Permit, Television Drama Distribution Permit, Television Animation Distribution Permit or Television Documentary Film Screening Permit are extremely difficult and time-consuming, and the SAPPRFT previously did not enforce very strictly the requirements regarding these permits. However, on September 2, 2014, the SAPPRFT issued a Notice on Further Strengthening the Administration of Online Foreign Audiovisual Content (“September 2014 SAPPRFT Notice”), which requires that operators of audiovisual Websites to obtain from the SAPPRFT a Film Public Screening Permit, TV Drama Distribution Permit, or TV Animation Distribution Permit for all foreign films and TV dramas before they are transmitted via the Internet in China. The September 2014 SAPPRFT Notice further stipulates that before any foreign films or TV dramas for transmission exclusively via the Internet are purchased after the promulgation of the September 2014 SAPPRFT Notice, operators of audiovisual Websites must declare their annual purchasing plans with the SAPPRFT before the end of the year preceding the year of the intended broadcast and obtain the SAPPRFT’s approval. The September 2014 SAPPRFT Notice also states that the number of foreign films and TV dramas to be purchased by an operator and transmitted via its Website in a single year may not exceed 30% of the total amount of the Chinese films and TV dramas purchased and transmitted by the same Website in the previous year.

On April 1, 2010, SAPPRFT issued a Catalogue of Classification of Internet Audio-Video Program Services (Trial) (the “Internet Audio-Video Program Catalogue”), which was amended on March 10, 2017. The Internet Audio-Video Program Catalogue classifies Internet audio-video program services (excluding IPTV, Internet TV and mobile TV services) provided to computer and mobile phone users the Internet into four categories, consisting of (i) Internet audio-video programs sponsored and broadcast through Internet radio and television stations, including political news, political talk shows, self-produced news programs and live programs of vital political, military, economic, social and sports activities; (ii) reprints of political news, Internet hosting, interviews, report and commentary services in entertainment, technology, financial, sports and educational audio-video programs, production and broadcasting of Internet dramas, compilation and broadcasting of entertainment, technology, financial, sports and education audio-video programs, and live broadcasting of cultural and sports activities; (iii) the aggregation of Internet audio-video programs, which means editing and arranging Internet audio-visual programs on the same website, providing search and viewing services to public users, and broadcasting user-uploaded audio-video programs; and (iv) retransmission of Internet audio-video programs. A permit for the Network Transmission of Audiovisual Programs specifies the scope of the services under one or more of these categories that the holder of the permit is allowed to provide. Our permit for the Network Transmission of Audiovisual Programs allows us to provide services mostly under the categories described in clauses (ii), (iii), and (iv) above. Sogou information is currently in the process of negotiating with an entity that holds a permit for the Network Transmission of Audiovisual Programs in order to acquire all of the equity interests in such entity.

On July 6, 2012, the SAPPRFT and the CAOC jointly issued a Notice on Further Strengthening the Administration of Internet Dramas, Micro Movies and Other Internet Audiovisual programs (the “2012 SAPPRFT Notice 53”), which reiterates that online audio-visual service providers must obtain a Permit for the Network Transmission of Audiovisual Programs from the SAPPRFT. The 2012 SAPPRFT Notice 53 further stipulates that online audio-visual service providers must review the content of Internet audiovisual programs prior to their transmission and must file certain information, such as the names of the Internet audiovisual programs, summaries of their content and names of the persons conducting the reviews, with the appropriate provincial office of the SAPPRFT.

On January 2, 2014, the SAPPRFT issued a Supplemental Notice on 2012 SAPPRFT Notice 53, which stipulates that producers of Internet dramas, micro movies and other Internet audiovisual programs must obtain a Permit for Radio and Television Program Production and Operation. Online audio-visual service providers may only retransmit dramas and micro movies produced and uploaded by individuals whose identities have been verified and the content of which complies with relevant regulations. Online audio-visual service providers must file with the provincial SAPPRFT the content of Internet audiovisual programs proposed for transmission prior to transmitting the programs.

On November 4, 2016, the SAPPRFT issued a Notice on Further Strengthening the Planning, Development and Administration of Original Internet Audiovisual Programs (“Document 198”). Document 198 stipulates that if online service providers plan to produce and disseminate audiovisual programs that are considered to be key audiovisual programs under Document 198, the service providers must, during the early planning and development stage, file a summary of the programs and their titles, producer names, themes, and duration with the SAPPRFT and, for audiovisual programs with sensitive themes such as politics, military, diplomacy, national security, national sovereignty, religion, the PRC justice system and public security, consult with designated PRC governmental authorities before production of the programs. On June 26, 2017, SAPPRFT and other several governmental authorities issued a Notice on Several Policies Concerning the Prosperity and Development of Television Dramas that confirms filing procedures with respect to key Internet dramas. In accordance with the Notice on Upgrading the Filing System of the Online Audiovisual Programs issued by the NRTA, effective December 18, 2018, producers of key audiovisual programs must make filings prior to the commencement of the production that include a summary of specified details concerning the programs and, following the completion of the production, submit the completed programs to the NRTA or its competent provincial counterpart and make filings with additional information concerning the programs.

 

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On March 16, 2018, the SAPPRFT issued a Notice on Further Regulating the Distribution Order of Internet Audiovisual Programs, which prohibits operators of audiovisual Websites from editing or adapting audiovisual programs of third-party content providers, broadcasting illegally edited and/or adapted audiovisual programs on their audiovisual Websites, and/or entering into business collaboration arrangements for online audiovisual services with providers without a Permit of Network Transmission of Audiovisual Programs.

Private Network and Targeted Communication Audiovisual Program Services

On April 25, 2016, the SAPPRFT issued the Provisions on the Administration of Private Network and Targeted Communication Audiovisual Program Services (the “Private Network Audiovisual Programs Administration Provisions”), effective on June 1, 2016, to replace the Measures for the Administration of the Transmission of Audiovisual Programs over Internet and other Information Networks that had been issued by the SAPPRFT on July 6, 2004. The Private Network Audiovisual Programs Administration Provisions stipulate that private network and targeted communication audiovisual program services include the provision, integrated control, transmission and distribution of audiovisual content through IPTV, targeted mobile television, television network and other targeted channels. The Private Network Audiovisual Programs Administration Provisions provide that operators engaging in private network and targeted communication audiovisual program services must obtain a permit for the Network Transmission of Audiovisual Programs from the SAPPRFT. The Private Network Audiovisual Programs Administration Provisions provide that only PRC state-owned or state-controlled entities may engage in private network and targeted communication audiovisual program services. We provide a small amount of audiovisual program services through private network and/or targeted communication channels, such as IPTVs and television networks. In order to comply with the Private Network Audiovisual Programs Administration Provisions, we partner with PRC state-owned entities for the provision of such services through private network and targeted communication channels. According to a press conference of SAPPRFT regarding the Private Network Audiovisual Programs Administration Provisions, Internet audiovisual program services provided through the public Internet, which include our main online video services, other than private network and targeted communication channels should comply with Document 56. See “Government Regulation and Legal Uncertainties—Specific Statutes and Regulations—Regulation of the Provision of Internet Content—Online Audiovisual Transmission through the Public Internet” for a description of regulations affecting Internet Audio-video program services provided through the public Internet;

Online Cultural Products

On May 10, 2003, the MCT issued the Provisional Regulations for the Administration of Online Culture (“Online Culture Regulations”), which took effect on July 1, 2003 and were amended on July 1, 2004. On February 17, 2011, the MCT issued the new Provisional Regulations for the Administration of Online Culture (“New Online Culture Regulations”), which took effect on April 1, 2011 and were amended on December 15, 2017, to replace the previous regulations. The New Online Culture Regulations apply to entities engaging in activities related to “Internet cultural products,” which include those cultural products that are produced specially for Internet use, such as online music and entertainment, online games, online plays, online performances, online works of art and Web animations, and those cultural products that, through technical means, produce or reproduce music, entertainment, games, plays and other art works for Internet dissemination. Pursuant to the New Online Culture Regulations, commercial entities are required to apply to the relevant local branch of the MCT for an Online Culture Operating Permit if they engage in any of the following types of activities:

 

   

the production, duplication, importation, release or broadcasting of Internet cultural products;

 

   

the dissemination of online cultural products on the Internet or transmission thereof via Internet or mobile phone networks to users’ terminals such as computers, fixed-line or mobile phones, television sets, gaming consoles and Internet surfing service sites such as Internet cafés for the purpose of browsing, using or downloading such products; or

 

   

the exhibition or holding of contests related to Internet cultural products.

On January 6, 2016, the MCT issued Trial Measures of Administration of Cultural Market Blacklist (the “Blacklist Measures”), which stipulate that cultural products containing prohibited content, including content so specified by the New Online Culture Regulations, that has a material adverse effect on society will be listed in a “cultural product blacklist” published by the MCT or its local branches. Any future application made to the MCT or its local branches by an online cultural operator that has engaged in the distribution of cultural products included in the blacklist will be subject to heightened scrutiny.

 

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On July 1, 2016, the MCT issued a Notice on Strengthening the Administration of Online Performance (the “Online Performance Notice”) and on December 2, 2016, issued the Measures of Administration of Online Performance Operating Activities (the “Online Performance Measures”), which became effective on January 1, 2017. The Online Performance Notice and the Online Performance Measures both stipulate that online performance service providers must obtain an Online Culture Operating Permit and that online performances must not contain any content that is horrific, cruel, violent, vulgar or humiliating in nature, mocks persons with disabilities, includes photographs or video clips that infringe third parties’ privacy or other rights, features animal abuse, or presents characters and other features of online games that have not been registered and approved for publication by applicable PRC governmental authorities.

On September 2, 2016, the SAPPRFT issued the Notice on Strengthening the Management of Live Online Social Video Services (the “Live Online Notice”), which requires interactive broadcasting service providers to procure a permit for the Network Transmission of Audiovisual Programs. Sohu Internet and Guangzhou Qianju currently hold permits for the Network Transmission of Audiovisual Programs. The Live Online Notice also stipulates that a service provider must make a filing with the local SAPPRFT branch at least five days before making any live broadcast of any significant political, military, economic, social, cultural or sports activities and at least 48 hours before making any live broadcast of other cultural or sports activities. On November 4, 2016, the CAOC issued the Provisions on the Administration of Online Live Social Video Services (the “Live Social Video Provisions”) effective December 1, 2016. The Live Social Video Provisions provide that business entities such as us that offer interactive broadcasting services on their Internet platforms have the primary responsibility for monitoring content disseminated by interactive broadcasting hosts and viewers through such services, and must allocate sufficient staff in line with the scale of such services and establish and maintain adequate internal policies and procedures for, among other things, content review, information security management, emergency management and technical support. The Live Social Video Provisions also require that Internet providers verify the real-name identity of interactive broadcasting hosts and viewers before allowing them to establish user accounts with the Internet providers and take appropriate remedial actions, such as issuing warnings, removing posted content, or terminating the user’s account, with respect to interactive broadcasting content or activity that is prohibited by the Live Social Video Provisions. Internet providers are subject to administrative penalties and other sanctions for noncompliance with the Live Social Video Provisions. On August 1, 2018, the MIIT and several other governmental authorities issued a Notice on Strengthening the Administration of Live Online Social Video Services, which stipulates that providers of Internet access services and APP stores that distributing online interactive broadcasting services are required to obtain permits from specified governmental agencies in order to provide their services.

Sohu Internet, Guangzhou Qianjun, Focus Interactive, Sogou Information, Gamease, Guanyou Gamespace, and Shanghai ICE currently hold Online Culture Operating Permits, each of which is subject to annual inspection. Focus Interactive has recently applied to have the license renewed.

Mobile Internet Applications Information Services

On June 28, 2016, the CAOC issued the Provisions on the Administration of Mobile Internet Applications Information Services (the “APP Provisions”), which became effective on August 1, 2016. Under the APP Provisions, mobile application providers and application store service providers are prohibited from engaging in any activity that may endanger national security, disturb the social order, or infringe the legal rights of third parties, and may not produce, copy, issue or disseminate through mobile applications any content prohibited by laws and regulations. The APP Provisions also require application providers to procure relevant approval to provide services through such applications and require application store service providers to register with local branch offices of the CAOC within 30 days after they start providing application store services. We have procured the required approvals for services that we provide through our mobile applications. Sogou Information has filed an application for registration with the applicable local branch of the CAOC with respect to its provision of application store services.

Internet Map Services

Under the Opinions on Strengthening the Supervision of Internet Map and Geographic Information Services and the Notices on Further Strengthening the Management of Internet Map Services Permit issued on February 25, 2008 and December 23, 2011, respectively, by the State Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geo-information (the “SASMG,” formerly known as the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping), and six other governmental authorities and the Administrative Regulations on Maps issued by the State Council on November 26, 2015, effective on January 1, 2016, any provider of Internet map services that is not a professional surveying and mapping enterprise must obtain the approval of the SASMG or its local branches and a Surveying and Mapping Qualification Certificate in order to provide such services. In addition, providers of Internet map services must use maps obtained through government-approved channels and display the SASMG approval number, the Surveying and Mapping Qualification Certificate number and the Telecommunications Services Operating License number in conspicuous locations on their Websites.

