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Winners and losers of Google's China search pullout

By Lara Farrar, for CNN
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China business world on edge
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tom.com, owned by the Hong Kong tycoon Li Kai Shing, has quit offering Google.cn
  • Since Google announced it may exit China, Baidu stock has jumped 50 percent
  • Tencent Holdings is another company that could cash in big in a post-Google China

Beijing, China (CNN) -- Google's partners in China are beginning to sever ties with the Internet giant following the company's decision to quit self censoring in the country and redirect searches to Google in Hong Kong.

However, there are plenty of companies lining up to take Google's Chinese search business.

The portal Tom.com, owned by the Hong Kong tycoon Li Kai Shing, has quit offering Google.cn on its pages and replaced it with Baidu.com on Wednesday.

Google quits censoring search in China

The move is a path likely to be repeated by Google's Chinese partners. In 2009, Baidu had 60 percent of the Chinese search market while Google's share is about a third, according to Analysys International, a Beijing-based research firm.

Since Google announced on January 12 it may exit China, Baidu stock prices have increased nearly 50 percent.

"In the near term, Baidu will be the biggest beneficiary," said Edward Yu, president of Analysys International. "For middle and long term views, there are other competitors that may be advancing and trying to capture the market share Google left."

Google-China move hurts businesses, academics

Tencent Holdings is one such company analysts say could soon cash in on a post-Google China. The company, which has a market cap of $38 billion, almost double that of Baidu, runs a search engine called Soso. It also owns QQ, the most popular Chinese instant messaging platform.

"Tencent has a variety of other extremely popular platforms, including QQ, all of which it could use to funnel users to its search engine," said Mark Natkin, managing director of Marbridge Consulting, a Beijing-based company that advises on China's IT and telecommunications sectors.

"It is already aggressively working to get users familiar with its search engine and is out aggressively cutting deals with ad agencies," Natkin said.

The internal search engine used by Taobao.com, a popular shopping portal operated by Alibaba Group, the world's largest business-to-business e-commerce service provider, could also reap long-term benefits.

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"The people who are doing searches (on Taobao) are searching to buy something," Natkin said. "If you are an advertiser, that is absolutely the type of search you like."

A dark horse in the Chinese search race is Microsoft's Bing. Microsoft has said it does not have plans to follow Google's lead and pull out of China.

"It's a good opportunity for some players to jump in if they [Google] leave China," said Grace Zhou, Managing Director of Vivaki Nerve Center Greater China.

While competitors are sure to benefit from ad dollars once spent on Google, it is unclear how much of an impact there will be. Many Chinese advertisers are interested in reaching foreign audiences, meaning local search engines may not be so appealing. Google said Monday it would retain much of its existing operations in China, including its local sales force, indicating Chinese firms will still be able to buy space on Google's overseas search sites.

"China is a huge exporter and a lot of Chinese companies advertise on Google if their markets are international," said Kaiser Kuo, a Beijing-based digital media consultant. "If I am producing lampshades, I want to make sure people looking to source in China can find me."

Google's business partners in China could be among the biggest losers. The company invested in several firms including Dianping (a Chinese version of Yelp), Xunlei and Ganji.

"It is unclear what happens to those relationships if Google pulls out," said Bill Bishop, a Beijing-based Internet entrepreneur. "Google sends them traffic. Google may send them money for search deals. These are smaller companies and Google's departure is not positive [for them]."

Chinese Web portals, like Sina.com, could also lose out. The site uses Google's search services to power their sites. The search engine looks like it belongs to Sina but the company pays Sina a revenue share of whatever ad sales are generated through that search engine.

"There is an ecosystem that relies on Google for revenues that, in the short term, could at least see a material impact to their revenue," said Bishop.