FORM 20-F
falseFY00017332982020-012020-01British Virgin IslandsIn 2019 the Group entered into a CPM (cost per impression) arrangement with a media platform under the common control of the founder for the Group’s customer’s advertisement placement. The total service fee charged from the related party amounted to RMB35.6 million and RMB29.2 million for the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2020, respectively.In 2019 the Group entered into a game cooperation agreement with a game developing company which the founder’s controlled entity has significant influence over. The Company is the principal in the arrangement. The total service fee represents the amount paid to the game developing company in relation to the arrangement, and amounted to RMB6.8 million and RMB1.8 million for the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2020, respectively.For the year ended December 31, 2018, the Group entered into a cooperation agreement with Series B1 shareholder to promote the Company’s mobile application, and the cooperation agreement requires the Company to prepay a total service fee of RMB 31.5 million which will be recognized as expense over 3 years. For the year ended December 31, 2018, total service fee recognized as expense amounted to RMB 15.8 million. After the IPO in September 2018, the Series B1 shareholder has no right to nominate the board member of the Company and has only 1.5% voting power of the Company and no ability to exercise significant influence. As a result, the Series B1 shareholder was no longer a related party of the Company after September 2018. For the years ended December 31, 2019 and 2020, the service fee charged from related parties represented the expense charged from a company under common control of the founder which provided the Group advertising and marketing services.The service fee mainly represented cloud server and short message service fees charged from Series B1 shareholder through September 2018. After the IPO in September 2018, the Series B1 shareholder has no right to nominate the board member of the Company and has only 1.5% voting power of the Company and no ability to exercise significant influence. As a result, the Series B1 shareholder was no longer a related party of the Company after September 2018.For the year ended December 31, 2018, the service fee charged to related parties consisted of: the advertising and marketing service of RMB 4.5 million provided to a company in which the founder of the Company was a member of key management (the founder was no longer a member of management of that company as of September 30, 2018), and the advertising service of RMB 12.9 million provided to Series B1 shareholder through September 2018 (After the IPO in September 2018, the Series B1 shareholder has no right to nominate the board member of the Company and has only 1.5% voting power of the Company and no ability to exercise significant influence. As a result, the Series B1 shareholder was no longer a related party of the Company after September 2018). For the year ended December 31, 2019 and 2020, the service fee of RMB473.2 million and RMB250.9 million charged to related parties represents advertising and marketing services provided to companies under the common control of the founder, to help promote these companies’ online applications, which were developed in late 2018. As of December 31, 2020, the amounts due from related parties is comprised of RMB368.5 million which pertains to accounts receivable from related parties revenues generated, whereas the remaining RMB15.1 million is a fee that the Company prepaid to a related party to place advertisements on behalf of their customers on the related party platform; the balance are settled and recorded as cost of revenues (see (5) below) as the advertisement services are provided. These balances were RMB262.6 million and RMB15.6 million, respectively, as of December 31, 2019. Out of the accounts receivable from related parties of RMB262.2 million as of December 31, 2019, a total of RMB160 million of the balances have been collected as of December 31, 2020; the remaining RMB102.2 million was collected during the first quarter of 2021. Although the receivables of RMB102.2 million were settled after the due date, as these companies are under the common control of the founder and they have demonstrated an ability to continuously pay off their balances, the Company did not view this delay in payment as a sign of collectability risk. For the revenue recognized in 2020, payments have not been received as the balances as of December 31, 2020 are still within the nine to twelve months payment terms and expect to be settled within the payment terms.The Company borrowed an interest free loan of RMB13.0 million from an entity under common control of the founder in December 2020. The loan was repaid in the first quarter of 2021.The Group provided agent and platform service between the advertising customers and a company in which the founder of the Company was a member of key management by facilitating the advertising customers to display their advertisements. 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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 12(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, 2020
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
Date of event requiring this shell company report
                    
For the transition period from
                    
to
                    
Commission file number 001-38644
 
 
Qutoutiao Inc.
(Exact name of Registrant as specified in its charter)
 
 
Cayman Islands
(Exact name of Registrant as specified in its charter)
Building No. 8, Shanghai Pudong Software Park
519 Yi De Road, Pudong New Area
Shanghai 200124
People’s Republic of China
(Address of principal executive offices)
Mr. Xiaolu Zhu, Chief Financial Officer
Telephone:
+86-21-5889-0398
Email: ir@qutoutiao.net
At the address of the Company set forth above
(Name, Telephone,
E-mail
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
 
Trading Symbol(s)
 
Name of each exchange on which registered
American Depositary Shares, every four representing one Class A ordinary shares
 
QTT
 
NASDAQ Global Select Market
Class A Ordinary Shares, par value US$0.0001 per share*
 
N/A
 
NASDAQ Global Select Market
 
*
Not for trading, but only in connection with the listing on the NASDAQ Global Select Market of American depositary shares.
Securities registered or to be registered pursuant to Section 12(g)
None
(Title of Class)
 
 
Securities for which there is a reporting obligation pursuant to Section 15(d) of the Act:
None
(Title of Class)
 
 
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
.
42,812,245 Class A ordinary shares were outstanding as of December 31, 2020
32,937,193 Class B ordinary shares were outstanding as of December 31, 2020
 
 
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
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
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 the definitions 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 whether the registrant has filed a report on and attestation to its management’s assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting under Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (15 U.S.C. 7262(b)) by the registered public accounting firm that prepared or issued its audit report.  
Indicate by check mark which basis of accounting the registration 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 consolidated 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 Securities Exchange Act of 1934)    ☐  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
 
 
 
 
 

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Page
 
       3  
ITEM 1.
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ITEM 2.
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ITEM 3.
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ITEM 4.
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ITEM 4A.
       70  
ITEM 5.
       70  
ITEM 6.
       94  
ITEM 7.
       104  
ITEM 8.
       105  
ITEM 9.
       106  
ITEM 10.
       10
7
 
ITEM 11.
       112  
ITEM 12.
       113  
       116  
ITEM 13.
       116  
ITEM 14.
       116  
ITEM 15.
       116  
ITEM 16A.
       117  
ITEM 16B.
       118  
ITEM 16C.
       118  
ITEM 16D.
       118  
ITEM 16E.
       119  
ITEM 16F.
       119  
ITEM 16G.
       119  
ITEM 16H.
       119  
       120  
ITEM 17.
       120  
ITEM 18.
       120  
ITEM 19.
       120  
 
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CONVENTIONS THAT APPLY TO THIS ANNUAL REPORT ON
FORM 20-F
Except where the context otherwise requires, references in this annual report to:
 
   
“installed users” are to the aggregate number of unique mobile devices that have downloaded and launched our relevant mobile application at least once;
 
   
“ADSs” are to American depositary shares, with every four ADSs representing one Class A ordinary share, and “ADRs” are to American depositary receipts that evidence ADSs;
 
   
“CAGR” are to compound annual growth rate;
 
   
“China” and the “PRC” are to the People’s Republic of China, excluding, for the purposes of this annual report only, Taiwan, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and the Macao Special Administrative Region;
 
   
“DAUs” are to the number of unique mobile devices that accessed our relevant mobile application on a given day. “Combined average DAUs” for a particular period is the average of the DAUs for all of our mobile applications on each day during that period;
 
   
“MAUs” are to the number of unique mobile devices that accessed our relevant mobile application in a given month. “Combined average MAUs” for a particular period is the average of the MAUs for all of our mobile applications in each month during that period;
 
   
“oCPC” are to optimized
cost-per-click
as basis for charging our advertising services;
 
   
“oCPM” are to optimized
cost-per-thousand-impressions
as basis for charging our advertising services;
 
   
“R&D” are to research and development;
 
   
“registered users” are to users that have registered accounts on our relevant mobile application;
 
   
“RMB” or “Renminbi” are to the legal currency of China;
 
   
“lower-tier cities” are to cities in China that are not
tier-1
and
tier-2
cities;
 
   
“tier-1
and
tier-2
cities” refer to
(i) tier-1
cities in China, which are Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen and
(ii) tier-2
cities in China, which are Hangzhou, Nanjing, Jinan, Chongqing, Qingdao, Dalian, Ningbo, Xiamen, Tianjin, Chengdu, Wuhan, Harbin, Shenyang, Xi’an, Changchun, Changsha, Fuzhou, Zhengzhou, Shijiazhuang, Suzhou, Foshan, Dongguan, Wuxi, Yantai, Taiyuan, Hefei, Kunming, Nanchang, Nanning, Tangshan, Wenzhou and Zibo;
 
   
“US$,” “U.S. dollars,” or “dollars” are to the legal currency of the United States; and
 
   
“we,” “us,” “our company” and “our” are to Qutoutiao Inc., its consolidated VIEs and their respective subsidiaries, as the context requires.
Unless specifically indicated otherwise or unless the context otherwise requires, all references to our ordinary shares exclude ordinary shares issuable upon the exercise of outstanding options with respect to our ordinary shares under our share incentive plan.
This annual report contains translations between Renminbi and U.S. dollars solely for the convenience of the reader. The translations from Renminbi to U.S. dollars and from U.S. dollars to Renminbi in this annual report were made at a rate of RMB 6.5250 to US$1.00, the exchange rate set forth in the H.10 statistical release of the Federal Reserve Board on December 31, 2020. We make no representation that the Renminbi or U.S. dollar amounts referred to in this annual report could have been or could be converted into U.S. dollars or Renminbi, as the case may be, at any particular rate or at all.
Unless the context indicates otherwise, all share and per share data in this annual report have given effect to a share split in September 2017 in which each one of the previously issued ordinary shares was split into 10,000 ordinary shares.
This annual report on Form
20-F
includes our audited consolidated financial statements for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, and as of December 31, 2019 and December 31, 2020.
Our ADSs are listed on the NASDAQ Global Select Market under the symbol “QTT.”
 