On July 1, 2014, the SASMG issued new Administrative Regulations on Surveying and Mapping Qualification Certificate and Classification Standard on Surveying and Mapping Qualification Certificate (the “SASMG Regulations and Standards”) effective on August 1, 2014, to replace previous regulations and standards issued on February 16, 2004 and March 12, 2009. Under the SASMG Regulations and Standards, there are two types of Surveying and Mapping Qualification certificates that may be issued to providers of Internet map services. A Class A certificate allows a holder to provide (i) map-location services, (ii) geo-information uploading and dimension services, and (iii) geo-information database development services, while a holder of a Class B certificate may only provide the first two types of services.

 

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On July 26, 2016, the SASMG and the Office of the Central Leading Group for Cyberspace Affairs (the “OCLGCA”) jointly issued a Notice on Standardizing the Usage of Maps by Internet Services Providers (the “Maps Usage Notice”), which stipulates that all the Internet service providers must review and use maps in accordance with the PRC Surveying and Mapping Law and Administrative Regulations on Maps. The Maps Usage Notice requires that maps displayed by Internet service providers be obtained through government-approved channels and identify their sources and censor numbers. Internet service providers are prohibited from using maps obtained from unaccredited sources, including foreign Websites. All maps, other than scenic maps, block maps, subway maps and other simple maps, must be reviewed by PRC governmental authorities before they are published, and must not contain any information or content specified as prohibited in the Maps Usage Notice.

On January 1, 2015, Sogou Information obtained a renewed Class A Certificate of Surveying and Mapping Qualification from the SASMG.

Internet Medical, Health and Pharmaceuticals Information Dissemination

Under the Measures for the Administration of Internet Pharmaceuticals Information Services (the “Pharmaceuticals Information Services Measures”) issued by the SAMR on July 8, 2004, which were amended on November 17, 2017, formal approval from the SAMR or one of its local branches is required before a Website may disseminate information concerning pharmaceuticals.

Under the Pharmaceuticals Information Services Measures, medical, health and pharmaceutical information (including information with respect to medical equipment) provided by Websites must be scientific and accurate and must indicate the sources of such information. Websites that have received approval to disseminate such information must also publish or reprint health policies, information on epidemics and major health-related incidents, and other health-related information in accordance with law. Furthermore, medical and pharmaceutical advertisements (including advertisements for medical equipment) published by such Websites must not exaggerate the efficacy or promote the medical uses of such products.

Sohu Internet, Guangzhou Qianjun, and Sogou Information received renewed approval from the SAMR, on November 26, 2014, April 30, 2014, and October 31, 2017, respectively, to disseminate pharmaceuticals information over the Internet.

Regulation of Online Advertising Services

Brand Advertising Services

On April 24, 2015, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress enacted the Advertising Law of the Peoples Republic of China (the “New Advertising Law”), which became effective on September 1, 2015 and was amended on October 26, 2018. The New Advertising Law, which was a major overhaul of an advertising law enacted in 1994, increases the potential legal liability of providers of advertising services, and includes provisions intended to strengthen identification of false advertising and the power of regulatory authorities. On July 4, 2016, the SAMR issued the Interim Measures of the Administration of Online Advertising (the “SAMR Interim Measures”), effective on September 1, 2016. The New Advertising Law and the SAMR Interim Measures both provide that advertisements posted or published through the Internet may not affect users’ normal usage of a network, and advertisements published in the form of pop-up windows on the Internet must display a “close” sign prominently and ensure one-key closing of the pop-up windows. The SAMR Interim Measures provide that all online advertisements must be marked “Advertisement” so that viewers can easily identify them as such. Moreover, the SAMR Interim Measures treat pay-for-click search results as advertisements that are subject to PRC advertisement laws, require that pay-for-click search results be conspicuously identified on search result pages as advertisements and subject revenues from such advertisements to a 3% PRC tax that is applied to advertising revenues. The New Advertising Law and SAMR Interim Measures will require us to conduct more stringent examination and monitoring of our advertisers and the content of their advertisements. In order to comply with these regulations, Sogou has established more stringent standards for selecting advertisers for pay-for-click services, has turned down certain existing advertisers, and has lowered the percentage that pay-for-click search results represent of results on Sogou search pages.

On April 13, 2016, the SAMR and sixteen other PRC government agencies jointly issued a Notice of Campaign to Crack Down on Illegal Internet Finance Advertisements and Other Financial Activities in the Name of Investment Management (the ‘‘Campaign Notice’’), pursuant to which a campaign was conducted between April 2016 and January 2017 targeting, among other things, online advertisements for Internet finance and other financial activities posted on Internet search portals and other portal, financial, real estate, P2P and investment product sales services Websites. The Notice of Key Areas of Work in 2018 of the Inter-Ministerial Joint Meeting on Rectification of False and Illegal Advertisements, jointly issued by SAMR and ten other PRC government agencies on February 26, 2018, further emphasizes the responsibility of Internet service providers to verify and examine the content and supporting documents of online advertisements and prevent the dissemination of false and illegal online advertisements.

 

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On August 31, 2018, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress enacted the E-commerce Law of the People’s Republic of China, which took effect on January 1, 2019 and which stipulates, among other things, that although an e-commerce business operator may provide an Internet consumer with search results for goods or services based on such consumer’s preferences or consumption habits, the operator must also provide such consumer with options that are not based on such consumer’s preferences or habits, in order to respect and protect the rights and interests of such consumer, and reiterates that e-commerce business operators that distribute online advertisements to consumers must comply with the New Advertising Law.

Search and search-related Services

On October 23, 2015, the MCT issued a Notice on Further Strengthening and Improving the Administration of Content of Online Music (the “MCT Further Notice”) which became effective on January 1, 2016. The MCT Further Notice provides that providing direct links to online music will constitute engaging in the online music business, and that therefore an Online Culture Operating Permit is required for providing such search services. Sogou Information held an Online Culture Operating Permit pursuant to regulations that were in effect before the MCT Further Notice became effective. The permit was renewed on November 3, 2017 pursuant to the MCT Further Notice.

On June 25, 2016, the CAOC issued Measures for the Administration of Online Information Search Services (the “CAOC Interim Measures”), which came into effect on August 1, 2016. The CAOC Interim Measures, like the SAMR Interim Measures, require that providers of online search services verify the credentials of pay-for-click advertisers, specify a maximum percentage that pay-for-click search results may represent of results on a search page, and require that providers of search services conspicuously identify pay-for-click search results as such.

Regulation of Online Game Services

Online Games and Cultural Products

In September 2009, the SAPPRFT, together with the National Copyright Administration and the National Office of Combating Pornography and Illegal Publications, jointly issued a Notice on Further Strengthening the Administration of Pre-examination and Approval of Online Games and the Examination and Approval of Imported Online Games, or the SAPPRFT Online Game Notice. The SAPPRFT Online Game Notice states that foreign investors are not permitted to invest in online game operating businesses in China via wholly foreign-owned entities, China-foreign equity joint ventures or cooperative joint ventures or to exercise control over or participate in the operation of domestic online game businesses through indirect means, such as other joint venture companies or contractual or technical arrangements. If the VIE structures of Sogou and Changyou were deemed under the SAPPRFT Online Game Notice to be an “indirect means” for foreign investors to exercise control over or participate in the operation of a domestic online game business, the VIE structures of Sogou and Changyou might be challenged by the SPPA, as a successor agency to the SAPPRFT. We are not aware of any online game companies which use the same or similar VIE contractual arrangements as those Sogou and Changyou use having been challenged by the SAPPRFT or the SPPA as using those VIE arrangements as an “indirect means” for foreign investors to exercise control over or participate in the operation of a domestic online game business or having been penalized or ordered to terminate operations since the SAPPRFT Online Game Notice first became effective. However, it is unclear whether and how the SAPPRFT Online Game Notice might be interpreted or implemented in the future.

On February 21, 2008, the SAPPRFT issued the Rules for the Administration of Electronic Publications, or the Electronic Publication Rules, which were amended on August 28, 2015. The Electronic Publication Rules regulate the production, publishing and importation of electronic publications in the PRC and outline a licensing system for business operations involving electronic publishing. Under the Electronic Publication Rules and other related regulations issued by the SAPPRFT, online games are classified as a type of electronic publication or Internet publication that may only be provided by a licensed electronic publishing entity with a standard publication code, and the establishment of an electronic publishing entity must be approved by the SAPPRFT. Electronic publishing entities are responsible for assuring that the content of electronic publications comply with relevant PRC law and regulations, and must obtain the approval of the SPPA, as a successor agency to the SAPPRFT, before publishing foreign electronic publications. The New Internet Publication Measures, which became effective on March 10, 2016 and replaced the Temporary Measures for Internet Publication Administration that had become effective in 2002, require that entities in the Internet publishing business apply for an online publishing services license instead of an Internet publishing license, that entities holding an Internet publishing license apply for an online publishing service license within a specified period of time to replace their Internet publishing license, and that all such entities obtain approval from the SAPPRFT or the SPPA prior to the publication of new online games. In addition, under the New Internet Publication Measures, Sino-foreign joint ventures and foreign-invested entities are not permitted to engage in Internet publication services, and the legal representative of an entity providing Internet publication services may not be a foreigner.

 

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Gamease, which is the operator of TLBB, BO, BH2 and certain other licensed PC games, and Guanyou Gamespace, which provides online game services, obtained Internet publishing licenses on December 10, 2010 and October 13, 2011, respectively, and Gamease and Guanyou Gamespace have obtained online publishing services licenses under the New Internet Publication Measures to replace the Internet publishing licenses previously held by them. TLBB, BO, BH2 and some of Changyou’s other games were historically published through third parties that were licensed electronic publishing entities, because Gamease had not obtained an Internet publishing license at the time those online games were made publicly available. TLBB, BO and BH2 and certain of Changyou’s other existing games are currently published under an Internet publishing license held by Gamease. Current PRC regulations are not clear as to the consequences of obtaining authorization codes through third-party electronic publishing entities. While we believe that arrangements like Changyou’s are acknowledged by the SAPPRFT or SPPA, in view of the lack of formal interpretation regarding this issue, the SPPA might challenge Changyou’s current and past practices and could subject Changyou to various penalties, including fines, confiscation of publishing equipment and the revenues generated from the publishing activities, the revocation of Changyou’s business license, or the forced discontinuation of or restrictions on its operations.

On May 24, 2016, the SAPPRFT issued the Mobile Game Notice, which became effective on July 1, 2016 and sets forth requirements for the publication and operation of mobile games online, including requiring that mobile game publishers and operators, including joint operators, review the content of the games that they publish and operate, and apply for publication and authorization codes at least 20 business days before first publishing and operating domestic recreational and educational mobile games through open beta testing. The Mobile Game Notice, as updated by a subsequent notice, specifies that game publishers and game operators were required to review the content of mobile games that were published and operated online before July 1, 2016, and to complete approval procedures for those games before December 31, 2016, or to cease operating the games. Changyou completed prior to December 31, 2016 all of the approval procedures required by the SAPPRFT for its mobile games that were in operation before July 1, 2016.

The MCT issued the New Provisional Regulations for the Administration of Online Culture, or the Online Culture Regulations, which took effect on April 1, 2011 and was amended on December 15, 2017 and replaced the Provisional Regulations for the Administration of Online Culture. The Online Culture Regulations apply to entities engaging in activities related to “Internet cultural products,” which include cultural products that are produced specifically for Internet use, such as online music and entertainment, online games, online plays, online performances, online works of art and Web animation, and other online cultural products that through technical means, produce or reproduce music, entertainment, games, plays and other art works for Internet dissemination. Under the New Online Culture Regulations, commercial entities are required to apply to the relevant local branch of the MCT for an Online Culture Operating Permit if they engage in the production, duplication, importation, release or broadcasting of Internet cultural products; the dissemination of online cultural products on the Internet or the transmission of such products via Internet or mobile phone networks to user terminals, such as computers, phones, television sets and gaming consoles, or Internet surfing service sites such as Internet cafés; or the holding or exhibition of contests related to Internet cultural products. In January 2008 Gamease obtained an Online Culture Operating Permit, which was re-certified in October 2015 and December 2017; in June 2011 Guanyou Gamespace obtained an Online Culture Operating Permit, which was re-certified in October 2015 and December 2017; and in December 2010 Shanghai ICE obtained an Online Culture Operating Permit, which was re-certified in January 2014. Shanghai ICE plans to apply for re-certification of its Online Culture Operating Permit in March 2018.

