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IRG Technology, Media and Telecommunications Weekly Market Review (Week of 5 – 11 Dec 2011)

Japan

Media, Entertainment and Gaming

         Sega Corp. will provide online game machines to arcades in China, hoping to attract customers in a rapidly growing market. As a first step, the Sega Sammy Holdings Inc. unit will release a Chinese edition of Initial D Arcade Stage 6 AA, a racing game popular in Japan. The game allows players to team up and compete online against other players. It debuted in Japan in March and has also been released in Singapore and South Korea. In China, 125 game machines will be placed in 28 arcades, with plans to expand to 1,500 units in 350 locations by summer 2012. Sega will follow up in March with game machines based on the Sangokushi Taisen card game. Game arcades in China are popular among the affluent. Chinese firms are starting to provide Internet-equipped systems to these facilities, but their performance tends to be inferior.

         Gree Inc. will integrate its social gaming platform with that of OpenFeint, the U.S. firm that it acquired in April, in a move that would create one of the world's largest user bases for game developers. Gree currently has 27.7 million registered members. After the two firms combine platforms, game developers will be able to distribute their offerings to 150 million players across the globe. This is at least the 146 million Nintendo Co. DS handhelds that have been sold overseas. Currently, game developers provide their games for sale in Japan to Gree and to subsidiary OpenFeint for overseas markets. Because of differing platforms, game developers have had to develop separate products. The two platforms will be unified in the April-June quarter, and in summer Gree will offer development support for 14 languages, including Japanese, English and French. With Capcom Co., Tecmo Koei Games, Konami Digital Entertainment and other leading Japanese game developers to launch new titles, the combined system is set to offer at least 7,500 new games. 

         Tokyo Broadcasting System Holdings Inc. will focus on tapping the content market in Asia outside Japan, said President Toshichika Ishihara. TBS is co-producing a television drama with a Singaporean media company and is also partnering with Nikkei Inc. in several fields, including developing content for new markets. Ishihara said he is relieved that DeNA Co.'s purchase of the Yokohama BayStars professional baseball team from TBS has been approved, expressing hopes that the Internet company will turn the ballclub into a stronger, more beloved team.

Telecommunications

         Japanese telecommunications operators attracted 644,600 new customers in November to bring the total mobile base in the country to 124.36 million. Softbank led with net additions of 312,000 in the month to bring its total to 27.46 million, figures from the Telecommunications Carriers Association show. Softbank was followed by KDDI which signed-up 148,100 new customers in November, bringing its total to 34 million. NTT Docomo ended the month with 59.19 million customers after adding 111,600 new subscribers, and Emobile gained 73,000 new customers to bring its total to 3.71 million. Furthermore, the number of PHS users surged to 4.26 million as PHS operator Willcom gained 60,700 new customers in November and the number of Wimax users surged to 1.40 million as Wimax operator UQ Communications added 68,000 new customers in November. 

Korea

Telecommunications

         KT Corp. has bought Enswers Inc., a Seoul-based video search technology provider, for 45 billion won (US$40 million) to shore up its cloud computing business. KT said the acquisition, one of the largest deals in South Korea's technology startup history, will help the company release a new multimedia service for purchasing, storing, managing and browsing online video content. KT has been seeking to expand its cloud computing operations as one of its new revenue sources to counter slowing growth in the telecom business. Enswers, which operates a video search engine called Enswer.me and Soompi, a Korean entertainment news portal, will provide technologies that allow users to search multimedia content and index videos. The four-year-old startup will operate as a subsidiary of KT moving forward, retaining the current management team. The two companies said that the deal was unusual in South Korea not only in its size but also in KT's approach to valuations.

Hardware

         Samsung Electronics Co. has spent a total of 16 trillion won (US$14 billion) in the first nine months of the year to build and improve its facilities and invested an additional 7.5 trillion won (US$4.8 billion) in research and development (R&D). Samsung Electronics invested 8.97 trillion won (US$5.8 billion) to improve facilities of its semiconductor business in the January-September period, and its liquid crystal display production line received 4.83 trillion won (US$3.1 billion) in facility investment. The 16-trillion won (US$10.4 billion) facility investment. The world's biggest memory chip maker is expected to spend a total of 23 trillion won (US$15 billion)on facilities for 2011. It's R&D spending for the first three quarters was estimated at 7.5 trillion won (US$4.9 billion), and is forecast to reach 10 trillion won (US$6.5 billion) for the entire year. Samsung Electronics invested 9.1 trillion won (US$5.9 billion) on R&D last year. 