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FORWARD-LOOKING INFORMATION
This annual report on
Form 20-F
contains statements of a forward-looking nature. All statements other than statements of historical facts are forward-looking statements. These forward-looking statements are made under the “safe harbor” provision under Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, or the Exchange Act, and as defined in the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. 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. In some cases, these forward-looking statements can be identified by words or phrases such as “may,” “will,” “expect,” “anticipate,” “aim,” “estimate,” “intend,” “plan,” “believe,” “potential,” “continue,” “is/are likely to” or other similar expressions. These forward-looking statements relate to, among others:
 
   
our goal and strategies;
 
   
our ability to maintain and strengthen our position as a leader amongst mobile content platform companies in China’s mobile content industry;
 
   
our expansion plans;
 
   
our ability to monetize through advertising and other products and services that we plan to introduce;
 
   
our future business development, financial condition and results of operations, including our expectations regarding the impact of the
COVID-19
pandemic on our business, financial condition and results of operations;
 
   
PRC laws, regulations, and policies relating to the Internet and Internet content providers; and
 
   
general economic and business conditions.
We have based these forward-looking statements largely on our current expectations and projections about future events and financial trends that we believe may affect our financial condition, results of operations, business strategy and financial needs.
You should read these statements in conjunction with the risks disclosed in “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors” of this annual report and other risks outlined in our other filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, or the SEC. Moreover, we operate in an emerging and evolving environment. New risks may emerge from time to time, and it is not possible for our management to predict all risks, nor can we assess the impact of such risks on our business or the extent to which any risk, or combination of risks, may cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in any forward-looking statements. The forward-looking statements made in this annual report relate only to events or information as of the date on which the statements are made in this annual report. Except as required by law, we undertake no obligation to update any forward-looking statements to reflect events or circumstances after the date on which the statements are made or to reflect the occurrence of unanticipated events. You should read this annual report and the documents that we have referred to in this annual report, completely and with the understanding that our actual future results may be materially different from what we expect.
 
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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
 
A.
Selected Financial Data
The following selected consolidated statements of operations data for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020 and selected consolidated balance sheet as of December 31, 2019 and 2020 have been derived from our audited consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this annual report. The selected consolidated statements of operations data for the years ended December 31, 2016 and 2017, and the selected consolidated balance sheets as of December 31, 2016, 2017 and 2018 have been derived from our audited consolidated financial statements not included in this annual report.
You should read the selected consolidated financial data in conjunction with the financial statements and the related notes included elsewhere in this annual report and “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects.” Our consolidated financial statements are prepared and presented in accordance with U.S. GAAP. Our historical results do not necessarily indicate our results expected for any future periods.
 
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Table of Contents
    
Year Ended December 31,
 
    
2016
   
2017
   
2018
   
2019
   
2020
 
    
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
   
US$
 
    
(in thousands, except for percentages, share and per share data)
 
Condensed Consolidated Statement of Operations Data:
                                                
Revenues
(1)
:
                                                
Advertising and marketing revenues
     57,880       512,883       2,814,258       5,415,321       5,046,835       773,461  
Other revenue
     74       4,170       207,888       154,760       238,360       36,530  
    
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Net revenues
  
 
57,954
 
 
 
517,053
 
 
 
3,022,146
 
 
 
5,570,081
 
 
 
5,285,195
 
 
 
809,992
 
Cost of revenues
(2)
     (7,178     (76,481     (503,613     (1,640,632     (1,674,416     (256,616
Gross profit
  
 
50,776
 
 
 
440,572
 
 
 
2,518,533
 
 
 
3,929,449
 
 
 
3,610,779
 
 
 
553,376
 
Operating expenses
(2)
:
                                                
Research and development expenses
     (2,627     (15,317     (270,108     (926,232     (947,871     (145,268
Sales and marketing expenses
     (54,633     (494,724     (3,250,038     (5,489,708     (3,381,561     (518,247
General and administrative expenses
     (4,427     (25,947     (980,725     (267,033     (392,815     (60,202
    
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Total operating expenses
  
 
(61,687
 
 
(535,988
 
 
(4,500,871
 
 
(6,682,973
 
 
(4,722,247
 
 
(723,716
    
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Other operating income
     —         —         725       30,292       79,298       12,153  
    
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Loss from operations
(3)
  
 
(10,911
 
 
(95,416
 
 
(1,981,613
 
 
(2,723,232
 
 
(1,032,169
 
 
(158,187
Interest income
     51       674       27,087       48,440       10,419       1,597  
Interest expense
     —         —         —         (26,878     (38,143     (5,846
Foreign exchange related gains/(losses), net
     —         —         4,134       1,869       (7,183     (1,101
Investment income/(loss)
     —         —         4,215       6,327       (31,788     (4,872
Other income/(expenses), net
     (2     (17     (69     9,049       (7,309     (1,120
    
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Loss before income taxes
  
 
(10,862
 
 
(94,760
 
 
(1,946,247
 
 
(2,684,425
 
 
(1,106,174
 
 
(169,529
Income tax benefit/(expense)
     —         —         401       (4,843     1,007       154  
    
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Net loss
  
 
(10,862
 
 
(94,760
 
 
(1,945,846
 
 
(2,689,268
 
 
(1,105,166
 
 
(169,374
    
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Net loss attributable to
non-controlling
interests
     —         —         3,275       587       728       112  
    
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Net loss attributable to Qutoutiao Inc.
  
 
(10,862
 
 
(94,760
 
 
(1,942,572
 
 
(2,688,681
 
 
(1,104,439
 
 
(169,263
Accretion to convertible redeemable preferred shares redemption value
     —         (6,012     (101,807     —         —         —    
Accretion to redemption value of convertible redeemable preferred shares of a subsidiary
     —         —         (978     (20,548     (48,277     (7,399
Gains on repurchase of convertible redeemable preferred shares
     —         —         18,332       —         —         —    
Gains on repurchase of convertible redeemable preferred shares of a subsidiary
     —         —         —         —         14,842       2,275  
Deemed dividend to preferred shareholders
     —         —         (1,917     —         —         —    
    
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Net loss attributable to Qutoutiao Inc.’s ordinary shareholders
  
 
(10,862
 
 
(100,772
 
 
(2,028,941
 
 
(2,709,229
 
 
(1,137,874
 
 
(174,387
    
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Net loss
     (10,862     (94,760     (1,945,846     (2,689,268     (1,105,166     (169,374
Other comprehensive income/(loss)
                                                
Foreign currency translation adjustment, net of nil tax
     —         25       (16,454     (1,505     102,254       15,671  
    
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Total comprehensive loss
  
 
(10,862
 
 
(94,735
 
 
(1,962,300
 
 
(2,690,773
 
 
(1,002,912
 
 
(153,703
Comprehensive loss attributable to
non-controlling
interests
     —         —         3,275       587       728       112  
    
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Comprehensive loss attributable to Qutoutiao Inc.
  
 
(10,862
 
 
(94,735
 
 
(1,959,025
 
 
(2,690,186
 
 
(1,002,185
 
 
(153,592
    
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
Net loss per share attributable to Qutoutiao Inc.’s ordinary shareholders
                                                
— Basic and diluted
     (0.45     (3.95     (52.69     (39.41     (15.69     (2.40
Weighted average number of ordinary shares used in per share calculation:
(4)
                                                
— Basic and diluted
     24,062,500       25,542,031       38,507,184       68,749,981       72,513,077       72,513,077  
 
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Table of Contents
 
(1)
Revenues from transactions with related parties are set forth below for the periods indicated:
 
    
Year Ended December 31,
 
    
2016
    
2017
    
2018
    
2019
    
2020
 
    
RMB
    
RMB
    
RMB
    
RMB
    
RMB
    
US$
 
    
(in thousands)
 
Advertising and marketing revenues
     —          —          17,447        473,216        250,875        38,448  
Other revenue
     —          —          29,597        —          —          —    
 
(2)
Cost of revenues and operating expenses from transactions with related parties are set forth below for the periods indicated:
 
    
Year Ended December 31,
 
    
2016
    
2017
    
2018
    
2019
    
2020
 
    
RMB
    
RMB
    
RMB
    
RMB
    
RMB
    
US$
 
    
(in thousands)
 
Cost of revenues
     120        484        6,020        42,412        31,051        4,759  
Research and development expenses
     166        220        —          —          —          —    
Sales and marketing expenses
     74        950        23,671        3,284        4,192        642  
General and administrative expenses
     2,664        15,134        —          —          —          —    
 
(3)
We recognized share-based compensation expenses of RMB951.6 million, RMB272.0 million and RMB463.2 million (US$71.0 million) in 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. Share-based compensation expenses in 2018 included RMB864.7 million that related to certain ordinary shares beneficially owned by certain of our
co-founders
that became restricted pursuant to share restriction deeds entered into by them in January 2018 and fully vested upon completion of our initial public offering in September 2018.
(4)
The number of ordinary shares used in the per share calculation does not include the ordinary shares held by our equity incentive trusts, which, although legally issued and outstanding, are accounted for as treasury shares and as a result, are not deemed as outstanding from an accounting perspective. See “Item 6. Directors, Senior Management and Employees—B. Compensation—Equity Incentive Trusts.”
 