The Online Game Measures issued by the MCT, which took effect on August 1, 2010 and was amended on December 15, 2017, regulate a broad range of activities related to the online games business, including the development, production and operation of online games, the issuance of virtual currencies used for online games, and the provision of virtual currency trading services. The Online Game Measures provide that any entity that is engaged in online game operations must obtain an Online Culture Operating Permit, and require the content of an imported online game to be examined and approved by the MCT prior to the game’s launch and a domestic online game to be filed with the MCT within 30 days after its launch. The Notice of the Ministry of Culture on the Implementation of the Interim Measures for the Administration of Online Games, which was issued by the MCT on July 29, 2010 to implement the Online Game Measures (i) requires online game operators to protect the interests of online game users and specifies certain terms that must be included in service agreements between online game operators and the users of their online games, (ii) specifies content review of imported online games and filing procedures for domestic online games, (iii) emphasizes the importance of the protection of minors playing online games, and (iv) requests online game operators to promote real-name registration by their game users. On December 1, 2016, the MCT issued the Online Game Operation Notice, which became effective on May 1, 2017. The Online Game Operation Notice includes clarification of products and services that will be considered to be within the scope of the operation of online games, enhanced standards for the issuance of and payment for virtual items used in online games and enhanced protection of online games users, and announces more stringent supervision of the operation of online games and penalties for violations by online game operators of regulations with respect to the operation of online games. The Online Game Operation Notice stipulates that game operators are prohibited from providing lucky draws or lotteries that are conducted on the condition that participants contribute cash or virtual currency in exchange for virtual items and services; must timely publish the name, properties, description, amount, and probability of winning for such lucky draws or lotteries on either the Website of the game or the Web page on which such lucky draws or lotteries are provided; must require real-name registration of game players who wish to enter such lucky draws or lotteries; and must publish the results of such lucky draws or lotteries on the Website of or other conspicuous location in the game; and must maintain all relevant records for at least 90 days. The Online Game Operation Notice also stipulates that online game operators must require real-name registration of online game players and may sell game points and virtual items only to real-name registered game players, must set limits on the maximum amount of game points for a particular game that game players may purchase in a single transaction, must require confirmation of transaction information by game players placing orders and maintain all relevant records for at least 180 days. Changyou filed its games TLBB, BO, BH2, and certain of its other existing games with the MCT. If Changyou fails to maintain any of its permits, approvals, or registrations; make any necessary filings; apply for and obtain any required new permits, approvals, or registrations; make any new filings on a timely basis; or comply with the requirements under the Online Game Operation Notice and other laws and regulations, it may be subject to various penalties, including fines and a requirement that it discontinue or limit its operations.

 

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The Notice on Strengthening the Approval and Administration of Imported Online Games, or the Imported Online Game Notice, which was issued by the SAPPRFT and took effect in July 2009, states that the SAPPRFT was, and the SPPA as a successor to the SAPPRFT is, the only governmental department authorized by the State Council to approve the importation of online games from Offshore copyright owners, and that any enterprise which engages in online game publication and operation services within China must have the game examined and approved by the SAPPRFT or the SPPA and receive from the SAPPRFT or the SPPA an Internet publishing license (or after the New Internet Publication Measures became effective on March 10, 2016, an online publishing services license). Changyou’s VIEs Gamease and Guanyou Gamespace obtained Internet publishing licenses from the SAPPRFT and they have obtained online publishing services licenses under the New Internet Publication Measures to replace the Internet publishing licenses previously held by them. In addition, the Imported Online Game Notice states that activities which involve the showing, exhibition, trading and promotion of Offshore online games in China must be examined and approved by the SAPPRFT or the SPPA.

The Notice Regarding Improving and Strengthening the Administration of Online Game Content, or the Online Game Content Notice, issued by the MCT in November 2009, calls for online game operators to improve and adapt their game models by (i) mitigating the predominance of the “upgrade by monster fighting” model, (ii) limiting the use of the “player kill” model (where one player’s character attempts to kill another player’s character), (iii) limiting in-game marriages among game players, and (iv) improving their compliance with legal requirements for the registration of minors and game time-limits.

The Administrative Measures for Content Self-review by Internet Culture Business Entities, or the Content Self-review Administrative Measure, which took effect in December 2013, require 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 local provincial branch of the MCT.

In January 2014, the SAIC promulgated the Administrative Measures for Online Trading, or the Online Trading Measures, which took effect on March 15, 2014, and replaced the Interim Measures for the Administration of Online Commodities Trading and Relevant Services, issued by the SAIC, which had taken effect on July 1, 2010. The Online Trading Measures regulate online commodity trading and related activities. The Online Trading Measures require that online transactions in commodities or services comply with the provisions of all applicable laws, regulations and rules. When selling commodities or providing services to consumers, online operators must comply with all applicable laws with respect to the protection of consumer rights and interests, the protection of intellectual property rights of others and the prevention of unfair competition. Information provided with respect to commodities and services provided by online commodity operators or related service operators must be authentic and accurate. If Changyou fails to comply with all requirements of the Online Trading Measures, the local branch of the SAIC or SAMR or another governmental authority with jurisdiction might impose penalties on it, such as fines.

Registration of Software Copyrights

The Measures Concerning Registration of Computer Software Copyright, or the Software Copyright Measures, issued by the National Copyright Administration, which became effective in February 2002, encourage the registration of software and afford greater protection to registered software than that afforded to unregistered software. Changyou has registered software copyrights covering all of its significant copyrightable products and enhancements.

Regulation of Internet Content

The PRC government has promulgated measures relating to Internet content through a number of government authorities, including the MIIT, the MCT, the SPPA, the NRTA and the MPS. These measures prohibit certain Internet activities, including the operation of online games that result in the publication of any content which is found to, among other things, propagate obscenity, gambling or violence, instigate crimes, undermine public morality or the cultural traditions of the PRC, or compromise State security or secrets. If an ICP license holder violates these measures, the PRC government may revoke its ICP license and shut down its Websites.

On May 2, 2017, the CAOC, issued the Administrative Enforcement Procedures for the Administration of Internet-based Information Content, or the Enforcement Procedures, effective June 1, 2017. Pursuant to the Enforcement Procedures, the CAOC and its local branch offices have the authority to enforce, and impose administrative sanctions on activities prohibited by, applicable administrative laws and regulations concerning Internet-based information content.

Protection of Minors

 

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On April 15, 2007, the SAPPRFT and several other governmental authorities issued a circular requiring the implementation of an “anti-fatigue system” and a real-name registration system by all PRC online game operators, in an effort to curb addictive online game play behaviors of minors. Under the anti-fatigue system, three hours or less of continuous play by minors is considered to be “healthy,” three to five hours to be “fatiguing,” and five hours or more to be “unhealthy.” Game operators are required to reduce the value of in-game benefits to a game player by half if the game player has reached “fatiguing” level, and to zero in the case of “unhealthy” level.

To identify whether a game player is a minor and thus subject to the anti-fatigue system, there was adopted a real-name registration system, which requires online game players to register their real identity information before they play online games and requires online game operators such as Sogou and Changyou to submit the identity information of game players to the public security authorities for verification. On July 1, 2011, the SAPPRFT, the MIIT, the Ministry of Education and five other governmental authorities issued a Notice on Initializing the verification of Real-name Registration for Anti-Fatigue System on Internet Games, or the Real-name Registration Notice”), which took effect on October 1, 2011, to strengthen the implementation of the anti-fatigue system and real-name registration. The Real-name Registration Notice’s main focus is to prevent minors from using an adult’s ID to play Internet games and, accordingly, the notice imposes stringent punishments on online game operators that do not implement the required anti-fatigue and real-name registration measures properly and effectively. The most severe punishment contemplated by the Real-name Registration Notice is to require termination of the operation of the online game if it is found to be in violation of the Anti-Fatigue Notice, the Monitor System Circular or the Real-name Registration Notice. Sogou and Changyou developed anti-fatigue and real-name registration systems for their games, and implemented them beginning in 2007. Under the systems of Sogou and Changyou, game players must use real identification in order to create accounts, and in this way Sogou and Changyou generally are able to tell which of their game players are minors and thus subject to these regulations. For game players who do not register, Sogou and Changyou assume that they are minors. As required by the anti-fatigue rules, Changyou reduces the value of in-game benefits of game players under 18 years based on the amount of their continuous play. In order to comply with the anti-fatigue rules, game players under 18 years of age only receive half of the experience time they actually earn after three hours of play. And, after five hours of play, minors receive no experience points. Sogou uses this system to disincentivize minors from playing in excess of five hours at a time.

On January 15, 2011, the MCT, the MIIT and six other central government authorities jointly issued a circular entitled Implementation of Online Game Monitor System of the Guardians of Minors, or the Monitor System Circular, aiming to provide protection measures to monitor the online game activities of minors and curb addictive online game playing behaviors of minors. Under the Monitor System Circular, online game operators are required to adopt various measures to maintain a system to communicate with the parents or other guardians of minors playing online games and online game operators are required to monitor the online game activities of minors, and must suspend the account of a minor if so requested by the minor’s parents or guardians. The monitor system was formally implemented commencing March 1, 2011.

In February 2013, 15 PRC government authorities, including the SAPPRFT, the Ministry of Education, the MCT and the MIIT, jointly issued the Work Plan for the Integrated Prevention of Minors Online Game Addiction, or the Work Plan, implementing integrated measures by different authorities to prevent minors from being addicted to online games. Under the Work Plan, the current relevant regulations regarding online games will be further clarified and additional implementation rules will be issued; and as a result, online game operators will be required to implement measures to protect minors.

On July 25, 2014, the SAPPRFT promulgated a Notice on Further Carrying out the Verification of Real-name Registration for Anti-Fatigue System on Internet Games, or the Verification of Real-name Registration Notice, which took effect on October 1, 2014. The Verification of Real-name Registration Notice requires local press and publication administrative departments to strengthen their administration over enterprises engaged in online game publication and operations, and requires such enterprises to abide by anti-fatigue and real-name registration requirements when developing and promoting online games, excluding, at present, mobile games.

Information Security and Censorship

Internet content in China is also regulated and restricted from a State security standpoint. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress enacted the Decision on Internet Security Protection in 2000, and amended it in August, 2009. The decision makes it unlawful 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 MPS has promulgated measures that prohibit the use of the Internet in ways which, among other things, result in a leakage of State secrets or distribution of socially destabilizing content. The MPS has supervision and inspection rights in this regard, and Changyou may be subject to the jurisdiction of local security bureaus. If an ICP license holder violates these measures, the PRC government may revoke its ICP license and shut down its Websites. On November 7, 2016, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress issued the Internet Security Law, which took effect on June 1, 2017. The Internet Security Law requires providers of services over Internet networks to keep user information that they have collected in strict confidence and to establish improved systems for the protection of user information. Such service providers must provide notice of the purpose, methods and scope of their collection and use of user information, and obtain the consent of each person whose personal information will be collected. Service providers may not collect any personal information that is not related to the services they provide, or disclose or tamper with personal information that they have collected, unless such information is encoded to prevent identification of individuals whose information is so disclosed or tampered with. Service providers who do not comply with the Internet Security Law may be subject to fines, suspension of their businesses, shutdown of their websites, and revocation of their business licenses.

 

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In 2004, the MCT issued a Notice Regarding the Strengthening of Online Game Censorship. This notice mandates the establishment of a new committee under the MCT that will screen the content of imported online games. In addition, all imported and domestic online games are required to be filed with the MCT. Changyou has submitted the relevant documents to the MCT for the filing of all of its online games in operation.

In 2005, the MCT and the MIIT promulgated the Opinions on the Development and Administration of Online Games emphasizing the PRC government’s intent to foster and control the development of the online game industry in China and providing that the MCT will censor online games that “threaten state security,” “disturb the social order,” or contain “obscenity” or “violence.”

In April, 2009, the MCT issued a Public Announcement on Regulating Applications for the Examination of the Content of Imported Online Games, or the Announcement. The Announcement emphasizes that enterprises operating imported online games must have the content of those games examined and approved by the MCT.

In November 2018, the MPS issued the Regulations for Internet Security Supervision and Inspection by Public Security Authority, which specifies the standards for the inspection of network operators and the legal responsibilities of network operators that provide internet content.

Virtual Currency

On February 15, 2007, the MCT, the People’s Bank of China, or the PBOC, and other relevant government authorities jointly issued the Notice on the Reinforcement of the Administration of Internet Cafés and Online Games, or the Internet Cafés Notice. Under the Internet Cafés Notice, the PBOC is directed to strengthen the administration of virtual currency in online games to avoid any adverse impact on the economy and financial system. The Internet Cafés Notice limits the total amount of virtual currency that may be issued by online game operators and the amount that may be purchased by individual game players, and includes a clear division between virtual transactions and real transactions carried out by way of electronic commerce. The Internet Cafés Notice also provides that virtual currency may only be used to purchase virtual items.

On June 4, 2009, the MCT and the MOFCOM jointly issued the Virtual Currency Notice, to regulate the trading of online game virtual currencies. The Virtual Currency Notice defines the meaning of virtual currency and places a set of restrictions on the trading and issuance of virtual currency. The Virtual Currency Notice also states that online game operators are not allowed to give out virtual items or virtual currency through lottery-based activities, such as lucky draws, betting or random computer sampling, in exchange for user’s cash or virtual money. The Virtual Currency Notice is mainly targeted at lottery-based activities relating to the “treasure boxes” found in some online games.