         Samsung Electronics Co. set a new record in monthly flat-screen TV sales in November, largely driven by robust demand in the U.S. during the Thanksgiving holidays. The company sold 5.7 million units of TVs in global markets last month. The company saw at least a 40 percent surge in TV sales on Black Friday, the name given to the day after Thanksgiving in the United States when many retailers offer huge price cuts. Sales of the 55-inch smart TVs were particularly strong, at double the company's sales target, it said. Samsung added that at least 70 percent of the November flat-screen TV sales were high-end light-emitting diode (LED) TVs, showing a shift in consumer preference from liquid crystal display (LCD) TVs to LED TVs. 

China

Internet

         Alibaba Group is seeking as much as US$4 billion in debt financing, Reuters news agency reported on its website. The deal is expected to help Alibaba buy back a 40 percent stake in the company owned by Yahoo Inc. Sources close to the situation said Rothschild,  which is acting as debt adviser to Alibaba, had sent out term sheets to banks requesting underwritten proposals for the debt financing.

         Tencent has completed its sale of 600 million yuan (US$94.7 million) worth of five-year US dollar-denominated bonds in an international debt offering. The company said the bonds due in 2016 were not secured by any of its assets. These senior unsecured notes bear an interest rate per year of 4.625 percent and are listed on the Singapore Exchange Securities Trading. Funds took 65 percent of the offering, banks 21 percent, retail investors 8 percent, and insurers and central banks 6 percent. Tencent said net proceeds from the notes offering would be used for general corporate purposes, including working capital, replacing some of its existing short-term borrowings and acquisitions.

Mobile/Wireless

         In the third quarter, China's average daily mobile search volume reached 718 million, growing 15.7 percent from the previous quarter and 55.4 percent year-on-year. Baidu led in mobile search with a 33.5 percent share of the search volume, according to research by Analysys International. Baidu is followed by Easou, which saw its market share rise to 22 percent from 20.1 percent, and Tencent Soso, which grew its market share from 18.5 percent to 21 percent.

         China Unicom has announced a wide-ranging alliance with 31 industry partners to support its mobile internet plans. The operator has partnered with companies including Baidu, Alibaba and Huawei to build a mobile applications ecosystem for its users, China Daily reported. Unicom has revealed plans to continually add members to the alliance, which will support new mobile internet platform Wo-plus Opening System. Wo is China Unicom's 3G brand. China Unicom launched mobile app store Wostore just over a year ago, and by November 2011 the store had around 16,000 apps listed, compared to China Mobile's Mobile Market, which has over 100,000 apps available. Another founding member of the alliance is Spanish operator Telefonica.

Hardware

         Qiao Xing Mobile Communication revenues for the first half ended 30 June decreased to 238.6 million yuan (US$37.6 million) in the same period last year. The decrease was primarily due to a decline in handsets revenue which decreased to 151.9 million yuan (US$23.9 million). The decrease in handset revenue was offset by an increase in revenue from the trading of handset materials and components, which generated sales revenue of 83.1 million yuan (US$13.1 million). The decrease in handsets revenue to 151.9 million yuan (US$23.9 million) was primarily due to lower handset shipments and a decrease in the average selling price (NYSE:ASP) of products sold. Gross margin was a negative 32.5 percent from 3.3 percent. The year-over-year decline in gross margin resulted primarily from the decline in ASP and the sale of products at below cost to clear inventories. Net loss widened to 153.9 million yuan (US$24.2 million). Cash amounted to 2.75 billion yuan (US$434 million) at the end of the period. Total handset shipment declined to 437,000 units from 621,000 units.

      TCL Corp. is seeking to reduce its reliance on outsourcing liquid crystal display (LCD) panels used to manufacture its products, a move likely to affect South Korean partmakers' businesses in China. TCL Corp. will outsource 60 percent of the total LCD panels it will use in making TVs, compared to 100 percent this year. The move is likely to have a negative impact on flat panel makers in South Korea and Taiwan, Li said. The TCL president said about 90 million LCD TV sets are manufactured a year in China, with 40 million units sold in the country. He estimated that China will have a production capacity of only 30 million LCD panel units next year, suggesting outsourcing will still be necessary. TCL, which was founded in 1981, has grown to become the world's 25th-largest consumer electronics producer and sixth-largest television producer after Samsung Electronics Co., LG Electronics, Sony Corp., Panasonic Corp. and Sharp Corp.

      Canada's March Networks Corp., agreed to be bought by China's Infinova for C$90.1 million (US$88.63 million) in an all cash deal, as Infinova looks to access the company's surveillance technology and expand its customer base. March Networks, which makes video surveillance equipment for companies like Wal-Mart, said Infinova has offered it C$5 per share, which is a 2.24 percent premium to March's last Thursday closing price. The deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2012, the company said in a statement.