    
Year Ended December 31,
 
    
2016
   
2017
   
2018
   
2019
   
2020
 
    
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
   
US$
 
    
(in thousands)
 
Summary Consolidated Balance Sheets:
            
Cash and cash equivalents
     269       278,458       2,186,288       347,817       494,475       75,782  
Restricted cash
     —         —         —         27,872       100,316       15,374  
Short-term investments
     12,370       129,770       115,436       1,276,831       391,033       59,928  
Total current assets
     29,758       466,208       2,626,074       2,692,227       2,472,316       378,899  
Total assets
     29,896       476,581       2,752,472       2,940,197       2,915,858       446,875  
Registered users’ loyalty payable
     1,023       20,977       256,662       134,145       72,627       11,131  
Accrued liabilities related to users’ loyalty programs
     24,509       187,003       44,134       89,185       100,088       15,339  
Total liabilities
     41,087       311,246       1,144,302       3,149,696       3,107,695       476,275  
Total mezzanine equity
     —         273,895       96,937       495,845       1,093,526       167,590  
Total Qutoutiao Inc. shareholders’ equity (deficit)
     (11,191     (108,560     1,514,507       (701,482     (1,280,775     (196,287
Non-controlling
interests
     —         —         (3,274     (3,862     (4,589     (703
Total shareholders’ equity (deficit)
     (11,191     (108,560     1,511,233       (705,344     (1,285,364     (196,991
Non-GAAP
Financial Measure
Non-GAAP
net loss attributable to Qutoutiao Inc. represents net loss attributable to Qutoutiao Inc. before share-based compensation expenses. We use such non-GAAP financial measure in evaluating our results of operation and for financial and operational decision-making purposes. We believe that such
non-GAAP
financial measure helps identify underlying trends in our business that could otherwise be distorted by the effect of such share-based compensation expenses that we include in cost of revenues, total operating expenses and net loss attributable to Qutoutiao Inc. In particular, share-based compensation expenses in 2018 included RMB864.7 million that related to certain ordinary shares beneficially owned by certain of our
co-founders
that became restricted pursuant to share restriction deeds entered into by them in January 2018 and fully vested upon completion of our initial public offering in September 2018. We believe that such
non-GAAP
financial measure also provides useful information about our operating results, enhance the overall understanding of our past performance and future prospects and allow for greater visibility with respect to key metrics used by our management in its financial and operational decision-making.
 
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The
non-GAAP
financial measure is not defined under U.S. GAAP and is not presented in accordance with U.S. GAAP. It should not be considered in isolation or construed as alternatives to net loss or any other measure of performance or as an indicator of our operating performance. Investors are encouraged to review the historical
non-GAAP
financial measure in light of the most directly comparable GAAP measures, as shown below. The
non-GAAP
financial measure presented here may not be comparable to similarly titled measures presented by other companies. Other companies may calculate similarly titled measures differently, limiting its usefulness as comparative measures to our data. We encourage investors and others to review our financial information in its entirety and not rely on a single financial measure.
The table below sets forth a reconciliation of the
non-GAAP
financial measure for the periods indicated:
 
    
Year Ended December 31,
 
    
2016
   
2017
   
2018
   
2019
   
2020
 
    
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
   
RMB
   
US$
 
    
(in thousands)
 
Net loss attributable to Qutoutiao Inc.
  
 
(10,862
 
 
(94,760
 
 
(1,942,572
 
 
(2,688,681
 
 
(1,104,439
 
 
(169,263
Add: share-based compensation expenses:
            
Cost of revenues
     1       942       5,711       6,190       12,905       1,978  
Research and development
     149       1,317       29,623       138,792       204,333       31,316  
Sales and marketing
     35       939       9,538       45,042       86,656       13,281  
General and administrative
     209       181       906,754       81,955       159,320       24,417  
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
     
 
 
   
 
 
 
Non-GAAP
net loss attributable to Qutoutiao Inc.
  
 
(10,468
 
 
(91,381
 
 
(990,945
 
 
(2,416,702
 
 
(641,225
 
 
(98,271
  
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
   
 
 
 
 
B.
Capitalization and Indebtedness
Not Applicable.
 
C.
Reasons for the Offer and Use of Proceeds
Not Applicable.
 
D.
Risk Factors
Summary of Risk Factors
An investment in our ADSs is subject to a number of risks, including risks relating to our industry and business, risks relating to our corporate structure, risks relating to doing business in China and risks relating to the ADSs. The following summarizes some, but not all, of these risks. Please carefully consider all of the information discussed in “Item 3. Key Information—D. Risk Factors” in this annual report for a more thorough description of these and other risks.
Risks Relating to Our Industry and Business
 
   
We have a limited operating history, which makes it difficult to evaluate our business.
 
   
If we fail to acquire new users or retain existing users, or if user engagement on our platform declines, our business, results of operations and financial condition may be materially and adversely affected.
 
   
We have incurred net losses and negative cash flows from operating activities in the past, and we may not achieve or sustain profitability. In addition, the maturity of the Convertible Loan on April 4, 2022 will have a significant impact on our liquidity.
 
   
Our inability to fully comply with Audio-visual Program Provisions may expose us to administrative sanctions, which would materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
 
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If we do not continue to increase the strength of our brand, we may not be able to maintain current or attract new users and customers for our products and services.
 
   
Any catastrophe, including natural catastrophes and outbreaks of health pandemics and other extraordinary events, could disrupt our business operation. For example, the
COVID-19
pandemic may have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition, as well as the trading price of the ADSs.
 
   
If we are unable to compete effectively in the industry we operate, our business, results of operations and financial condition may be materially and adversely affected.
 
   
We generate a substantial majority of our revenues from advertising and marketing. A decline in our advertising and marketing revenues could harm our business.
 
   
Privacy concerns relating to our products and services and the use of user information could damage our reputation, deter current and potential users and customers from using our mobile applications and negatively impact our business.
 
   
Our operations depend on the performance of the Internet infrastructure and fixed telecommunications networks in China.
Risks Relating to Our Corporate Structure
 
   
We rely on contractual arrangements with our consolidated VIEs and their respective shareholders to operate our business, which may not be as effective as direct ownership in providing operational control and otherwise materially and adversely affect our business.
 
   
The shareholders of our consolidated VIEs may have potential conflicts of interest with us, which may materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
 
   
If the PRC government deems that the contractual arrangements in relation to our consolidated VIEs do not comply with PRC regulatory restrictions on foreign investment in the relevant industries, or if these regulations or the interpretation of existing regulations change in the future, we could be subject to severe penalties or be forced to relinquish our interests in those operations.
 
   
Substantial uncertainties exist with respect to whether the controlling of PRC onshore variable interest entities by foreign investors via contractual arrangements will be recognized as “foreign investment” and how it may impact the viability of our current corporate structure and operations.
Risks Relating to Doing Business in China
 
   
Changes in the political and economic policies of the PRC government may materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition and may result in our inability to sustain our growth and expansion strategies.
 
   
There are uncertainties regarding the interpretation and enforcement of PRC laws, rules and regulations.
 
   
PRC regulations relating to investments in offshore companies by PRC residents may subject our
PRC-resident
beneficial owners or our PRC subsidiaries to liability or penalties, limit our ability to inject capital into our PRC subsidiaries or limit our PRC subsidiaries’ ability to increase their registered capital or distribute profits.
 
   
We rely to a significant extent on dividends and other distributions on equity paid by our principal operating subsidiaries to fund offshore cash and financing requirements. Any limitation on the ability of our PRC operating subsidiaries to make payments to us could materially and adversely affect our ability to conduct our business.
 
   
Our ADSs may be delisted under the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act if the PCAOB is unable to inspect auditors who are located in China. The delisting of our ADSs, or the threat of their being delisted, may materially and adversely affect the value of your investment. Additionally, the inability of the PCAOB to conduct inspections deprives our investors with the benefits of such inspections.
Risks Relating to the ADSs
 
   
The trading price of the ADSs may be volatile, which could result in substantial losses to you.
 
   
Because we do not expect to pay cash dividends in the foreseeable future, you may not receive any return on your investment unless you sell your Class A ordinary shares or ADSs for a price greater than that which you paid for them.
 
   
Your right to participate in any future rights offerings may be limited, which may cause dilution to your holdings.
 
   
The dual-class structure of our ordinary shares may adversely affect the trading market for the ADSs.
 
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You may face difficulties in protecting your interests, and your ability to protect your rights through U.S. courts may be limited, because we are incorporated under Cayman Islands law.
 