On July 20, 2009, the MCT promulgated the Filing Guidelines for Online Game Virtual Currency Issuing Enterprises and Online Game Virtual Currency Trading Enterprises, which define the terms “issuing enterprise” and “trading enterprise” and stipulate that the same enterprise may not be both an issuing enterprise and a trading enterprise.

On December 1, 2016, the MCT issued the Online Game Operation Notice, which became effective on May 1, 2017. The Online Game Operation Notice standardizes rules regarding the issuance of virtual items used for online games. The Online Game Operation Notice provides that the issuance and exchange of virtual items issued by online game operators must be administered in accordance with the regulations applicable to virtual currency; that online game operators may not allow online game virtual currency to be exchanged for real currency or physical items, except that, when online game operators cease offering their online game products and services to users, the operators may repay the users with real currency or other actual physical or intangible assets for unused virtual currency; requires that, when online game operators allow users to exchange small-value physical items for virtual items, the content and value of such physical items must comply with applicable laws and regulations; and stipulates that online game operators are prohibited from providing lucky draws or lotteries that are conducted on the condition that participants contribute cash or virtual currencies in exchange for virtual items and services, must publish the results of such lucky draws or lotteries on the Website of or other conspicuous location in the game and must maintain all relevant records for at least 90 days.

Import and Export of Software Technology

 

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China imposes controls on the import and export of technology and software products. Under the Regulations on Administration of Import and Export of Technologies promulgated by the State Council, the term “technology import and export” is defined to include, among other things, the transfer or licensing of patents and know-how, and the provision of services related to technology. Depending on the nature of the relevant technology, the import and export of technology require either approval by or registration with the relevant PRC governmental authorities. Under the Software Export Management and Statistics Measures promulgated in October 2001, if a company is classified as a software enterprise and has a minimum of RMB1 million (or approximately $158,000) in registered capital, it may engage in an export business after being registered with the relevant PRC governmental authorities. All contracts which relate to the export of software products, transfer of technology or provision of related services must be filed with the relevant PRC governmental authorities. The Measures for the Administration of Registration of Technology Import and Export Contracts, issued by the MOFCOM in February 2009, specify registration requirements related to the import and export of technology.

Changyou has entered into license agreements with third parties outside of China to license its games, which may be deemed to constitute the export of technology under the regulations. As a result, such licenses are required to be registered with applicable PRC governmental authorities. Although there are no explicit penalties set forth in these regulations for lack of such registration, failure to register an agreement where such registration is required may result in restrictions concerning foreign exchange, banking and taxation matters relating to such agreements. Changyou has not registered all of the game license agreements under which it authorizes overseas third-party online game operators to operate its online games, and so far Changyou has not encountered any problems with respect to foreign exchange, banking or taxation matters relating to its license agreements, nor has Changyou received any notice from any governmental authority requiring it to complete the registration of its game license agreements.

Regulation of Other Services

Real Estate Services

On March 10, 2015, the National Development and Reform Commission (the “NDRC”) and the MOFCOM issued a new Foreign Investment Industrial Guidance Catalogue (the “New Catalogue”), which became effective on April 10, 2015 and was amended on June 28, 2017 and June 28, 2018. The New Catalogue removed from the category of industries where foreign investment is restricted real estate agency and brokerage services, which had been included in the restricted category in the previous Foreign Investment Industrial Guidance Catalogue issued in 2011. The New Catalogue loosened existing restrictions on foreign ownership of real estate agency and brokerage services in China, and as a result we may conduct real estate agency and brokerage services directly.

On April 4, 2001, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (the “MHURD,” formerly the Ministry of Construction) promulgated the Regulatory Measures on the Sale of Commercial Houses, pursuant to which a real estate developer may engage a real estate services organization as a broker to pre-sell or sell primary residential housing. The regulatory measures provide that a real estate broker must not make any false statements regarding a property to clients and must present clients with relevant title certificates or sale permits for the properties and a related letter of authorization.

On December 29, 2006, the MHURD and the PBOC jointly issued the Circular Concerning Strengthening the Management of Real Estate Services and Regulating the Trade Settlement Capital Account, which provides a number of directives regulating the real estate services industry. Under the circular, a real estate services company is not permitted to receive cash purchase payments on behalf of clients in secondary real estate transactions and is required to establish separate security deposit accounts for clients.

On January 20, 2011, MHURD, the NDRC, and the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security jointly issued the Measures for Administration on Real Estate Brokerage (the “Brokerage Measures”), which became effective on April 1, 2011 and were amended on April 1, 2016, and govern the activities of real estate brokerages and real estate brokerage personnel in providing intermediary, agency and related services and charging commissions. Furthermore, pursuant to the Brokerage Measures, a real estate brokerage company and its branches must have a sufficient number of licensed real estate brokers. The Brokerage Measures also require real estate brokerage companies to file with real estate regulatory authorities at the county level or above within 30 days after their business registration with the relevant local counterparts of the SAMR. Focus Interactive has made the required filings.

On July 29, 2016, the MHURD and six other governmental authorities jointly issued the Opinions on Strengthening the Administration of Sound Development of Real Estate Brokerage (the “MHURD Opinions”), to further regulate real estate brokerage services. The MHURD Opinions stipulate that real estate brokers are obligated to censor specified real estate-related information, including ownership, price, area, and location, and may not provide, directly or through agencies, loans for down payments and other similar financial services.

On September 30, 2016, Beijing MHURD and five other governmental authorities jointly issued the Measures for the Promotion of Stable and Healthy Development of the Local Real Estate Market (the “Beijing Measures”), with the goal of tempering rampant increases in housing prices by balancing land supply in favor of residential use and owner-occupied apartments, providing guidance for real estate developers and brokers as to the setting of prices and the conduct of advertising, selling and financing activities, and providing for enhanced enforcement measures with respect to false and misleading advertisements and pricing information and other illegal selling and financing activities in the local real estate market. Certain other cities, including Tianjin, Suzhou, Zhengzhou, Chengdu, Hefei, and Wuhan, adopted similar measures. One effect of these regulations has been to make real estate developers more cautious with respect to advertising housing on Internet platforms and cooperating on real estate-related e-commerce programs with Internet service providers.

 

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On May 19, 2018, the MHURD issued a Notice on Further Improving Relevant Issues Concerning the Regulation and Control of the Real Estate Market, to prohibit certain behaviors by real estate developers and brokers, such as hoarding property for speculation. On June 25, 2018, the MHURD and six other government agencies jointly issued a Notice on Launching Special Actions to Combat the Infringement of the Interests of the Masses and Regulating the Real Estate Market in Some Cities, to prohibit certain additional behaviors of real estate developers and brokers, such as price manipulation and false advertising, in specified cities including Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Tianjin.

Online Payment Services

On June 14, 2010, the PBOC issued the Measures for the Administration of Payment Services Provided by Non-financial Institutions (the “Payment Services Measures”), which took effect on September 1, 2010 and were amended on February 3, 2016. On December 1, 2010, the PBOC promulgated the Implementing Rules for the Payment Services Measures. The Payment Services Measures and their implementing rules require any non-financial institution engaging in payment services, such as online payments, issuance and acceptance of prepaid cards, and bill collection via bank cards, to obtain a Payment Service License. Applications for Payment Service Licenses are examined by the local branches of the PBOC and then submitted to the PBOC for approval. To further regulate the operation of online payment services, the PBOC issued the Administration of Online Payment Services Provided by Non-Bank Payment Institutions (the “Online Payment Services Measures”), which took effect on July 1, 2016. The Online Payment Services Measures classify personal payment accounts at entities that already hold a Payment Service License into three categories based on the extent to which the holders of the accounts have completed identity verification procedures, and provide that those account holders who have completed more of the identity verification process are entitled to a broader range of payment options through their accounts. The Online Payment Services Measures prohibit non-bank payment institutions from engaging in securities, insurance, financing, trusts and other unauthorized financial business. Non-bank payment institutions are also required to develop risk control systems, including a risk rating system for users, a dispute resolution system, and a risk reserve.

In addition, on January 20, 2015, the SAFE issued the Notice of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on the Pilot Scheme of Cross-border Foreign Exchange Payment Services Provided by Payment Institutions (the “Pilot Notice”), replacing the Guiding Opinions on the Pilot Services of Cross-Border E-commerce Foreign Exchange Payment by Payment Institutions issued by the SAFE on February 1, 2013, pursuant to which a payment institution is required to obtain approval from the SAFE and to be registered in the Enterprise Directory for Foreign Exchange Receipts and Payments in Trade in order to provide pilot foreign exchange payment services for cross-border e-commerce transactions. Any institution applying for such registration and approval must first obtain a Payment Services License that authorizes it to engage in the online payments business.

Lottery Sales

On May 4, 2009, the State Council issued the Regulation on Administration of Lottery stating that “lottery issuance agencies” and “lottery sales agencies” may authorize other entities to conduct lottery sales. On September 26, 2010, the Ministry of Finance (the “MOF”) issued the Interim Measures on the Administration of Internet Lottery Sale (the “Lottery Measures”), which set forth detailed requirements for the administration of online lottery sales as well as requirements for qualified online lottery service providers. Pursuant to the Lottery Measures, the MOF is the supervisory and regulatory department for online lottery sales. Lottery issuance agencies may collaborate with other entities or authorize lottery sales agencies to conduct online lottery sales, or appoint qualified entities as their online lottery sales agents. The Lottery Measures require qualified online lottery service providers to meet certain criteria, including having obtained an Internet content provider license. Lottery issuance agencies are required to apply to the MOF for approval of online lottery service providers that the lottery service agencies propose to engage to conduct an online lottery business.

On January 18, 2012, the MOF, the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the General Administration of Sports jointly issued the Implementing Rules of the Regulation on Administration of Lottery (the “Lottery Implementing Rules”), which became effective on March 1, 2012 and were amended on August 16, 2018. The Lottery Implementing Rules stipulate that lotteries sold through the Internet or sold without the MOF’s approval and a lottery issuing agency’s or a lottery sales agency’s authorization may be categorized as illegal lotteries.

On February 28, 2012, the General Administration of Sports issued the Urgent Notice on the Strengthening Execution of the Lottery Implementing Rules, reiterating that lotteries sold via the Internet without the approval of the MOF will be deemed to be illegal lotteries. In December 2012, the MOF issued the Lottery Distribution and Sale Administration Measures, which became effective on January 1, 2013 and expressly permit Internet lottery sales.

 

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On March 27, 2014, the MOF issued the Interim Measures on the Administration of the Sale of Lotteries via Telephone (the “Telephone Lottery Measures”) to replace the MOF’s former version promulgated on September 26, 2010. Under the Telephone Lottery Measures, “sale of lotteries via telephone” refers to the use of fixed-line telephones and mobile telephones to sell lotteries through short messages, voice calls and applications. Properly qualified lottery sales agencies may authorize other entities (“Telephone Sales Agents”) to carry out the business of sale of lotteries via telephone. The lottery sales agencies and the Telephone Sales Agent must enter into a commission agreement. A qualified Telephone Sales Agent is required to meet certain criteria, including having obtained a Value-Added Telecommunications Services Operating License. The Telephone Lottery Measures further provide that a Telephone Sales Agent must conduct business in accordance with parameters approved by the MOF and a pursuant to a commission agreement.

On January 15, 2015, the MOF, the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the General Administration of Sports jointly promulgated the Notice related to Self-inspection and Self-Remedy of Unauthorized Online Lottery Sales (the “Self-inspection Notice”), which requires provincial and municipal government branches, including financial, civil affairs and sports bureaus, to conduct inspections and take remedial measures for unauthorized online lottery sales within their respective jurisdictions. The scope of inspection includes, among other things, commission contracts, online lottery products, exchange of lottery sales data, online lottery sales channels, and sales commission fees in connection with unauthorized engagements of online sales agents by lottery sales agencies. The Notice further requires that a formal report on the result of the inspections and the remedial measures be submitted by each provincial or municipal government to the MOF, the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the General Administration of Sports by March 1, 2015.

On April 3, 2015, eight governmental authorities consisting of the MOF, the MPS, the SAMR, the MIIT, the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the PBOC, the General Administration of Sports and the CBRC jointly released a public announcement with regard to unauthorized online lottery sales (the “Public Announcement”). The Public Announcement provides, among other things, that (i) all lottery institutions, internet companies, and other institutions or individuals provide unauthorized online lottery sales services, either directly or through agents, must immediately cease such services; (ii) the local governmental authorities for finance, civil affairs and sports must investigate and sanction unauthorized online lottery sales in their respective jurisdictions in accordance with applicable laws and regulations; (iii) the local governmental authorities for public security and industry and commerce must investigate any issuances or sales of illegal lotteries within their respective jurisdictions, with necessary assistance from local governmental authorities for finance, communication, banking regulation, civil affairs and sports, and local branches of the PBOC, and report any criminal activities to judicial authorities for prosecution; (iv) the lottery issuance authorities that plan to sell lottery products online must obtain approval from the Ministry of Civil Affairs or the General Administration of Sports by submitting an application to the MOF for written approval, and (v) no entity may provide online lottery sales services without the approval of the MOF. On April 28, 2016, the MOF, the MPS, the Ministry of Civil Affairs, the General Administration of Sports, and the SAMR, and on May 5, 2015 the SAMR, issued notices regarding unauthorized online lottery sales and further emphasized the requirements specified in the Public Announcement. Online lottery sales are an insignificant business for us.

