MyWeb COO: PC, TV portals will diverge

MyWeb COO: PC, TV portals will diverge

IDG: How would you best describe your business?

Toe: We develop applications that are operating system agnostic to OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] manufacturing set-top boxes. The apps include a portal so that users are surfing within our Web site.

We have four revenue streams: software licensing to OEMs - no other Chinese portal has this revenue stream, ISP (Internet service provider) revenue, advertising and electronic commerce. We're getting about 1 million ringgit ($170,000) from Malaysian e-commerce a month.

All the set-top boxes are preconfigured with an ISP account - we get a percentage of the usage revenue from the ISP. In China, we don't do that. The ISP is Beijing Telecom and they pass on the cost saving to users instead, so they get Net access 10 per cent cheaper.

We don't want to get a percentage of usage from Beijing Telecom - it could be sticky politically. While we're a Malaysian company in Malaysia, in China, we're foreign owned.

Will TV and PC portals eventually converge?

Portal components will be different in each market. For instance, in China, search [capabilities], finance, news and education are important. Today, PC and TV portals are similar, but TV portals will be very different. You'll use the PC to do research, but for video, music streaming and checking the weather, you'll go to the TV.

What about Microsoft's Venus Computer project which will provide OEMs with Chinese software for set-top boxes? Is Venus good or bad news for MyWeb?

Microsoft's Venus is good for us, it educates the market. Now everyone knows what a set-top box is, it actually legitimises the market. Microsoft is definitely doing the set-top box OS market, but whether they'll do a portal, I don't know. If they operate a portal in China, that would be extremely sensitive with Microsoft being an icon for capitalism.

Who is doing the content for you in China?

We develop facilities like search, Xinhua [China's state news agency] provides local information, Beijing University provides local education information and local sources provide the financial data. We don't have an equity relationship with Xinhua and it's not an exclusive agreement. If you're operating a local portal, you have to be seen to be working with the right partners.

Isn't developing a reliable Chinese-language search engine pretty tricky?

Doing a search facility is tough. We want to be able to show a difference from the PC portal search. When you key in a word, the results of the search will be very localised and often pop up as a service. For example, if you input 'Shanghai', you get back results on how to get to Shanghai, hotels to stay at, etc. It's not a product today but it will be out as a product in six months. We offer a simple search now.

Were you worried by Chinese Minister Wu Jichuan's recent restatement of a ban on foreign investment in local ISPs and ICPs [Internet content providers]?

From day one of our operations here, we've been more or less prepared for it. We're quite close to the Ministry of Information Industry. We're providing technology for Chinese manufacturers and helping them to localise it. Everyone is worried, but on a broad level everything is still OK. For instance, the day after Wu's statement, Intel and Sohu announced an e-commerce deal.

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