   
We are an emerging growth company and may take advantage of certain reduced reporting requirements.
Risks Relating to Our Industry and Business
We have a limited operating history, which makes it difficult to evaluate our business.
We launched
Qutoutiao
in June 2016 and
Midu Novels
in May 2018, and further introduced
Midu Lite
in May 2019. We have experienced rapid growth in terms of installed users, MAUs, DAUs and revenues. However, our historical growth may not be indicative of our future performance, and we cannot assure you that this level of significant growth will be sustainable or achievable at all in the future. Our growth prospects should be considered in light of the risks and uncertainties that fast-growing companies with a limited operating history in our industry may encounter, including, among others, risks and uncertainties regarding our ability to:
 
   
retain existing users on, and attract new users to, our platform;
 
   
present real-time customized feeds to users based on their profiles, behaviors and social relationships;
 
   
maintain the effectiveness of our user loyalty programs;
 
   
maintain stable relationships with our content providers;
 
   
develop and implement successful monetization measures;
 
   
convince advertising customers of the benefits of our advertising and marketing services compared to alternative forms of marketing;
 
   
increase brand awareness through marketing and promotional activities;
 
   
upgrade existing technology and infrastructure and develop new technologies to support increasing user traffic, improve user experience, expand functionality and ensure system stability;
 
   
successfully compete with other companies that are currently in, or may in the future enter, our industry;
 
   
attract, retain and motivate talented employees;
 
   
adapt to the evolving regulatory environment; and
 
   
defend ourselves against litigation, regulatory, intellectual property, privacy or other claims.
All of these endeavors involve risks and will require significant capital expenditures and allocation of valuable management and employee resources. We cannot assure you that we will be able to effectively manage our growth or implement our business strategies effectively. If the market for our platform does not develop as we expect or if we fail to address the needs of this dynamic market, our business, results of operations and financial condition will be materially and adversely affected.
If we fail to acquire new users or retain existing users, or if user engagement on our platform declines, our business, results of operations and financial condition may be materially and adversely affected.
The growth of our user base and the level of user engagement are critical to our success. Our mobile applications had approximately 124.7 million combined average MAUs, approximately 32.3 million combined average DAUs and average daily time spent per DAU of approximately 50.3 minutes in the three months ended December 31, 2020. Our business has been and will continue to be significantly affected by our success in growing the number of active users and increasing their overall level of engagement on our platform. We anticipate that our user growth rate will slow down over time as the size of our user base increases. We could also see user base decrease during certain periods of time if we adjust or change our growth strategy. To the extent our user growth rate slows or our user base decreases, our success will become increasingly dependent on our ability to increase user engagement with our platform. We have implemented user account systems and loyalty programs to, among other things, help us cost-effectively acquire new users and develop an engaged and loyal user base. However, although such user account systems and loyalty programs have contributed significantly to the growth in our installed users and high user engagement in the past, there can be no assurance that such systems and programs will continue to function effectively. Additionally, our acquisition cost per user may increase as we implement new marketing initiatives, such as placing advertisements in app stores. Our user engagement efforts, including by increasing the number of content providers, expanding the breadth and quality of content, including video and user generated content, on our platform, diversifying into new content formats and strengthening our content recommendation capabilities, may also not achieve expected results. Users may no longer perceive content and other products and services on our platform to be entertaining and relevant, and we may not be able to attract users or increase their usage frequency of our platform. If we fail to execute any such new initiatives successfully or in a cost-effective manner, our business, results of operations and financial condition would be materially and adversely affected. If we are unable to grow our user base or the level of user engagement, or if the number of users or their level of engagement declines, this could result in our platform being less attractive to potential new users and thus advertising customers, which would have a material and adverse impact on our business, results of operations and financial condition.
 
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The Chinese government may prevent us from distributing content that it believes is noncompliant and we may be subject to penalties for such content or we may have to interrupt or suspend the operation of our platform to comply with these regulatory requirements from time to time, which may materially and adversely affect our results of operation.
China has enacted regulations governing Internet access and the distribution of news and other information. In the past, the Chinese government has stopped the distribution of information over the Internet or through mobile Internet devices that it believes violates Chinese law, including content that it believes is obscene, defamatory, misleading or inappropriately satirical, incites violence, endangers the national security, concerns politically sensitive topics, or contravenes the national interest. In the past, new downloads of certain mobile content aggregator applications and mobile news applications were temporarily blocked and suspended for different lengths of time, ranging from a few days to weeks, following the publication of content considered to be noncompliant. In July 2018, PRC governmental and regulatory authorities responsible for “eradicating pornography and illegal publications” announced new coordinated efforts to regulate and control the nascent online short video sector, including citations against 19 online short video platforms which allegedly had disregarded repeated warnings not to distribute content deemed by the authorities as obscene, misleading, pornographic, violent, infringing, sensationalist, deviant from socialist core values, harmful to younger viewers, or otherwise unlawful or detrimental. Of these 19 platforms, 15 had their applications removed from app stores and new downloads blocked; among these 15 platforms, three also had their operations suspended by relevant authorities. Any such future suspension in operations or downloads of our mobile applications for this or other reasons may negatively affect our relationships with users and advertisers, and adversely affect our business and results of operations.
While we strive to comply with applicable regulatory requirements and other obligations we may have with respect to our operation, the failure or perceived failure to comply may result, and in some cases has resulted, in inquiries and other proceedings or actions against us by government agencies or others, as well as negative publicity and damage to our reputation and brand, any of which could cause us to lose users and customers and may materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition. For example, in order to comply with recent regulatory requirements, we undertook product upgrades and temporarily suspended content updates and certain commercial activities on
Midu Novels
from July 16 to October 15, 2019.
Midu Novels
has resumed regular content updates and commercial activities since October 16, 2019. We have endeavored to use our technologies, employees and other resources in a manner that complies with applicable regulatory requirements, and as such, we believe that the likelihood of us receiving material administrative penalties is low. However, there can be no assurance that similar suspensions relating to our mobile applications will not recur in the future, or that such incidents will not result in loss of users or advertisers, decrease in revenues or reputational damage to us, or have an adverse effect on our business and results of operations.
The Chinese government may continue to implement stricter standards for compliant content, and increase enforcement against content considered to be noncompliant. In addition, certain news items, such as news relating to national security, may not be published without permission from the Chinese government. If the Chinese government were to take any action to limit or prohibit the distribution of information through our mobile applications, or to limit or regulate any current or future content or services available to users on our platform, our business could be significantly harmed. Although we have adopted internal procedures to monitor the content displayed on our platform, due to the significant amount of content, including user generated content, we may not be able to identify all the content that may violate relevant laws and regulations, whether or not due to our fault or oversight in content monitoring. Failure to identify and prevent inappropriate or illegal content from being displayed on our platform may subject us to penalties, including suspension of operations.
Moreover, as the interpretation of noncompliant content is vague and subjective in many cases, and the definition of noncompliant content may be subject to constant changes, it is not always possible to determine or predict what content might be considered noncompliant under existing restrictions, or what restrictions might be imposed in the future. Chinese government authorities may also prohibit the marketing of other types of wireless value-added services and contents through mobile applications, which could materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
We have incurred net losses and negative cash flows from operating activities in the past, and we may not achieve or sustain profitability. In addition, the maturity of the Convertible Loan on April 4, 2022 will have a significant impact on our liquidity.
We have grown rapidly over the past several years. Our net revenues have increased rapidly from RMB3,022.1 million in 2018 to RMB5,570.1 million in 2019, and slightly decreased to RMB5,285.2 million (US$810.0 million) in 2020 primarily due to our strategy to balance operational efficiency and sustainable growth. Our gross profit has increased significantly from RMB2,518.5 million in 2018 to RMB3,929.4 million in 2019, and slightly decreased to RMB3,610.8 million (US$553.4 million) in 2020.
However, you should not rely on our revenues and gross profit from any previous period as an indication of our future revenues or gross profit. Our revenues or gross profit might decline or the growth rate of our revenues or gross profit may slow down for a number of reasons, including declined demand for our products and services, increasing competition, emergence of alternative business models, changes in regulations and government policies, changes in general economic conditions,
COVID-19
as well as other risks described in this annual report.
 