On August 8, 2018, the MOF and several other government agencies jointly issued an Announcement on Further Regulating the Order of the Lottery Market and Comprehensively Managing the Sale of Lotteries through the Internet, which further emphasizes that business entities and individuals may not sell lottery tickets or conduct any other form of lottery business over the Internet without the approval of the MOF.

Production of Radio and Telecommunications Equipment

On September 11, 1993, the State Council and Central Military Commission jointly issued the Regulations on the Management of Radio Operations, which were amended on November 11, 2016, under which the working frequencies, bands, and related technical indices of radio transmission equipment must conform to relevant regulations regarding radio and are required to be submitted to the state radio administration authority or its local branches for approval, and failure to submit such information for approval will result in the imposition of a fine.

On October 7, 1997, the State Radio Regulatory Bureau (formerly the State Radio Regulatory Commission), together with the SAMR (formerly the AQSIQ), promulgated Regulations on the Production of Radio Transmitting Equipment (the “Radio Transmitting Equipment Regulations”), which took effect on January 1, 1999. Pursuant to the Radio Transmitting Equipment Regulations, each type of radio transmission equipment is subject to approval from State Radio Regulatory Bureau (“SRRC Certificate”) prior to production.

On May 10, 2001, MIIT promulgated the Administration Measures of the Network Entry of Telecommunication Equipment (the “Telecommunication Equipment Measures”), which was amended on September 23, 2014. Pursuant to the Telecommunication Equipment Measures, the State requires all telecommunications terminal equipment to be connected to a public telecommunications network to obtain network connection permits. A Permit of Network Connection, or China Type Approval Certificate (“CTA Certificate”), issued by the MIIT must be obtained for such telecommunications equipment. When a producer of such telecommunications terminal equipment applies for a CTA Certificate, it must submit a test report or product quality certificate (namely SRRC Certificate). If a CTA Certificate has not been obtained for such equipment, it may not be connected to a public telecommunications network and may not be used or sold domestically.

Miscellaneous

 

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Laws and Regulations Related to International Connections for Computer Information Networks

The State Council and the MIIT have promulgated regulations governing international connections for PRC computer networks, including:

 

   

Provisional Regulations of the People’s Republic of China for the Administration of International Connections to Computer Information Networks (1997) and related Implementing Measures (1998); and

 

   

Administrative Measures for International Communications Gateways (2002).

Under the above regulations, any entity wishing to access international connections for their computer information networks in the PRC must comply with the following requirements:

 

   

be a PRC legal person;

 

   

have the appropriate equipment, facilities and technical and administrative personnel;

 

   

have implemented and registered a system of information security and censorship; and

 

   

effect all international connections through an international communications gateway established with the approval of the MIIT.

We have adopted measures necessary to ensure that we are in compliance with all of these requirements.

Laws and Regulations Related to Intellectual Property Protection

China has adopted comprehensive legislation governing intellectual property rights, including copyrights, patents and trademarks.

Copyright

On September 7, 1990, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress promulgated the Copyright Law, which took effect on June 1, 1991 and was amended in 2001 and in 2010. The amended Copyright Law extends copyright protection to Internet activities, products disseminated over the Internet and software products. In addition, there is a voluntary registration system administered by the China Copyright Protection Center. The amended Copyright Law also requires registration of the pledge of a copyright.

In order to further implement the Computer Software Protection Regulations, promulgated by the State Council on December 20, 2001 and amended on May 19, 2004 and January 30, 2013, the NCA issued Computer Software Copyright Registration Procedures on February 20, 2002 and amended it on May 19, 2004, which specify detailed procedures and requirements with respect to the registration of software copyrights.

To address the problem of copyright infringement related to content posted or transmitted over the Internet, on April 29, 2005 the NCA and the MIIT jointly promulgated the Measures for Administrative Protection of Copyright Related to Internet, which became effective on May 30, 2005. These measures apply to situations where an ICP operator (i) allows another person to post or store any works, recordings, audio or video programs on the Websites operated by such ICP operator, or (ii) provides links to, or search results for, the works, recordings, audio or video programs posted or transmitted by such person, without editing, revising or selecting the content of such material. Upon receipt of an infringement notice from a legitimate copyright holder, an ICP operator must take remedial actions immediately by removing or disabling access to the infringing content. If an ICP operator knowingly transmits infringing content or fails to take remedial actions after receipt of a notice of infringement harming public interest, the ICP operator could be subject to administrative penalties, including an order to cease infringing activities; confiscation by the authorities of all income derived from the infringement activities; or payment of fines.

On May 18, 2006, the State Council promulgated the Regulations on the Protection of the Right to Network Dissemination of Information (as amended in 2013). Under these regulations, an owner of the network dissemination rights with respect to written works or audio or video recordings who believes that information storage, search or link services provided by an Internet service provider infringe his or her rights may require that the Internet service provider delete, or disconnect the links to, such works or recordings.

 

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Since 2005, the NCA, together with certain other PRC governmental authorities, have jointly launched annual campaigns, which normally last for three to four months every year, specifically aiming to crack down on Internet copyright infringement and piracy in China. According to the Notice of 2010 Campaign to Crack Down on Internet Infringement and Piracy promulgated by the NCA, the MPS and the MIIT on July 19, 2010, one of the main targets, among others, of the 2010 campaign was Internet audio and video programs. From the time the 2010 campaign commenced in late July, the local branches of the NCA focused on popular movies and television series, newly published books, online games and animation, music and software and illegal uploading or transmission of a third party’s works without proper license or permission, sales of pirated audio/video and software through e-commerce platforms, providing search links, information storage, Web hosting or Internet access services for third parties engaging in copyright infringement or piracy and infringement by the use of mobile media. In serious cases, the operating permits of the Websites engaging in illegal activities may be revoked, and such Websites may be ordered to shut down. On July 16, 2018, the NCA, the CAOC, the MIIT and the MPS jointly announced the Jian Wang 2018 Campaign to crack down on copyright infringement related to re-transmission of Internet content and dissemination of short videos and comic videos over the Internet, and to further regulate live broadcast, knowledge sharing, and audio books services over the Internet.

On April 17, 2015, the NCA issued the Circular on Regulating the Order of Internet Reproduction of Copyrighted Works (“Internet Reproduction Circular”). Under the Internet Reproduction Circular, in order to reproduce the work of others, Internet media companies must comply with relevant provisions of the copyright laws and regulations, and, unless provided otherwise by law or regulation, must obtain permission from and pay remuneration to the owner of the copyright to the work, and must indicate the name of the author, as well as the title and the source of the work, and may not infringe any other rights or interests of the copyright owner. Moreover, when reproducing the work of others, Internet media companies may not make material alterations to the content; and may not make editorial modifications or abridgments of the work that change the work’s title or its original intent. When reproducing the work of others, we will need to comply with these strict requirements of the Internet Reproduction Circular.

We have adopted measures to mitigate copyright infringement risks, such as real-time monitoring and mechanisms for fast removal upon receipt of notices of infringement.

On December 26, 2009, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress adopted the Torts Liability Law, which became effective on July 1, 2010. Under this new law, both Internet users and Internet service providers may be liable for the wrongful acts of users who infringe the lawful rights of other parties. If an Internet user utilizes Internet services to commit a tortious act, the party whose rights are infringed may request the Internet service provider to take measures, such as removing or blocking the content, or disabling the links thereto, to prevent or stop the infringement. If the Internet service provider does not take necessary measures after receiving such a notice, it will be jointly liable for any further damages suffered by the rights holder. Furthermore, if an Internet service provider fails to take necessary measures when it knows that an Internet user utilizes its Internet services to infringe the lawful rights and interests of other parties, it will be jointly liable with the Internet user for damages resulting from the infringement.

On December 17, 2012, PRC Supreme People’s Court promulgated the Provisions on Several Issues Concerning the Application of Law for Trial of Civil Dispute Cases Involving Infringement of the Right to Network Dissemination of Information (“Network Dissemination of Information Provision”). The Network Dissemination of Information Provisions stipulate that the dissemination by network users or network service providers of written works, performance or audio or video recordings without the permission of the holder of the rights to such dissemination will constitute infringement of such rights, and that network service providers that aid or abet any network user’s infringement of the rights of another to network dissemination of any works or recordings may be liable for such network user’s infringing activities.

Patent Law

On March 12, 1984, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress promulgated the Patent Law, which was amended in 1992, 2000 and 2008. On June 15, 2001, the State Council promulgated the Implementation Regulation for the Patent Law, which was lately amended in January 9, 2010. According to these laws and regulations, the State Intellectual Property Office is responsible for administering patents in the PRC. The Chinese patent system adopts a “first to file” principle, which means that where more than one person files a patent application for the same invention, a patent will be granted to the person who filed the application first. To be patentable, invention or utility models must meet three conditions: novelty, inventiveness and practical applicability. A patent is valid for 20 years in the case of an invention and 10 years in the case of utility models and designs. A third-party user must obtain consent or a proper license from the patent owner to use the patent. Otherwise, third-party use constitutes an infringement of patent rights.

Trademark Law

On August 23, 1982, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress promulgated the Trademark Law (the “Trademark Law”), which was amended in 1993, 2001 and 2013. On August 3, 2002, the State Council promulgated the Implementation Regulation for the Trademark Law, which was amended in April 29, 2014. Under the Trademark Law and the implementing regulation, the Trademark Office of the Administration for Industry and Commerce is responsible for the registration and administration of trademarks. The Administration for Industry and Commerce under the State Council has established a Trademark Review and Adjudication Board for resolving trademark disputes. As with patents, China has adopted a “first-to-file” principle for trademark registration. If two or more applicants apply for registration of identical or similar trademarks for the same or similar commodities, the application that was filed first will receive preliminary approval and will be publicly announced. For applications filed on the same day, the trademark that was first used will receive preliminary approval and will be publicly announced. Registered trademarks are valid for ten years from the date the registration is approved. A registrant may apply to renew a registration within twelve months before the expiration date of the registration. If the registrant fails to apply in a timely manner, a grace period of six additional months may be granted. If the registrant fails to apply before the grace period expires, the registered trademark shall be deregistered. Renewed registrations are valid for ten years.

 

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Laws and Regulations Related to Encryption Software

In October 1999, the State Council promulgated the Regulations for the Administration of Commercial Encryption, lately amended on February 3, 2016, followed in November 1999 by the Notice of the General Office of the State Encryption Administration Commission promulgated by the State Commission for the Administration of Cryptography. Both of these regulations address the use in China of software with encryption functions.

These regulations require that encryption products purchased for use be reported. Violation of the encryption regulations may result in the issuance of a warning, levying of a penalty, confiscation of the encryption products and even criminal liabilities. On March 18, 2000, the Office of the State Commission for the Administration of Cryptography issued a public announcement regarding the implementation of the regulations. The announcement states that only specialized hardware and software, the core functions of which are encryption and decoding, fall within the administrative scope of the regulations as “encryption products and equipment containing encryption technology.” Other products, such as wireless telephone, Windows software and browsers do not fall within this scope.

The State Commission for the Administration of Cryptography changed its name to the State Cryptography Administration Bureau (“SCAB”) in March 2005. The SCAB maintains authority over the importation, research, production, sale and use of cryptographic products in China (“products” are defined to include any cryptographic technologies and products to be applied in the encryption or secure authentication of information, other than state secrets). Legislation was issued to restrict the importation, research, production and sale of encryption products and requiring that the encryption functions of such products be placed in escrow with the SCAB for reasons of national security.

We are in full compliance with current PRC legislation governing encryption software.

Laws and Regulations Related to Consumer Protection and Privacy Protection

Consumer Protection

The MIIT set forth various requirements for consumer protection in a notice, issued on April 15, 2004, which addresses certain problems in the telecommunications sector, including ambiguity in billing practices for premium services, poor quality of connections and unsolicited SMS messages, all of which impinge upon the rights of consumers.

This trend was continued with the issuance of the Notice Regarding the Ratification and Administration of Mobile Information Services Fees and Charges Method by the MIIT on September 8, 2006.

