Bilibili Drops in Hong Kong Debut as Tech Shares Lose Shine

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(Bloomberg) — Bilibili Inc. fell on its debut in Hong Kong, becoming the latest U.S.-traded Chinese firm to disappoint on its homecoming during a global sell-off in the country’s technology shares.

Shares of the fast-growing video streaming service sank more than 6% early Monday. Bilibili’s $2.6 billion listing comes after a string of block trades rattled U.S. markets and American regulators last week revived concerns over potential delistings by implementing a law requiring stricter audit inspections. Its disappointing debut also follows Baidu Inc., which last week closed unchanged on its first day of trading in Hong Kong and has since dropped roughly 15%.

In his first interview with international media, Bilibili chief executive Chen Rui said he’s unconcerned with short-term market gyrations. The firm — which has 200 million mostly Chinese millennial or Gen Z monthly users, as well as the backing of both Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. — will use most of the proceeds from the share sale to beef up its content and support its creators, in anticipation of an explosive growth in online video adoption over the next few years.

All internet users in China — numbering nearly 1 billion as of December — will eventually adopt the format, Chen predicts. The company intends to prioritize improving its content and growing its user base over the next few years over profitability, in order to capitalize on the video mega-trend.

“We wouldn’t care too much about short-term performance in the stock market,” the 43-year-old billionaire entrepreneur told Bloomberg Television, adding the firm had long been planning to list in Hong Kong. “Nobody will remember whether your stock went up or down on the debut in 10 years’ time.”

Back in 2009, Bilibili was born as a forum for gaming and anime fans like its creator Xu Yi, a then 20-year-old college student. But it was Chen who transformed the site from an after-school project into a promising business when the serial entrepreneur took the helm in 2014. Bilibili has since cleaned up pirated content on its platform while plowing half a billion dollars into broadcast rights since 2018. It expanded into adjacent businesses including live-streaming, e-commerce, and game publishing, its biggest cash cow.

Along the way, Chen, who previously co-founded app maker Cheetah Mobile Inc., secured investments from both Tencent and Alibaba, a rare feat in China’s internet arena where up-and-comers usually align themselves with one of the twin giants. The company has partnered with Tencent and Alibaba on content production and e-commerce, respectively, and could “further deepen ties” with both parties, said Chen, who holds roughly 13% of the equity but about 44% of the vote. Sony Corp. has a stake in the firm as well.

Videos “will be a major trend for the internet industry over the next three to five years,” said Chen. “The market will be in ultra-high-speed growth for the next several years. Popular video platforms, like us, will all have great opportunities.”

The company forecast revenue to grow at least 73% to 3.7 billion yuan ($565 million) this quarter and aims to double its monthly active users by 2023.

“With support from Tencent and Alibaba, Bilibili looks well-positioned to capture the long-term trend in the Gen Z entertainment market across content, community, and commercialization,” said Jefferies analysts led by Thomas Chong in a February note. It’s “one of the key beneficiaries to capture the secular trend in video consumption.”

Investors embrace Bilibili as a way to tap into the growing buying power of China’s Gen Z population, which has also supercharged startups like toy maker Pop Mart International Group Ltd. and social commerce app Xiaohongshu. Over 86% of Bilibili’s monthly users are aged 35 and below, iResearch estimated.

Alongside posts on League of Legends or Japanese manga series Naruto, Bilibili users now consume and create content on everything from life hacks to rap mixes and make-up tutorials. Even Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook last month sat down for an interview with a tech influencer on the platform.

Bilibili’s move into the mainstream places it in direct competition with rival social media companies like Kuaishou and ByteDance Ltd. as well as the video streaming subsidiaries of Tencent and Alibaba. Net loss for the December quarter more than doubled to 843.7 million yuan on swelling marketing costs.

Policing content is also a persistent risk: Chinese censors in June penalized Bilibili alongside nine other popular livestreaming apps over vulgar and problematic content as part of a growing crackdown on the country’s internet giants. In February, a new Japanese anime series on Bilibili was accused of spreading sexist views, triggering several brands to cancel sponsorship deals with the company.

For now, the increased scrutiny isn’t concerning Chen, who says the company has been taking steps to ensure its content is in in line with government regulations.

“I would still describe the development environment facing Bilibili in China as benign,” he said. “There are thousands of types of videos of Bilibili’s platform and it is a very dynamic and diverse content platform. This shows that in China, creators have enough freedom to produce the content they want.”

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