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We incurred net loss of RMB1,945.8 million, RMB2,689.3 million and RMB1,105.2 million (US$169.4 million) for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020, respectively. We had negative cash flow from operating activities of RMB434.8 million, RMB2,367.3 million and RMB863.8 million (US$132.4 million) for the years ended December 31, 2018, 2019 and 2020. Our ability to continue as a going concern is dependent on our ability to successfully execute our business plans, which include adjusting the pace of our operation expansion and controlling operating cost and expenses, mainly user acquisition and engagement costs, to reduce the cash used in operating cash flows. To implement the plans, we will continue to enhance user engagement and retention by offering higher quality and diversified contents while closely control the content costs with more selective content acquisition and better leverage of existing content varieties, and continue to optimize the user loyalty programs and the traffic acquisition strategy to efficiently control and reduce these user related costs. We will further preserve liquidity and manage cash flows by reducing discretionary expenditure including advertising expenses and general and administrative expenses.
We have concluded, after giving consideration to our plans as noted above, that we have alleviated the substantial doubt as to our ability to continue as a going concern and believe we have sufficient cash and other financial resources and liquidity to fund our operations for one year from the date of the filing of the consolidated financial statements, and that there is not substantial doubt about our ability to continue operations as a going concern for that one-year period.
Additionally, we have a convertible loan of US$171.1 million that will mature on April 4, 2022. Given the significance of the amount repayable upon maturity, the maturity of the convertible loan will have a significant impact on our liquidity. Our plans to mitigate the impact of the liquidity due to the maturity of the convertible loan include: 1) generating cash flows from operations or obtaining external financing to repay the loan, 2) negotiating with the creditor to renew the loan, and 3) negotiating with the creditor to adjust down the conversion price and converting the loan into the our ordinary shares, which could have a dilution impact to the existing shareholders. However, it is uncertain whether our plans will be successfully implemented.
We expect to continue to make investments in the development and expansion of our business, which will place significant demands on our management and our operational and financial resources. Continuous expansion may increase the complexity of our business, and we may encounter various difficulties. We may fail to develop and improve our operational, financial and management controls, enhance our financial reporting systems and procedures, recruit, train and retain highly skilled personnel, or maintain customer satisfaction to effectively support and manage our growth. If we invest substantial time and resources in expanding our operations but fail to manage the growth of our business and capitalize on our growth opportunities effectively, we may not be able to achieve profitability, and our business, financial condition, results of operations, liquidity and prospects would be materially and adversely affected.
Our inability to fully comply with Audio-visual Program Provisions may expose us to administrative sanctions, which would materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
Pursuant to the
Administrative Provisions on Internet Audio-visual Program Service
, or the Audio-visual Program Provisions, which was issued by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (the predecessor of GAPPRFT), or SARFT, and MIIT on December 20, 2007 and came into effect on January 31, 2008 and was amended on August 28, 2015, online transmission of audio and video programs requires an Internet audio-visual program transmission license and online audio-visual service providers must be either wholly state-owned or state-controlled. In a press conference jointly held by SARFT and MIIT to answer questions with respect to the Audio-visual Program Provisions in February 2008, SARFT and MIIT clarified that online audio-visual service providers that had already been operating lawfully prior to the issuance of the Audio-visual Program Provisions may
re-register
and continue to operate without becoming state-owned or controlled, provided that such providers have not engaged in any unlawful activities. This exemption will not be granted to online audio/video service providers established after the Audio-visual Program Provisions was issued. See “Item 4. Information on the Company — C. Regulations — Regulation on Online Transmission of Audio-visual Programs.”
Although we have been taking measures to ensure compliance, we may not be able to fully comply with Audio-visual Program Provisions. As a result, we may face, according to Audio-visual Program Provisions, administrative sanctions including receiving a warning and be ordered to pay a fine of not more than RMB30,000. In the case of severe contravention, we may be ordered to cease transmission of audio and video programs, be subject to a penalty equal to one to two times our total investment in the affected business and the devices we used for such operation may be confiscated. Furthermore, according to the Audio-visual Program Provisions, the telecommunications administrative authorities may, based on written opinions of GAPPRFT, and in accordance with the relevant laws and regulations on supervision of telecommunications and Internet, close our platform, revoke the license for the provision of Internet information services, or the ICP license, and order the relevant network operation entity which provides us signal access services to stop such provision of services. Such penalties would materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
If we fail to maintain our Internet news license, we may be exposed to administrative sanctions, including an order to cease our Internet information services that provide news or to cease the Internet access services provided by third parties to us.
The PRC government regulates the Internet industry extensively, including foreign ownership of, and the licensing requirements pertaining to, companies in the Internet industry. A number of regulatory agencies, including the Ministry of Culture, or the MOC, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, or MIIT, the Cyberspace Administration of China, or the CAC, the State Administration of Radio and Television, or the SART (previously known as GAPPRFT and SARFT), the State Council Information Office, or the SCIO, and other governmental authorities, jointly regulate all major aspects of the Internet industry. Operators are required to obtain various government approvals and licenses prior to providing the relevant Internet information services.
 
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Our platform primarily focuses on light entertainment content. Nonetheless, certain content related to current affairs, finance, society and economy provided on our
Qutoutiao
mobile application may be deemed to be news content. According to the Provisions for the Administration of Internet News Information Services issued by the CAC on May 2, 2017 that became effective on June 1, 2017, an Internet news license shall be obtained for a provider of Internet news information services to the public in a variety of ways, including through the offering of platforms for the dissemination of Internet news.
Shanghai Jifen Culture Communications Co., Ltd., or Shanghai Jifen, one of our consolidated VIEs, obtained an Internet news license from the CAC in July 2019. However, if we fail to maintain such license, we may be ordered to cease disseminating news and impose a fine on us of not less than RMB10,000 but not more than RMB30,000. In the event we were ordered to cease disseminating news, our business, results of operations and financial condition could be materially and adversely affected.
If we do not continue to increase the strength of our brand, we may not be able to maintain current or attract new users and customers for our products and services.
Our operational and financial performance is highly dependent on the strength of our brand. We believe we enjoy lower user acquisition cost compared to acquiring users through other means. Our platform’s innovative user account systems and gamified loyalty programs enable us to focus our resources on directly connecting with new users. In order to further expand our user base, we may need to substantially increase our marketing expenditures to enhance brand awareness.
In addition, negative coverage in the media of our company could threaten the perception of our brand, and we cannot assure you that we will be able to defuse negative press coverage about our company to the satisfaction of our investors, users, advertising customers and content providers. If we are unable to defuse negative press coverage about our company, our brand may suffer in the marketplace, our operational and financial performance may be negatively impacted and the price of the ADSs may decline.
Negative publicity about us, our services, operations and our management has adversely affected and may adversely affect our reputation and business in the future.
We have from time to time received negative publicity, including negative Internet and blog postings about us, our services, operations and our management. For example, a short seller published a report on December 10, 2019 with certain negative opinions on us, such as, our related party transactions, our products, our financial conditions and our acquisition decision, which could have a negative impact on our reputation, despite the fact that the short seller’s claims were based on factual errors and misunderstanding of business and accounting rules, which we subsequently explained in a detailed public response. On January 18, 2020, the same short seller published another report on us, containing mostly the same negative opinions regarding us, and we have reported in detail the unfounded allegations in this report to the audit committee of our board of directors. On July 16, 2020, China Central Television, or CCTV, reported in its Annual Consumer Rights Show that certain advertisements placed by third-party advertising agents on
Qutoutiao
exaggerated the health benefits of certain food and diet products and promoted activities that may involve online-gambling, which led to negative media publicity on us.
Negative publicity could be the result of malicious intentions, direct or indirect anti-competitive behaviours, agendas of short sellers or advertisements placed on our platform. We may even be subject to government or regulatory investigation as a result of such third-party conduct or misconduct and may be required to spend significant time and incur substantial costs to defend ourselves against such third-party conduct or misconduct, and we may not be able to conclusively refute each of the allegations within a reasonable period of time, or at all. Our brand and reputation may be materially and adversely affected as a result of any negative publicity, which in turn may cause us to lose market share, users, advertising customers and other third parties we conduct business with. As a result, our financial position or operating results may be adversely affected and the price of the ADSs may decline.
We have implemented user loyalty programs to gamify user experience and tap into the competitive reward psyche of users. However, some users have taken interest in utilizing aggressive tactics to extract maximum monetary reward from the applications. Although we have put in mechanisms to detect and prevent such behaviors and the absolute amount of monetary reward so earned is never more than paltry, this feature of our applications has in some cases given rise to criticisms from the very same users who take it to be a case of us not adequately rewarding or in fact overpromising reward to users in general. Such negative reviews could appear in open blogs on the internet, and, however unmerited, may twist the perception of those unfamiliar with or have no prior experience with our applications, hence adversely impacting our ability to acquire new users.
 
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Techniques employed by short sellers may drive down the market price of the ADSs.
Short selling is the practice of selling securities that the seller does not own but rather has borrowed from a third party with the intention of buying identical securities back at a later date to return to the lender. The short seller hopes to profit from a decline in the value of the securities between the sale of the borrowed securities and the purchase of the replacement shares, as the short seller expects to pay less in that purchase than it received in the sale. As it is in the short seller’s interest for the price of the security to decline, many short sellers publish, or arrange for the publication of, negative opinions, justified or not, regarding the relevant issuer and its business prospects in order to create negative market momentum and generate profits for themselves after selling a security short. These short attacks have, in the past, led to selling of shares in the market.
Public companies that have substantially all of their operations in China have been the subject of short selling. Much of the scrutiny and negative publicity has centered on allegations of a lack of effective internal control over financial reporting resulting in financial and accounting irregularities and mistakes, inadequate corporate governance policies or a lack of adherence thereto and, in many cases, allegations of fraud. As a result, many of these companies are now conducting internal and external investigations into the allegations and, in the interim, are subject to shareholder lawsuits and/or SEC enforcement actions.
A short seller recently published a report with certain negative opinions regarding us, which negatively affected our reputation. However, it is not clear what effect such negative publicity could continue to have on us. If we were to become the subject of any unfavorable allegations, whether such allegations are proven to be true or untrue, we might have to expend a significant amount of resources to investigate such allegations and/or defend ourselves. While we would strongly defend against any such short seller attacks, we may be constrained in the manner in which we can proceed against the relevant short seller by principles of freedom of speech, applicable state law or issues of commercial confidentiality. Such a situation could be costly and time-consuming, and could distract our management from growing our business. Even if such allegations are ultimately proven to be groundless, allegations against us could severely impact our business operations and the trading price of the ADSs, and any investment in the ADSs could be greatly reduced or even rendered worthless.
Any catastrophe, including natural catastrophes and outbreaks of health pandemics and other extraordinary events, could disrupt our business operation. For example, the
COVID-19
pandemic may have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition, as well as the trading price of the ADSs.
We are vulnerable to natural disasters and other calamities. Fire, floods, typhoons, earthquakes, power loss, telecommunications failures,
break-ins,
war, riots, terrorist attacks or similar events may give rise to server interruptions, breakdowns, system failures or Internet failures, which could cause the loss or corruption of data or malfunctions of software or hardware as well as adversely affect our ability to provide our products or services. Our business could also be adversely affected by the effects of Ebola virus disease, H1N1 flu, H7N9 flu, avian flu, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS,
COVID-19,
or other epidemics.
In particular, the
COVID-19
pandemic has negatively affected the global and Chinese economy as well as the advertising market in China since the beginning of 2020, and put constraint on the advertising budget of our advertising customers, which might negatively affect our business, results of operations and financial condition, as well as the trading price of the ADSs. Our operations have been, and may continue to be, impacted by measures taken by national and regional Chinese government to contain
COVID-19,
including travel restrictions, closures and quarantines. Our business operations could be disrupted if any of our employees is suspected of being infected with
COVID-19,
since it could require our employees to be quarantined and/or our offices to be shut down for disinfection. We may be short on workforce if a large number of our employees are diagnosed with
COVID-19
or are required to be self-isolated. Our business could also be impacted if any of our advertising customers or suppliers is affected by
COVID-19,
which may result in suspension of our services, reduction in our advertising and marketing revenues, delay in collection of account receivables and additional allowances for doubtful accounts.
In addition,
COVID-19
may continue to adversely affect national and regional economy in China as well as global economy and financial markets, which could cause economic downturn or financial crisis. Our business, results of operations and financial condition could be adversely affected to the extent that
COVID-19
harms the Chinese and global economy in general, and the trading price of the ADSs may decline significantly.
We have been closely monitoring the impact of
COVID-19
on macro economy and advertising market in general, as well as the impact on our business, results of operations and financial condition. The extent to which
COVID-19
may continue to impact our results is uncertain and difficult to predict and will depend on future developments, including the duration, severity and reach of the
COVID-19
pandemic, and actions taken to contain the outbreak or treat its impacts.
 