On January 26, 2014, the SAMR issued the Administrative Measures on Online Transactions (the “Online Transaction Measures”), which took effect on March 15, 2014, to regulate online commodity trading and related online services and replace the previous Interim Measures for the Administration of Online Commodities Trading and Relevant Services issued on May 31, 2010. The Online Transaction Measures stipulate various obligations of online service providers, including the obligation to protect the interests of customers. Under the Online Transaction Measures, commodities or relevant services transacted online must comply with relevant laws, regulations and rules. When selling commodities or providing services to consumers, online commodity operators must comply with all applicable laws with respect to the protection of consumer rights/interests, intellectual property rights of others and the prevention of unfair competition. Information on commodities or services provided by online commodity operators or related service operators must be authentic and accurate.

On May 26, 2016, the MIIT issued the Measures on the Complaint Settlement of the Telecommunication Services Users (the “Complaint Settlement Measures”), which took effect on July 30, 2016. The Complaint Settlement Measures require telecommunication services providers to respond to their users within fifteen days upon the receipt of any complaint delivered by such users, the failure of which will give the complaining users the right to file a complaint against the service providers with the provincial branch offices of the MIIT.

We are aware of the increasingly strict legal environment covering consumer protection in China, and we strive to adopt all measures necessary to ensure that our business complies with these evolving standards.

Privacy Protection

The PRC Constitution states that PRC law protects the freedom and privacy of the communications of citizens and prohibits infringement of such rights. In recent years, PRC government authorities have issued various regulations on the use of the Internet that are designed to protect personal information from unauthorized disclosure. For example, the ICP Measures prohibit an Internet information services provider from insulting or slandering a third party or infringing upon the lawful rights and interests of a third party. In addition, PRC regulations authorize PRC telecommunication authorities to demand rectification of unauthorized disclosure by ICPs.

 

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Chinese law does not prohibit ICPs from collecting and analyzing personal information from their users. The PRC government, however, has the power and authority to order ICPs to submit personal information of an Internet user if such user posts any prohibited content or engages in illegal activities on the Internet. In addition, the Several Provisions stipulate that ICPs must not, without the users’ consent, collect information on users that can be used, alone or in combination with other information, to identify the user, or User Personal Information, and may not provide any User Personal Information to third parties without prior user consent. ICPs may only collect User Personal Information necessary to provide their services and must expressly inform the users of the method, content and purpose of the collection and processing of such User Personal Information. In addition, an ICP may use User Personal Information only for the stated purposes under the ICP’s scope of services. ICPs are also required to ensure the proper security of User Personal Information, and take immediate remedial measures if User Personal Information is suspected to have been disclosed. If the consequences of any such disclosure are expected to be serious, the ICP must immediately report the incident to the telecommunications regulatory authorities and cooperate with the authorities in their investigations. We require our users to accept a user agreement whereby they agree to provide certain personal information to us. If we violate these regulations, the MIIT or its local bureaus may impose penalties and we may be liable for damage caused to our users.

On December 28, 2012, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress enacted the Decision to Enhance the Protection of Network Information (“Information Protection Decision”), to further enhance the protection of User Personal Information in electronic form. The Information Protection Decision provides that ICPs must expressly inform their users of the purpose, manner and scope of the ICPs’ collection and use of User Personal Information, publish the ICPs’ standards for their collection and use of User Personal Information, and collect and use User Personal Information only with the consent of the users and only within the scope of such consent. The Information Protection Decision also mandates that ICPs and their employees must keep strictly confidential User Personal Information that they collect, and that ICPs must take such technical and other measures as are necessary to safeguard the information against disclosure.

On July 16, 2013, the MIIT issued the Order for the Protection of Telecommunication and Internet User Personal Information (the “Order”). Most of the requirements under the Order that are relevant to ICP operators are consistent with the requirements already established under the MIIT provisions discussed above, except that under the Order the requirements are often more strict and have a wider scope. If an ICP operator wishes to collect or use personal information, it may do so only if such collection is necessary for the services it provides. Further, it must disclose to its users the purpose, method and scope of any such collection or use, and must obtain consent from the users whose information is being collected or used. ICP operators are also required to establish and publish their protocols relating to personal information collection or use, keep any collected information strictly confidential, and take technological and other measures to maintain the security of such information. ICP operators are required to cease any collection or use of the user personal information, and de-register the relevant user account, when a given user stops using the relevant Internet service. ICP operators are further prohibited from divulging, distorting or destroying any such personal information, or selling or providing such information unlawfully to other parties. In addition, if an ICP operator appoints an agent to undertake any marketing or technical services that involve the collection or use of personal information, the ICP operator is still required to supervise and manage the protection of the information. The Order states, in broad terms, that violators may face warnings, fines, and disclosure to the public and, in the most severe cases, criminal liability.

On August 21, 2014, the supreme people’s court promulgated the Provisions of the Supreme People’s Court on Application of Laws to Cases Involving Civil Disputes over Infringement upon Personal Rights and Interests by Using Information Networks, pursuant to which if an ICP operator discloses genetic information, medical records, health examination data, criminal record, home address, private events and or other personal information of a natural person online, causing damage to the person, the People’s Court should support a claim by the infringed party for recovery of damages from the infringing ICP operator.

On January 5, 2015, the SAMR promulgated the Measures on Punishment for Infringement of Consumer Rights, pursuant to which business operators collecting and using personal information of consumers must comply with the principles of legitimacy, propriety and necessity, specify the purpose, method and scope of collection and use of the information, and obtain the consent of the consumers whose personal information is to be collected. Business operators may not: (i) collect or use personal information of consumers without their consent; (ii) unlawfully divulge, sell or provide personal information of consumers to others; (iii) send commercial information to consumers without their consent or request, or when a consumer has explicitly declined to receive such information.

On August 29, 2015, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress issued Amendment (IX) to the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China (“Amendment (IX)”), which strengthens the protection of individual information and Internet security. Pursuant to Amendment (IX), network service providers who do not comply with laws and regulations regarding the safe management of information on their networks, and who do not correct their conduct after they receive notice of such non-compliance from the relevant regulatory authorities, may be sentenced to prison for up to three years, and may also be subject to public surveillance and fines.

On May 8, 2017, the Supreme People’s Court of the PRC and the Supreme People’s Procurator of the PRC issued the Interpretation of the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People’s Procurator on Several Issues Concerning the Applicable Law for Criminal Cases With Respect to Infringement of Citizen’s Personal Information, which defines “personal information,” “the provision of personal information,” and “the illegal collection of personal information.”

 

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The SAMR (formerly the AQSIQ and SAC) issued the Information Security Technology—Personal Information Security Specification, which came into effect on May 1, 2018. The specification includes a recommendation for the nationwide standards for protection and processing of private personal information, and provides and clarifies the definitions and data processing, disclosure and protection requirements regarding personal information.

On January 23, 2019, the OCLGCA, the MIIT, the MPS, and the SAMR jointly issued the Public Announcement Concerning the Illegal Collection of Personal Information by APPs, which emphasizes that APP operators must comply strictly with the Internet Security Law with in connection with their collection and use of personal information.

Our current security measures and those of the third parties with whom we transact business may not be adequate for the protection of user personal information. In addition, we do not have control over the security measures of our third-party online payment vendors. Security breaches of our system and the online payment systems that we use could expose us to litigation and liability for failing to secure confidential customer information and could harm our reputation, ability to attract customers and ability to encourage customers to purchase virtual items.

Laws and Regulations Related to Security and Censorship

The principal pieces of PRC legislation concerning information security and censorship are:

 

   

The Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Preservation of State Secrets (1988, as amended in 2010) and related Implementing Rules (2014);

 

   

The Law of the People’s Republic of China Regarding Anti-spy (2014);

 

   

Rules of the People’s Republic of China for Protecting the Security of Computer Information Systems (1994, as amended in 2011);

 

   

Administrative Regulations for the Protection of Secrecy on Railway Computer Information Systems Connected to International Networks (1999);

 

   

Regulations for the Protection of State Secrets for Computer Information Systems on the Internet (2000);

 

   

Notice issued by the Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China Regarding Issues Relating to the Implementation of the Administrative Measure for the Security Protection of International Connections to Computer Information Networks (2000); and

 

   

The Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress Regarding the Safeguarding of Internet Security (2000) which has been amended in 2009.

These pieces of legislation specifically prohibit the use of Internet infrastructure where it results in a breach of public security, the provision of socially destabilizing content or the divulgence of State secrets, as follows:

 

   

“A breach of public security” includes a breach of national security or disclosure of state secrets; infringement on state, social or collective interests or the legal rights and interests of citizens or illegal or criminal activities.

 

   

“Socially destabilizing content” includes any action that incites defiance or violation of Chinese laws; incites subversion of state power and the overturning of the socialist system; fabricates or distorts the truth, spreads rumors or disrupts social order; advocates cult activities; spreads feudal superstition; involves obscenities, pornography, gambling, violence, murder, or horrific acts; or instigates criminal acts.

 

   

“State secrets” are defined as “matters that affect the security and interest of the state.” The term covers such broad areas as national defense, diplomatic affairs, policy decisions on state affairs, national economic and social development, political parties and “other State secrets that the State Secrecy Bureau has determined should be safeguarded.”

 

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Under the aforementioned legislation, it is mandatory for Internet companies in the PRC to complete security filing procedures with the local public security bureau and for them provide regular updates to the local public security bureau regarding information security and censorship systems for their Websites. In this regard, on October 1, 2004, the Administrative Rules on the Filing of Commercial Websites (“Commercial Websites Filing Rules”) were promulgated by the Beijing Administration of Market Regulation (the “Beijing AMR”) to replace the Detailed Implementing Rules for the Measures for the Administration of Commercial Website Filings for the Record promulgated by the Beijing AMR on September 1, 2000. The Commercial Websites Filing Rules state that operators of commercial Websites must comply with the following requirements:

 

   

filing with the Beijing AMR and obtain electronic registration marks for the Websites;

 

   

placing the registration marks on the Websites’ homepages; and

 

   

registering the Website names with the Beijing AMR.

On November 7, 2016, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress issued the Internet Security Law (the “Internet Security Law”), which took effect on June 1, 2017. The Internet Security Law requires providers of services over Internet networks to keep user information that they have collected in strict confidence and to establish improved systems for the protection of user information. Such service providers must provide notice of the purpose, methods and scope of their collection and use of user information, and obtain the consent of each person whose personal information will be collected. Providers of services over Internet networks may not collect any personal information that is not related to the services they provide, or disclose or tamper with personal information that they have collected, unless such information is encoded to prevent identification of individuals whose information is so disclosed or tampered with. Service providers who do not comply with the Internet Security Law may be subject to fines, suspension of their businesses, shutdown of their websites, and revocation of their business licenses.

Sohu Internet and Changyou have successfully registered the Sohu.com Website, the Changyou.com Website and the cy.com Website with the Beijing AMR and the electronic registration marks for the Websites are prominently placed on the homepages of the Sohu.com Website and the Changyou.com Website and the cy.com Website. Sogou Information has successfully registered the sogou.com Website with the Beijing AMR.

In addition, the State Security Bureau has issued regulations authorizing the blocking of access to any site it deems to be leaking State secrets or failing to comply with legislation regarding the protection of State secrets in the distribution of information online. Specifically, Internet companies in China with message boards, chat rooms or similar services, such as Sohu, must apply for the approval of the State Secrets Bureau prior to operating such services.

Accordingly, we have established an internal security committee and adopted security maintenance measures, employed a full-time supervisor and exchanged information on a regular basis with the local public security bureau with regard to sensitive or censored information and Websites.

Internet Content and Anti-Pornography

The PRC government has promulgated measures relating to Internet content through a number of government authorities, including the MIIT, the MCT, the SAPPRFT and the MPS. These measures specifically prohibit certain Internet activities, including the operation of online games, which results in the publication of any content which is found to, among other things, propagate obscenity, gambling or violence, instigate crimes, undermine public morality or the cultural traditions of the PRC, or compromise State security or secrets. If an ICP license holder violates these measures, the PRC government may revoke its ICP license and shut down its Websites.

In addition, the PRC government has issued several regulations concerning the installation of filter software to filter out unhealthy and vulgar content from the Internet. In April 1, 2009, the Ministry of Education, the MIIT and certain other PRC ministries and agencies issued a notice requiring that, by the end of May 2009, all computer terminals connected with the Internet at all elementary and secondary schools be able to include and operate Green Dam-Youth Escort, which is software aimed at filtering out unhealthy and vulgar content in text and graphics from the Internet and which, according to the Website for the software, may be used to control time spent on the Internet, prohibit access to computer games, and filter out unhealthy Websites. The MIIT further expanded the scope of required use of this filter software by issuing a notice on May 19, 2009 requiring that, effective as of July 1, 2009, all computers manufactured and sold in China have the latest available version of Green Dam-Youth Escort preinstalled when they leave the factory and that all imported computers have the latest available version of Green Dam-Youth Escort preinstalled before being sold in China. Green-Dam Youth Escort is to be preinstalled on the hard drive of the computer or in the form of a CD accompanying the computer and is also to be included in the backup partition and system restore CD. However, on June 30, 2009, the MIIT postponed the implementation of this requirement regarding pre-installation of Green Dam-Youth Escort.