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New content formats and other products and services and changes to existing content formats and products and services could fail to attract users or generate revenues.
Our ability to increase the size and engagement level of our user base, attract advertising customers and generate revenues will depend in part on our ability to create and offer successful new content formats and other products and services. Such new content formats and other products and services may involve new distribution capabilities or technologies with which we have little or no prior development or operating experience, such as literature, online games and live-streaming. We may also continuously refine our existing content formats and other products and services as part of our efforts to further enhance user engagement. However, if such efforts or our efforts in launching new content formats and other products and services fail to engage users, we may fail to attract or retain users or to generate sufficient revenues to justify our investments, and our business, results of operations and financial condition could be adversely affected.
If we are unable to compete effectively in the industry we operate, our business, results of operations and financial condition may be materially and adversely affected.
Competition for user traffic and user engagement, as well as advertising and marketing spending, is intense and we face strong competition in our business. Our primary competitors include content aggregators such as Jinritoutiao (operated by Bytedance), Kuaibao (operated by Tencent) and Yidianzixun (an affiliate of Phoenix News). To a lesser extent, we also compete with mobile news portals such as Tencent News, SINA News, Sohu News, NetEase News and Phoenix News. We also compete with other mobile literature applications, such as iReader, QQ Reading, Qimao Free Novels and Fanqie Novels, as well as other mobile literature applications that have a business model similar to ours. To a lesser extent, we compete with traditional
PC-based
online literature platforms. Many of our competitors have more resources and longer operating history than us. New players may emerge and seek to imitate our business strategies, thereby directly competing with us for users. Furthermore, we may face potential competition from global online content delivery platforms that seek to enter the China market, whether independently or through the formation of strategic alliances with, or acquisition of, PRC Internet companies. If we are not able to effectively compete with our competitors, our overall user base and level of user engagement may decrease. We may be required to spend additional resources to further enhance our brand recognition and promote our products and services, and such additional spending could adversely affect our profitability. Furthermore, if we are involved in disputes with any of our competitors that result in negative publicity to us, such disputes, regardless of their veracity or outcome, may harm our reputation or brand image and in turn lead to reduced number of users and advertising customers. Our competitors may unilaterally decide to adopt a wide range of measures targeted at us, including possibly designing their products to negatively impact our operations. Any legal proceedings or measures we take in response to competition and disputes with our competitors may be expensive, time-consuming and disruptive to our operations and divert our management’s attention.
In addition, our users face a vast array of entertainment choices. Other forms of entertainment, including other Internet-based activities such as social networking, online video or games, live-streaming, as well as offline games and activities such as television, movies and sports, are much larger and more well-established markets and may be perceived by our users to offer greater variety, affordability, interactivity and enjoyment. Our platform competes against these other forms of entertainment for the discretionary time and spending of our users. If we are unable to sustain sufficient interest in our platform in comparison to other forms of entertainment, including new forms of entertainment that may emerge in the future, our business model may no longer be viable.
We generate a substantial majority of our revenues from advertising and marketing. A decline in our advertising and marketing revenues could harm our business.
We generated a substantial majority of our revenues from advertising and marketing services in 2018, 2019 and 2020.
When we first commenced our business, we collaborated with various third-party advertising platforms to place advertisements on our mobile applications, and derived a large percentage of our revenues from a limited number of customers. To reduce the concentration risk and to build our
in-house
advertising platform which was becoming necessary in order to support the rapid growth of our business, we acquired an advertising agent in February 2018 that operated a programmatic advertising system. Upon full integration with our internal resources and with continuous R&D investments, we have developed it into a technology driven system that has powered our advertising solutions while reducing the use of third-party advertising platforms. Given our short history, we have limited experience in operating the programmatic advertising system and in acquiring our own advertising agents and advertising customers. We may not be able to recruit sufficient sales personnel to effectively and efficiently acquire and retain advertising agents and advertising customers. The effectiveness of our programmatic advertising system may not perform as expected and achieve widespread acceptance by advertising customers.
Our advertising customers for our programmatic advertising system are comprised of advertising agents and end advertisers. There can be no assurance that these advertising agents will continue to attract advertising customers to our platform. Furthermore, as is common in the industry, we do not enter into long-term agreements with advertising agents or advertising customers. Advertising agents and advertising customers are not obligated to use our advertising and marketing solutions on an exclusive basis and they generally use multiple channels to manage their advertising and marketing need. Accordingly, we or advertising agents must convince advertising customers to use our programmatic advertising system, increase their usage and spend a larger share of their online advertising and marketing budgets with us, and to do so on an
on-going
basis. Advertising customers may not continue to utilize our platform or may only be willing to advertise with us at reduced prices if we do not deliver advertising and marketing services in an effective manner, including persuading our advertising customers as to the relevancy of our user base for their products or services, or if they do not believe that their investment in advertising and marketing with us will generate a competitive return relative to alternative advertising platforms. If we fail to retain existing advertising customers or ensure that their advertising spend with us remains at similar or increased levels or attract new advertising customers to advertise on our platform, our business, results of operations and financial condition may be materially and adversely affected.
 
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Our efforts to expand the monetization of our products and services in addition to advertising may not be successful.
In order to sustain our revenue growth, we must effectively monetize our user base and expand the monetization of our products and services in addition to advertising. We plan to leverage our user account systems and loyalty programs to induce users not only to spend the cash credits in their accounts from using our platform but also to supplement their spending on our platform with additional funds. These measures include introducing paid content such as literature, online games, short videos, as well as live-streaming products. There can be no assurance that we can successfully capture such monetization opportunities. For example, users may prefer to purchase merchandise from “pure play”
e-commerce
platforms, which tend to offer wider selections and may provide better services due to their deeper industry experience. In addition, we have primarily offered free content to users, and our paid content may not gain significant user acceptance. If we were unable to successfully execute our monetization strategies, our business, results of operations and financial condition would be materially and adversely affected.
If we fail to continue to anticipate user preferences and interests, we may not be able to generate sufficient user traffic to remain competitive.
Our success depends on our ability to intelligently deliver personalized light entertainment content to users. Through an automated process, we develop interest and social graphs for each user based on such person’s profile, behavior and social relationships. The user’s behavior also provides us with a granular view of the topics and content characteristics that likely are of interest to the user. In addition, the interest and social graphs take into account the user’s social relationships with other users and such other users’ interests, including their behaviors. Our content recommendation engine analyzes content and the interest and social graphs of each user to identify content that is most likely to interest such person. Such recommendation is based on analysis we have made as to user preferences and interests, and any errors in such analysis may lead our system to recommend content that fails to attract users. Furthermore, our future success will depend on our ability to anticipate and adapt new technologies. If we fail to continuously improve user experience through better recommendation results, we may not be able to compete effectively with our competitors, and our business, results of operations and financial condition may be materially and adversely affected.
If content providers on our platform do not continue to contribute content, decrease the amount of content contributed or the quality of their contributions declines, we may experience a decrease in the number of users and level of user engagement.
Our success depends on our ability to generate sufficient user traffic through the intelligent delivery of personalized light entertainment content, which in turn depends on the content contributed by our content providers. We believe that access to light entertainment-oriented and easily digestible content is one of the main reasons users visit
Qutoutiao
. We encourage our content providers to actively contribute quality content that will resonate with our users by implementing a system in which fees paid to them are related to the amount of views associated with content they contribute. We also seek to foster a broader and more engaged user base by encouraging social interactions and production of user generated content. If our content providers do not continue to contribute content, including user generated content, to our mobile applications due to their dissatisfaction with our fee arrangements with them, their entry into exclusive arrangements with other platforms or any other reasons, or the attractiveness of their content declines, and we are unable to provide users with entertaining and relevant content, our user base and user engagement may decline. If we were required to share a higher proportion of advertising and marketing revenues with content providers in order to enhance the quality of content delivered by us or increase the amount of content provided to us, our profitability could be materially and adversely affected. If we experience a decline in the number of users or the level of user engagement, advertising customers may not view our platform as attractive for their advertising expenditures and may reduce their spending with us, which would harm our business, results of operations and financial condition.
 