 

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On December 4, 2009, the MIIT and three other PRC government authorities jointly issued the Incentives Measures for Report of Pornographic, Obscene and Vulgar Messages on Internet and Mobile Media (“Anti-Pornography Notice”), to crack down on online pornography. Pursuant to the Anti-Pornography Notice, rewards of up to RMB10,000 will be provided to Internet users who report Websites that feature pornography, and a committee has been established to review such reports to determine an appropriate award. During a PRC anti-pornography campaign, which continued during 2014, many Websites (including mobile Websites) that contained pornography were closed down. In addition, China Mobile announced a temporary suspension of billing for Wireless Application Protocol (“WAP”) services, as a means of fighting against Websites providing pornographic content.

On April 13, 2014, the National Working Group on Anti-Pornography and three other PRC government authorities jointly issued the Proclamation of Special Action Regarding Crackdown on Online Pornographic Content (the “Anti-Pornography Proclamation”). Under the Anti-Pornography Proclamation, Internet service providers must immediately remove texts, images, video, advertisements and other information that contain pornographic content. The relevant government authority may order enterprises or individuals who flagrantly produce or disseminate pornographic content to stop conducting business, and may revoke relevant administrative permits. Moreover, an enterprise or individual who provides telecom operation services, network access services, advertising services or payment services to facilitate dissemination of pornographic content may have criminal or civil penalties imposed under the PRC Criminal Law and other relevant laws and regulations.

Laws and Regulations Related to Unfair Competition

Pursuant to an amendment of the Unfair Competition Law of the PRC, or the Unfair Competition Law, adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on November 4, 2017 and effective January 1, 2018, a business operator is prohibited from taking any of the following actions:

 

   

unauthorized use of marks that are the same as or similar to the names, packaging, or decoration of another party’s products;

 

   

unauthorized use of another party’s organizational name or the name of an individual;

 

   

unauthorized use of another party’s domain name, website name, or webpage; and

 

   

other actions causing a third party to mistakenly believe that another party’s product is that of the business operator.

The Unfair Competition Law forbids business operators to pay bribes in order to gain an opportunity or competitive advantage in a business transaction.

The Unfair Competition Law also stipulates that, without the consent of the affected party, the operator of an Internet business operator may not insert links into the products and services of another Internet business operator in order to re-direct user traffic; may not mislead or compel users to modify, terminate, or un-install any Internet products or services of another Internet business operator; and may not take actions in bad faith to cause an Internet product or service of another Internet business operator to be unusable by users of the other business operator’s properties.

The amendment of the Unfair Competition Law that became effective January 1, 2018 increases the maximum amount of administrative penalties that may be imposed for violations.

In addition, the Supreme People’s Court has promulgated an Interpretation on Several Issues Relating to the Application of the Law in Civil Trials for Unfair Competition Cases, which became effective as of February 1, 2007. This interpretation provides guidance on how to conduct trials involving unfair competition, protect the legal rights and interests of business operators, and maintain orderly market competition.

Regulation of M&A and Overseas Listings

On August 8, 2006, six PRC regulatory agencies, including the MOFCOM, the State Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, the State Administration of Taxation (“SAT”), the SAMR, the China Securities Regulatory Commission (the “CSRC”), and the SAFE, jointly issued the Regulations on Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors (“M&A Rule”), which became effective on September 8, 2006 and amended on June 22, 2009. The M&A Rule includes provisions that purport to require that an Offshore special purpose vehicle formed for purposes of the overseas listing of equity interests in PRC companies and controlled directly or indirectly by PRC companies or individuals obtain the approval of the CSRC prior to the listing and trading of such special purpose vehicle’s securities on an overseas stock exchange.

On September 21, 2006, the CSRC published on its official Website procedures regarding its approval of overseas listings by special purpose vehicles. The CSRC approval procedures require the filing of a number of documents with the CSRC. The application of this PRC regulation remains unclear, with no consensus currently existing among leading PRC law firms regarding the scope of the applicability of the CSRC approval requirement.

 

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The M&A Rules also establish procedures and requirements that could make some acquisitions of Chinese companies by foreign investors more time-consuming and complex, including requirements in some instances that the MOFCOM be notified in advance of any change-of-control transaction in which a foreign investor takes control of a Chinese domestic enterprise.

In February 2011, the General Office of the State Council promulgated a Notice on Establishing the Security Review System for Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors (“Circular 6”), which established a security review system for mergers and acquisitions of domestic enterprises by foreign investors. Under Circular 6, a security review is required for mergers and acquisitions by foreign investors having “national defense and security” concerns and mergers and acquisitions by which foreign investors may acquire “de facto control” of domestic enterprises with “national security” concerns. In August 2011, the MOFCOM promulgated the Rules on Implementation of Security Review System (“MOFCOM Security Review Rules”), to replace the Interim Provisions of the Ministry of Commerce on Matters Relating to the Implementation of the Security Review System for Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors promulgated by the MOFCOM in March 2011. The MOFCOM Security Review Rules, which came into effect on September 1, 2011, provide that the MOFCOM will look into the substance and actual impact of a transaction and prohibit foreign investors from bypassing the security review requirement by structuring transactions through proxies, trusts, indirect investments, leases, loans, control through contractual arrangements or Offshore transactions.

Laws and Regulations Related to Antitrust

On August 30, 2007, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress of the PRC adopted the PRC Anti-Monopoly Law (“AML”), which took effect on August 1, 2008. Pursuant to the AML, monopolistic conduct, including entering into monopoly agreements, abuse of dominant market position and concentration of undertakings that have the effect of eliminating or restricting competition, is prohibited. To further implement the Antitrust Law and clarify certain issues, the State Council, the MOFCOM, the NDRC and the SAMR issued several regulations and rules, including the Provisions on Thresholds for Prior Notification of Concentrations of Undertakings issued by the State Council on August 3, 2008 and amended on September 18, 2018, the Regulation on the Prohibition of Acts Involving Monopolistic Agreements issued by the SAMR on December 31, 2010, the Regulation on the Prohibition of Conduct Constituting an Abuse of a Dominant Market Position issued by the SAMR on December 31, 2010, the Regulation on the Prevention of Conduct Constituting an Abuse of Administrative Powers to Eliminate or Restrict Competition issued by the SAMR on December 31, 2010, the Anti-Price Monopoly Regulation issued by the NDRC on December 29, 2010, the Declaration Rules for Concentrations of Undertakings issued by the MOFCOM on November 21, 2009, amended on June 6, 2014, and re-issued by the SAMR on September 29, 2018, the Assessment Rules for Concentration of Undertakings issued by the MOFCOM on November 24, 2009, and the Provisional Measures on the Investigation and Handling of Concentrations between Business Operators which Were Not Notified in Accordance with the Law issued by the MOFCOM on December 30, 2011.

Taken together these various laws and regulations provide for the following:

Monopoly Agreement: competing business operators may not enter into monopoly agreements that eliminate or restrict competition, such as by boycotting transactions, fixing or changing the price of commodities, limiting the output of commodities, fixing the price of commodities for resale to third parties, unless such agreements satisfy the exemptions under the Antitrust Law, such as improving technologies or increasing the efficiency and competitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises. Sanctions for violations include an order to cease the relevant activities, confiscation of illegal gains and fines (from 1% to 10% of sales revenue from the previous year, or RMB 500,000 if the intended monopoly agreement has not been performed).

Abuse of Dominant Market Position: a business operator with a dominant market position may not abuse its dominant market position to conduct acts such as selling commodities at unfairly high prices or buying commodities at unfairly low prices, selling products at prices below cost without any justifiable cause, and refusing to trade with a trading party without any justifiable cause. Dominant market position refers to a market position held by a business operator having the capacity to control the price, quantity or other trading conditions of commodities in the relevant market, or to hinder or affect any other business operator to enter the relevant market, which will be determined based on the market share of the relevant business operator, capacity of a business operator to control the sales market, the degree of dependence of other business operators upon the business operator in question in transactions, and the degree of difficulty for other business operators to enter into the relevant market. Sanctions for violation of the prohibition on the abuse of dominant market position include an order to cease the relevant activities, confiscation of illegal gains and fines (from 1% to 10% of sales revenue from the previous year).

 

 

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Concentration of Enterprises: pursuant to the AML, where a concentration of enterprises reaches the declaration threshold stipulated by the State Council, a declaration must be lodged in advance with the antitrust authority under the State Council. Otherwise, the concentration cannot be effected. Concentration refers to (1) a merger of enterprises; (2) acquiring control over other enterprises by an enterprise through acquiring equities or assets; or (3) acquiring control over, or the possibility of exercising decisive influence on, an enterprise by contract or by any other means. Under the Provisions on Thresholds for Prior Notification of Concentrations of Undertakings, the thresholds for prior notification of concentration of enterprises are the following:

 

   

the combined worldwide turnover of all of the subject enterprises in the preceding financial year is more than RMB10.00 billion, and the nationwide turnover within China of each of at least two of the subject enterprises in the preceding financial year is more than RMB400.0 million; or

 

   

the combined nationwide turnover within China of all the subject enterprises in the preceding financial year is more than RMB2.00 billion, and the nationwide turnover within China of each of at least two of the subject enterprises in the preceding financial year is more than RMB400.0 million.

If business operators fail to comply with these mandatory declaration provisions, the antitrust authority is empowered to terminate and/or unwind the transaction, dispose of relevant assets, shares or businesses and impose fines up to RMB500,000.

Regulation of Foreign Currency Exchange and Dividend Distribution

The principal regulations governing foreign currency exchange in China are the Foreign Exchange Administration Regulations (“FX Regulations”), which were last amended in August 2008. Under the FX Regulations, the RMB is freely convertible for current account items, including the distribution of dividends, interest payments, trade and service-related foreign exchange transactions, but not for capital account items, such as direct investments, loans, repatriation of investments and investments in securities outside of China, unless the prior approval of the SAFE is obtained and prior registration with the SAFE is made. Dividends paid by a PRC subsidiary to its overseas shareholder are deemed income of the shareholder and are taxable in the PRC. Pursuant to the Administration Rules of the Settlement, Sale and Payment of Foreign Exchange, foreign-invested enterprises in the PRC may purchase or remit foreign currency, subject to a cap approved by the SAFE, for settlement of current account transactions without the approval of the SAFE. Foreign currency transactions under the capital account are still subject to limitations and require approvals from, or registration with, the SAFE and other relevant PRC governmental authorities.

In July 2014, the SAFE promulgated the Circular on Issues Concerning Foreign Exchange Administration Over the Overseas Investment and Financing and Roundtrip Investment by Domestic Residents Via Special Purpose Vehicles (“Circular 37”) which replaced Relevant Issues Concerning Foreign Exchange Control on Domestic Residents’ Corporate Financing and Roundtrip Investment through Offshore Special Purpose Vehicles (“Circular 75”). Circular 37 requires PRC residents, including PRC institutions and individuals, to register with the local SAFE branch in connection with their direct establishment or indirect control of an Offshore entity, referred to in Circular 37 as a “special purpose vehicle,” for the purpose of holding domestic or Offshore assets or interests. PRC residents must also file amendments to their registrations in the event of any significant changes with respect to the special purpose vehicle, such as increase or decrease of capital contributed by PRC individuals, share transfer or exchange, merger, division or other material event. Under these regulations, PRC residents’ failure to comply with specified registration procedures may result in restrictions being imposed on the foreign exchange activities of the relevant PRC entity, including the payment of dividends and other distributions to its Offshore parent, as well as restrictions on capital inflows from the Offshore entity to the PRC entity, including restrictions on the ability to contribute additional capital to the PRC entity. Further, failure to comply with the various SAFE registration requirements could result in liability under PRC law for evasion of foreign exchange regulations.

Under Circular 37, if a non-listed special purpose vehicle uses its own equity to grant equity incentives to any directors, supervisors, senior management or any other employees directly employed by a domestic enterprise which is directly or indirectly controlled by such special purpose vehicle, or with which such an employee has established an employment relationship, related PRC residents and individuals may, prior to exercising their rights, apply to the SAFE for foreign exchange registration formalities for such special purpose vehicle. However, in practice, different local SAFE branches may have different views and procedures on the interpretation and implementation of the SAFE regulations, and since Circular 37 was the first regulation to regulate the foreign exchange registration of a non-listed special purpose vehicle’s equity incentives granted to PRC residents, there remains uncertainty with respect to its implementation.

On December 25, 2006, the PBOC issued the Administration Measures on Individual Foreign Exchange Control, which were amended on May 29, 2016, and related Implementation Rules were issued by the SAFE on January 5, 2007. Both became effective on February 1, 2007. Under these regulations, all foreign exchange transactions involving an employee share incentive plan, share option plan, or similar plan participated in by individuals in the PRC may be conducted only with approval from the SAFE or its authorized branch. Under the Notice of Issues Related to the Foreign Exchange Administration for Domestic Individuals Participating in Stock Incentive Plan of Overseas Listed Company (“Offshore Share Incentives Rules”), which was issued by the SAFE on February 15, 2012, PRC citizens who are granted share options, restricted share units or restricted shares by an overseas publicly listed company are required to register with the SAFE or its authorized branch and to comply with a series of other requirements. In November 2011, the SAFE approved our application to designate our PRC subsidiary Sohu Media to handle the registrations and other procedures required by the Offshore Share Incentives Rules. In February 2012, the SAFE approved Changyou’s application to designate its PRC subsidiary AmazGame to handle the registrations and other procedures required by the Offshore Share Incentive Rules. If we, Changyou or the PRC employees of Changyou and us who hold options, restricted share units or restricted shares fail to comply with these registration or other procedural requirements, we, Changyou and/or such employees may be subject to fines and other legal sanctions. Sogou has applied for registration of its 2017 Share Incentive Plan with the SAFE, and Sogou is in the process of applying for such registration of its 2010 Share Incentive Plan. If its 2017 Share Incentive Plan and 2010 Share Incentive Plan are not accepted for registration by the SAFE, Sogou may not be able to grant further share-based awards to its PRC employees, Sogou and those who have received awards may be subject to fines and legal sanctions, and Sogou’s ability to contribute additional capital to its PRC subsidiaries and its PRC subsidiaries’ ability to distribute dividends to it may be limited.

 

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The principal regulations governing distribution of dividends of foreign holding companies include the Foreign Investment Enterprise Law (1986), which was amended in October 2000 and October, 2016, and the Administrative Rules under the Foreign Investment Enterprise Law (2001), which was amended in February, 2014.

Under these regulations, foreign investment enterprises in China may pay dividends only out of their accumulated profits, if any, determined in accordance with PRC accounting standards and regulations. In addition, foreign investment enterprises in China are required to allocate at least 10% of their accumulated profits each year, if any, to fund certain reserve funds unless these reserves have reached 50% of the registered capital of the enterprises. These reserves are not distributable as cash dividends. Furthermore, under the Corporate Income Tax Law, which became effective on January 1, 2008 and was amended on February 24, 2017, the maximum tax rate for the withholding tax imposed on dividend payments from PRC foreign invested companies to their overseas investors that are not regarded as “resident” for tax purposes is 20%. The rate was reduced to 10% under the Implementing Regulations for the PRC Corporate Income Tax Law issued by the State Council. However, a lower withholding tax rate of 5% might be applied if there is a tax treaty between China and the jurisdiction of the foreign holding companies, such as is the case with Hong Kong, and certain requirements specified by PRC tax authorities are satisfied.

Laws and Regulations Related to Employment and Labor Protection

On June 29, 2007, the National People’s Congress promulgated the Employment Contract Law of PRC (“Employment Contract Law”), which became effective as of January 1, 2008 and was amended on December 28, 2012. The Employment Contract Law requires employers to provide written contracts to their employees, restricts the use of temporary workers and aims to give employees long-term job security.

Pursuant to the Employment Contract Law, employment contracts lawfully concluded prior to the implementation of the Employment Contract Law and continuing as of the date of its implementation shall continue to be performed. Where an employment relationship was established prior to the implementation of the Employment Contract Law but no written employment contract was concluded, a contract must be concluded within one month after its implementation.

On September 18, 2008, the State Council promulgated the Implementing Regulations for the PRC Employment Contract Law which came into effect immediately. These regulations interpret and supplement the provisions of the Employment Contract Law.

We have modified our standard employment contract to comply with the requirements of the Employment Contract Law and its implementing regulations. We have entered into written employment contracts with all of our employees.

Conclusion

In the opinion of Haiwen, our principal PRC Subsidiaries and principal VIEs are approved to engage in the specific online services (categorized and addressed in the above sections) as described in the respective scopes indicated in the corresponding licenses and/or permits issued to the respective companies.

ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE

The charts below present the principal consolidated entities of Sohu.com Limited., not including our consolidated Sogou entities and Changyou entities, and our principal consolidated Sogou entities and Changyou entities.

 

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Sohu Organizational Chart

 

 

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Sogou Organizational Chart

 

 

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Changyou Organizational Chart

 

 

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Principal Subsidiaries

The following are our China-based principal direct or indirect operating subsidiaries, all of which were established as wholly foreign-owned enterprises (or “WFOEs”) under PRC law (collectively the “China-Based Subsidiaries,” or the “PRC Subsidiaries”):

For Sohu’s Business

 

   

Sohu.com (Hong Kong) Ltd., or Sohu Era, established in 2000

 

   

Beijing Sohu New Era Information Technology Co., Ltd., or Sohu Era, established in 2003;

 

   

All Honest International Limited, or All Honest, established in 2003;

 

   

Sohu.com (Search) Limited, or Sohu Search, established in 2005;

 

   

Beijing Sohu New Media Information Technology Co., Ltd., or Sohu Media, established in 2006;

 

   

Sohu.com (Game) Limtied, or Sohu Game, established in 2008;

 

   

Beijing Sohu New Momentum Information Technology Co., Ltd., or Sohu New Momentum, established in 2010;

 

   

Fox Video Investment Holding Limited, or Video Investment, established in 2011;

 

   

Fox Video Limited, or Sohu Video, established in 2011;

 

   

Fox Video (HK) Limited, or Video HK, established in 2011;

 

   

Fox Information Technology (Tianjin) Limited, or Video Tianjin, established in 2011;

 

   

Focus Investment Holding Limited, or Focus Investment, established in 2013;

 

   

Sohu Focus Limited, or Sohu Focus, established in 2013; and

 

   

Sohu Focus (HK) Limited, or Focus HK, established in 2013.

For Sogou’s Business

 

   

Sogou Inc., or Sogou, established in 2005;

 

   

Sogou (BVI) Limited, or Sogou BVI, established in 2005;

 

   

Beijing Sogou Technology Development Co., Ltd., or Sogou Technology, established in 2006;

 

   

Sogou Hong Kong Limited, or Sogou HK, established in 2007;

 

   

Vast Creation Advertising Media Services Limited, or Vast Creation, established in 2004 and acquired by Sogou in 2011;

 

   

Beijing Sogou Network Technology Co., Ltd, or Sogou Network, established in 2012;

 

   

Sogou Technology Hong Kong Limited, or Sogou Technology HK, established in 2015;

 

   

Tianjin Sogou Network Technology Co., Ltd, or Tianjin Sogou Network, established in 2017; and

 

   

Sogou (Shantou) Internet Microcredit Co., Ltd, or Sogou Microcredit, established in 2017.

For Changyou’s Business

 

   

Changyou.com Limited, or Changyou, established in 2007;

 

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Changyou.com (HK) Limited, or Changyou HK, established in 2007;

 

   

Beijing AmazGame Age Internet Technology Co., Ltd., or AmazGame, established in 2007;

 

   

Beijing Changyou Gamespace Software Technology Co., Ltd., or Gamespace, established in 2009;

 

   

Beijing Yang Fan Jing He Information Consulting Co., Ltd., Yang Fan Jing He, established in 2010;

 

   

Shanghai Jingmao Culture Communication Co., Ltd., or Shanghai Jingmao, established in 2009 and acquired by Changyou in 2011;

 

   

Beijing Changyou Jingmao Film & Culture Communication Co., Ltd., or Beijing Jingmao, established in 2010 and acquired by Changyou in 2011;

 

   

7Road.com Limited, or 7Road, established in 2011;

 

   

7Road.com HK Limited, or 7Road HK, established in 2011;

 

   

Changyou.com Webgames (HK) Limited, or Changyou HK Webgames, established in 2011;

 

   

Shenzhen Brilliant Imagination Technologies Co., Ltd, or Brilliant Imagination, established in 2014; and

 

   

Beijing Changyou Chuangxiang Software Technology Co., Ltd., or Changyou Chuangxiang, established in 2016.

Principal Variable Interest Entities

The following are our principal VIEs, which we established or acquired in China to perform value-added telecommunications services because of PRC restrictions on direct foreign investment in and operation of value-added telecommunications businesses, which restrictions are discussed in “Government Regulation and Legal Uncertainties-Specific Statutes and Regulations-Regulation of Foreign Direct Investment in Value-Added Telecommunications Companies.” We entered into contractual arrangements between our VIEs and our PRC Subsidiaries that govern a substantial portion of our operations, including those of the brand advertising business, the search and search-related business, the online game business and the others business. These entities are consolidated in Sohu’s consolidated financial statements, and noncontrolling interest is recognized when applicable.

For Sohu’s Business

 

   

Beijing Century High-Tech Investment Co., Ltd., or High Century, a PRC company that was incorporated in 2001. As of December 31, 2018, Dr. Charles Zhang, our Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer, and Wei Li, one of our employees, held 80% and 20% interests, respectively, in this entity;

 

   

Beijing Heng Da Yi Tong Information Technology Co., Ltd., or Heng Da Yi Tong, a PRC company that was incorporated in 2002. As of December 31, 2018, Dr. Charles Zhang and Wei Li held 80% and 20% interests, respectively, in this entity;

 

   

Beijing Sohu Internet Information Service Co., Ltd., or Sohu Internet, a PRC company that was incorporated in 2003. As of December 31, 2018, High Century held a 100% interest in this entity;

 

   

Beijing Sohu Donglin Advertising Co., Ltd., or Donglin, a PRC company that was incorporated in 2010. As of December 31, 2018, Sohu Internet held a 100% interest in this entity;

 

   

Tianjin Jinhu Culture Development Co., Ltd, or Tianjin Jinhu, a PRC company that was incorporated in 2011. As of December 31, 2018, Xiufeng Deng and Xuemei Zhang, both of whom are our employees, each held a 50% interest in this entity;

 

   

Beijing Focus Interactive Information Service Co., Ltd., or Focus Interactive, a PRC company that was incorporated in July 2014. As of December 31, 2018, Heng Da Yi Tong held a 100% interest in this entity; and

 

   

Guangzhou Qianjun Network Technology Co., Ltd, or Guangzhou Qianjun, a PRC company that we acquired in November 2014. As of December 31, 2018, Tianjin Jinhu held a 100% interest in this entity.

 

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For Sogou’s Business

 

   

Beijing Sogou Information Service Co., Ltd., or Sogou Information, a PRC company that was incorporated in 2005. As of December 31, 2018, Xiaochuan Wang, Sogou’s Chief Executive Officer, High Century and Tencent held 10%, 45% and 45% interests, respectively, in this entity; and

 

   

Chengdu Easypay Technology Co., Ltd., or Chengdu Easypay, a PRC company that was incorporated in 2015. As of December 31, 2018, Sogou Information and Beijing Shi Ji Si Su Technology Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of Sogou Information, held 9% and 91% interests, respectively, in this entity.

For Changyou’s Business

 

   

Beijing Gamease Age Digital Technology Co., Ltd., or Gamease, a PRC company that was incorporated in 2007. As of December 31, 2018, High Century held a 100% interest in this entity;

 

   

Shanghai ICE Information Technology Co., Ltd., or Shanghai ICE, a PRC company that was acquired by Changyou in 2010. As of December 31, 2018, Gamease held a 100% interest in this entity; and

 

   

Beijing Guanyou Gamespace Digital Technology Co., Ltd., or Guanyou Gamespace, a PRC company that was incorporated in 2010. As of December 31, 2018, Beijing Changyou Star Digital Technology Co., Ltd (“Changyou Star”) held a 100% interest in this entity.

We have extended interest-free loans to the individual shareholders of the VIEs to fund their capital investment in the VIEs. The loans are secured by pledges of the shareholders’ equity interests in the VIEs, and can only be repaid by the shareholders by surrender of those equity interests to us. We have also entered into a series of agreements with the individual shareholders to transfer their equity interests in the VIEs to us when required to do so.

 

ITEM 4A.

UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS

Not applicable.

 

ITEM 5.

OPERATING AND FINANCIAL REVIEW AND PROSPECTS

MANAGEMENT’S DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF FINANCIAL CONDITION AND RESULTS OF OPERATIONS

You should read the following discussion and analysis of our financial condition and results of operations in conjunction with the section entitled “Selected Consolidated Financial Data” and our consolidated financial statements and the related notes included elsewhere in this annual report. The discussion in this section contains forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties. As a result of various factors, including those set forth under “Item 3. Key Information—Risk Factors” and elsewhere in this annual report on Form 20-F, our actual future results may be materially different from what we expect.

OVERVIEW

We are a leading Chinese online media, search and game service group providing comprehensive online products and services on PCs and mobile devices in China. Our businesses are conducted by the Sohu Group, which consists of Sohu, Sogou and Changyou. Sogou and Changyou are our indirect controlled subsidiaries. Sohu is a leading Chinese language online media content and services provider. Sogou is an innovator in search and a leader in China’s Internet industry. With a mission to make it easy to communicate and get information, Sogou has grown to become the second largest search engine by mobile queries, according to CTR, and the fourth largest Internet company by MAU in China, according to iResearch. Changyou is a leading online game developer and operator in China as measured by the popularity of its PC game TLBB and its mobile game Legacy TLBB Mobile, and engages primarily in the development, operation and licensing of online games for PCs and mobile devices.