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Our user metrics and other estimates are subject to inherent challenges in measuring our operating performance, which may harm our reputation.
We regularly review MAUs, DAUs, average time spent per DAU and other operating metrics to evaluate growth trends, measure our 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 our 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 our platform is used across a large population in China. For example, we may not be able to distinguish individual users who have multiple registered accounts.
Errors or inaccuracies in our 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, we might expend resources to implement unnecessary business measures or fail to take required actions to remedy an unfavorable trend. If advertising customers or investors do not perceive our user or other operating metrics to accurately represent our user base, or if we discover inaccuracies in our user or other operating metrics, our reputation may be harmed.
If we fail to effectively manage our growth, our business, results of operations and financial condition could be harmed.
We expect we will continue to experience rapid growth in our business and operations, which will place significant demands on our management, operational and financial resources. We may encounter difficulties as we establish and expand our operations, product development, sales and marketing, and general and administrative capabilities. We face significant competition for talented employees from other high-growth companies, which include both publicly traded and privately held companies, and we may not be able to hire new employees quickly enough to meet our needs. To attract highly skilled personnel, we have had to offer, and believe we will need to continue to offer, competitive compensation packages. As we continue to grow, we are subject to the risks of over-hiring, over-compensating our employees and over-expanding our operating infrastructure, and to the challenges of integrating, developing and motivating a growing employee base. In addition, we may not be able to innovate or execute as quickly as a smaller and more efficient organization. If we fail to effectively manage our hiring needs and successfully integrate our new hires, our efficiency and ability to meet our forecasts and our employee morale, productivity and retention could suffer, and our business, results of operations and financial condition could be adversely affected.
Providing products and services to users may be costly and we expect our expenses to continue to increase in the future as we broaden our user base and increase user engagement, and develop and implement new content formats, features, products and services that require more infrastructure, such as literature, online games and live-streaming. Historically, changes in our costs and expenses have affected our results of operations and financial condition. We expect to continue to invest in our infrastructure to enable us to provide our products and services rapidly and reliably to users. Continued growth could also strain our ability to maintain reliable service levels for our users, content providers and advertising customers, develop and improve our operational, financial, legal and management controls, and enhance our reporting systems and procedures. Our expenses may grow faster than our revenues, and our expenses may be greater than we anticipate. Managing our growth will require significant expenditures and allocation of valuable management resources. If we fail to achieve the necessary level of efficiency in our organization as it grows, our business, results of operations and financial condition could be harmed.
Advertisements on our mobile applications may subject us to penalties and other administrative actions.
Under PRC advertising laws and regulations, we are obligated to monitor the advertising content shown on our mobile applications to ensure that such content is true, accurate and in full compliance with applicable laws and regulations. On April 24, 2015, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, or the SCNPC, issued the
Advertisement Law
, which was amended and took effect on October 26, 2018, to further strengthen the supervision and management of advertisement services. On July 4, 2016, SAIC issued the
Interim Measures for the Administration of Internet Advertising,
or the New Interim Measures
,
to further regulate Internet advertising activities. Pursuant to these laws and regulations, any advertisement that contains false or misleading information to deceive or mislead consumers shall be deemed false advertising. Furthermore, the Advertisement Law explicitly stipulates detailed requirements for the content of several different kinds of advertisement, including advertisements for medical treatment, pharmaceuticals, medical instruments, health food, alcoholic drinks, education or training, products or services having an expected return on investment, real estate, pesticides, feed and feed additives, and some other agriculture-related advertisement. Also, according to the New Interim Measures, no advertisement of such special products or services which are subject to examination by an advertising examination authority shall be published unless it has passed such examination. In addition, an Internet advertisement shall be identifiable and clearly identified as an “advertisement” so that consumers will know that it is an advertisement. The New Interim Measures also provide that Internet advertisement publishers shall verify related supporting documents, check the content of the advertisement and be prohibited from publishing any advertisement with nonconforming content or without all the necessary certification documents. However, for the determination of the truth and accuracy of the advertisements, there are no implementing rules or official interpretations, and such a determination is at the sole discretion of the relevant local branch of the State Administration for Market Regulation, or the SAMR (successor of SAIC and the State Food and Drug Administration), which results in uncertainty in the application of these laws and regulations. In addition, advertising content deemed as obscene, defamatory, inappropriately satirical or otherwise inappropriate by a relevant government authority may also subject us to penalties. For instance, the Chinese government has temporarily suspended advertising services on a short video platform in China because advertising content shown on the platform was deemed to be offensive and disrespectful to a revolutionary figure.
 
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We cannot assure you that all the advertisements shown on our mobile applications are true, accurate, appropriate and in full compliance with applicable laws and regulations. For example, advertisers on our mobile applications, or their agents, may use measures that are designed to evade our monitoring, such as providing inauthentic material that does not match the actual advertisement, or supplying advertising which is superficially compliant but nevertheless is linked to one or more webpages that feature noncompliant advertising content. In addition, our employees responsible for reviewing advertisements may not fully understand the relevant laws and regulations or may be inappropriately influenced by the advertisers. In each case, we may still be held responsible for noncompliant advertising content. We include clauses in most of our advertising contracts requiring that all advertising content provided by advertising customers must comply with relevant laws and regulations. Pursuant to the contracts between us and the relevant advertising agents or advertising customers, they are liable for all damages to us caused by their breach of such representations. However, there can be no assurance that we will be able to successfully enforce our contractual rights.
Violation of these laws and regulations may subject us to penalties, including fines, confiscation of our advertising income, orders to cease dissemination of the advertisements and orders to eliminate the effect of illegal advertisement. If an illegal advertisement featured on our mobile applications were to have excessive negative effects, our brand and reputation may be harmed, and PRC governmental authorities may pursue more severe penalties and administrative actions against us. PRC governmental authorities may even force us to terminate our advertising operation or revoke our licenses in circumstances involving serious violations. Such penalties may have a material and adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.
On July 16, 2020, CCTV reported in its Annual Consumer Rights Show that certain advertisements placed by third-party advertising agents on
Qutoutiao
exaggerated the health benefits of certain food and diet products and promoted activities that may involve online-gambling. In response, we promptly took appropriate measures such as immediate suspension of all employees involved in these advertisements, including the person in charge of advertising operations, stricter management of all third-party advertising agents, enhancement of content management capabilities in identifying misleading or inappropriate advertisements, and the launch of an
easy-to-use
and
easy-to-find
complaint channel on the home screen of Qutoutiao so that users can file their complaints with us on any advertisement placed on our app. The
Qutoutiao
app was temporarily removed from several major Android-based app stores in China after the report but was reinstated on July 31, 2020. On October 14, 2020, Shanghai Jifen and Shanghai Dianguan were fined by a local regulator for certain false advertisements placed on the Qutoutiao app. The advertisement fees that these two entities earned from the false advertisements were also confiscated. The aggregate amounts of the fines and confiscated earnings were approximately RMB0.6 million for Shanghai Jifen and RMB2.0 million for Shanghai Dianguan, which were fully paid on November 27, 2020. Although we have enhanced our internal procedures by taking remedial actions, we cannot assure you that all of the advertisements on our platform will be fully in compliance with the applicable rules and regulations.
Increased government regulation of content platforms may subject us to penalties and other administrative actions.
Recently, PRC government authorities have strengthened their oversight of content platforms similar to our mobile applications. Other than the content that are considered to be violating PRC laws and regulations, such oversight has tend to pay more attention to content that is or may be deemed misleading, obscene, pornographic, detrimental, and/or contrary to social values and morals prevailing in China, which content may subject the platform’s operator to penalties and other administrative actions. For example, in April 2018, a platform that provides entertainment-oriented contents was ordered by the SART to permanently cease its operation for delivering content that were considered to be vulgar and “deviating from mainstream values.” In addition, in July 2018, PRC governmental and regulatory authorities responsible for “eradicating pornography and illegal publications” announced new coordinated efforts to regulate and control the nascent online short video sector, including citations against 19 online short video platforms which allegedly had disregarded previous and repeated warnings not to distribute content deemed by the authorities as obscene, misleading, pornographic, violent, infringing, sensationalist, deviant from socialist core values, harmful to younger viewers, or otherwise unlawful or detrimental. Of these 19 platforms, 15 had their applications removed from app stores and new downloads blocked; among these 15 platforms, three also had their operations suspended by relevant authorities.
Government regulation of content and of content platforms generally may broaden in scope and oversee additional aspects of content platforms’ operation, such as information security, user suitability management, anti-addiction, and sales and marketing, in addition to being strengthened and becoming stricter as to content and advertising. For example, on December 15, 2019, the CAC promulgated the Provisions on Ecological Governance of Network Information Content, which became effective on March 1, 2020. The Provisions specify the information that is encouraged for, prohibited from or prevented and rejected from dissemination, to further regulate the network information and content. Any such new or broadened regulatory measures or oversight may cause us to incur higher compliance costs, revise our operational strategies, target user groups or promotional models, and thereby adversely affect our business and results of operations.
 
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If we fail to detect click-through fraud of our platform, we could lose the confidence of advertising customers and our revenues could decline.
We are exposed to the risk of click-through fraud on our advertising services. Click-through fraud occurs when a person, automated script or computer program imitates a legitimate user clicking on an advertisement, for the purpose of generating a charge per click without having an actual interest in the target of the advertisement’s link. If we fail to detect fraudulent clicks or otherwise are unable to prevent such fraudulent activity, the affected advertising customers may experience a reduced return on their investment in our mobile advertising services and lose confidence in the integrity of our services. If this happens, our reputation may be damaged and we may be unable to retain existing advertising customers and attract new advertising customers for our advertising services and our advertising revenue could decline.
If we fail to detect user misconduct on our platform, our business, results of operations and financial condition may be materially and adversely affected.
Our platform enables users to upload content, post comments, interact with others and engage in various other online activities. As the gatekeeper for our platform, our content management system is designed to ensure both the quality and appropriateness of information presented to users, which include content and comment postings. We undertake an efficient and thorough screening process that involves both algorithm-based screening and manual review. We have also implemented a complaint procedure that enables us to identify bad content with our users’ help. However, such procedures may not prevent all illegal or inappropriate content or comments from being posted, and our staff may fail to review and screen such content or comments effectively. In response to allegations of illegal or inappropriate activities conducted through our platform or any negative media coverage about us, PRC government authorities may intervene and hold us liable and subject us to administrative penalties or other sanctions, such as requiring us to restrict or discontinue some of the features and services provided on our mobile application. As a result, our business may suffer and our user base, revenues and profitability may be materially and adversely affected, and the price of the ADSs may decline.
Additionally, we may be subject to fines or other disciplinary actions, including 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, including user generated content. Although we require content providers on our platform to promise that they will not infringe upon the intellectual property rights of third parties, such content may nevertheless be unauthorized and infringe upon others’ intellectual property, including copyrights, and we may not be able to detect and identify every instance of intellectual property infringement. See
“—Non-compliance
with law on the part of third parties with which we conduct business could disrupt our business and adversely affect results of our operation and financial condition” and “We may be subject to intellectual property infringement claims or other allegations by third parties for information or content displayed on, retrieved from or linked to our platform, or delivered to our users, which may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and prospects.” As a result, we may face claims for defamation, libel, negligence, copyright, patent or trademark infringement, other unlawful activities or other claims based on the nature and content of the information delivered on or otherwise accessed through our platform. Defending such actions could be costly and involve significant time and attention of our management and other resources, which would materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial conditions.
Our ability to prevent the misuse of our user loyalty programs while ensuring their efficacy in user acquisition and engagement will have a material effect as to our business, results of operations and financial condition.
To incentivize
word-of-mouth
viral referrals and improve user engagement and loyalty, our mobile applications have game-like features allowing users to earn loyalty points while enjoying the content and earn cash credit in some cases by participating in fun tasks. Registered users of our mobile applications can earn loyalty points if they become active users, refer others who later register and become active users, or engage in various activities while logged in. Accumulated loyalty points, if exceeding certain threshold, can be withdrawn by the user in the form of cash by directly crediting the user’s electronic wallet. We have the sole discretion in determining the withdraw threshold and the exchange rate between loyalty points and the monetary value available to be withdrawn. Our user loyalty programs have contributed significantly to the growth in our installed users and high user engagement. Although we believe consuming content, rather than earning loyalty points, is the main purpose for our registered users to use our mobile applications, we have nonetheless designed our loyalty programs to balance between their efficacy in user acquisition and engagement while preventing users from using our mobile applications merely for the loyalty points. Our inability to achieve such balance may make our user loyalty programs no longer becoming enticing to users, which may materially and adversely affect user growth and user engagement. Moreover, we cannot assure you that there will still be users who are only attracted to our mobile applications because of our user loyalty programs. We have mechanisms in place to prevent potential abuse of our user loyalty programs. For example, our system takes into account how fast the user scrolls down the page to determine whether the viewer has actually viewed the article and loyalty points are now provided on a per minute spent on viewing content basis. However, our system may not be able to detect all instances of abuse. Furthermore, although our loyalty programs are designed so that only a small amount of loyalty points is provided for taking any specific action with the aim to entice user referral and engagement, we cannot ensure you that there will not be users who will be able to hack our user loyalty programs to make earning loyalty points a highly lucrative endeavor. We have also focused on developing fraud detection technologies to combat fraudulent users and activities targeting our user loyalty programs and we cannot assure you that such system will be effective in identifying fraud. If we allow users to improperly earn loyalty points, our business, results of operations and financial condition may be materially and adversely affected. As clearly stated in our user agreement, we have the sole discretion in determining user misuse of our user loyalty programs, and we may freeze a user’s account if we find such user misused our user loyalty programs. Certain users that have their accounts frozen have complained online. Such complaints could undermine the public perception and credibility of our platform, and our business, results of operations and financial condition could be materially and adversely affected.
 
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Our results of operations may fluctuate from quarter to quarter, which makes them difficult to predict.
Our quarterly results of operations have fluctuated in the past and will continue to fluctuate in the future. As a result, our past quarterly results of operations are not necessarily indicators of future performance. Our results of operations in any given quarter can be influenced by numerous factors, many of which we are unable to predict or are outside of our control, including:
 
   
our ability to grow our user base and user engagement;
 
   
fluctuations in spending by our advertising customers, including as a result of seasonality or other factors;
 
   
our ability to attract and retain advertising customers;
 
   
the occurrence of planned or unplanned significant events, including events that may cause substantial share-based compensation or other charges;
 
   
the development and introduction of new content formats, products or services or changes in features of existing content formats, products or services;
 
   
the impact of competitors or competitive products and services;
 
   
increases in our costs and expenses that we may incur to grow and expand our operations and to remain competitive;
 
   
changes in the legal or regulatory environment or proceedings, including with respect to security, privacy or enforcement by government regulators, including fines, orders or consent decrees; and
 
   
changes in Chinese or global business or macroeconomic conditions.
Given our limited operating history and the rapidly evolving market in which we compete, our historical results of operations may not be sufficiently informative for you in predicting our future results of operations. Our short operating history and our rapid growth make it difficult for us to identify recurring seasonal trends in our business. The advertising industry in China experiences seasonality. Historically, advertising spending and user activities on our platform tend to be the lowest in the first quarter of each calendar year due to long holidays around the Lunar New Year, during which users tend to spend more time with family and celebrations offline and less time online, including on our mobile applications. In addition, advertising customers, such as those in the
e-commerce
industry, may also reduce its advertising spending during the holidays around the Lunar New Year due to reduced consumer spending or reduced or suspended production and logistics activities by manufacturers or other service providers. We believe this seasonality affects our quarterly results especially our results of operations in the first quarter of each year.
 
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We may be adversely affected by the complexity, uncertainties and changes in PRC regulation of Internet businesses and companies, including limitations on our ability to own key assets such as our mobile applications.
The Chinese government heavily regulates the Internet industry, including foreign investment in the Chinese Internet industry, content on the Internet and license and permit requirements for service providers in the Internet industry. Since some of the laws, regulations and legal requirements with respect to the Internet are relatively new and evolving, their interpretation and enforcement involve significant uncertainties. In addition, the Chinese legal system is based on written statutes, such that prior court decisions can only be cited for reference and have little precedential value. As a result, in many cases it is difficult to determine what actions or omissions may result in liabilities. Issues, risks and uncertainties relating to China’s government regulation of the Chinese Internet sector include the following:
 
   
We operate our mobile applications in China through businesses controlled via contractual arrangements versus direct ownership due to restrictions on foreign investment in businesses providing value-added telecommunication services, including substantially all of our paid services and advertising services.
 
   
Uncertainties relating to the regulation of the Internet business in China, including evolving licensing practices, give rise to the risk that some of our permits, licenses or operations may be subject to challenge, which may be disruptive to our business, subject us to sanctions or require us to increase capital, compromise the enforceability of relevant contractual arrangements, or have other adverse effects on us. The numerous and often vague restrictions on acceptable content in China subject us to potential civil and criminal liability, temporary blockage of our mobile applications or complete shut-down of our mobile applications. For example, the State Secrecy Bureau, which is directly responsible for the protection of state secrets of all Chinese government and Chinese Communist Party organizations, is authorized to block any website or mobile applications 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. In addition, the Law on Preservation of State Secrets which became effective on October 1, 2010 provides that whenever an Internet service provider detects any leakage of state secrets in the distribution of online information, it should stop the distribution of such information and report to the authorities of state security and public security. As per request of the authorities of state security, public security or state secrecy, the Internet service provider should delete any content on its website that may lead to disclosure of state secrets. Failure to do so on a timely and adequate basis may subject the service provider to liability and certain penalties imposed by the State Security Bureau, Ministry of Public Security and/or MIIT or their respective local counterparts.
 
   
On September 28, 2009, the General Administration of Press and Publication (the predecessor of GAPPRFT), or the GAPP, and the National Office of Combating Pornography and Illegal Publications jointly published a circular expressly prohibiting foreign investors from participating in Internet game operating business via wholly owned, equity joint venture or cooperative joint venture investments in China, and from controlling and participating in such businesses directly or indirectly through contractual or technical support arrangements. On February 4, 2016, the GAPPRFT and the MIIT jointly issued the
Rules for the Administration for Internet Publishing Services
, or the Internet Publishing Rules, which took effect in March 10, 2016 and prohibit wholly foreign-owned enterprises, Sino-foreign equity joint ventures and Sino-foreign cooperative enterprises from engaging in the provision of web publishing services. Under such rules, an Internet publishing license is required for a provider of online publications. Uncertainty remains regarding the interpretation of relevant concepts, including “online publications.” Although we have not been required by the SART or other relevant authorities to obtain an Internet publishing license so far, we may face further scrutiny by such authorities, which may require us to apply for such license and/or subject us to penalties. In addition, project cooperation between an Internet publishing service provider and a wholly foreign-owned enterprise, Sino-foreign equity joint venture, or Sino-foreign cooperative enterprise within China or an overseas organization or individual involving Internet publishing services shall be subject to examination and approval by the SART in advance.
Due to the increasing popularity and use of the Internet and other online services, it is possible that a number of laws and regulations may be adopted with respect to the Internet or other online services covering issues such as user privacy, pricing, content, copyrights, distribution, antitrust and characteristics and quality of products and services. The adoption of additional laws or regulations may impede the growth of the Internet or other online services, which could, in turn, decrease the demand for our products and services and increase our cost of doing business. Moreover, the applicability to the Internet and other online services of existing laws in various jurisdictions governing issues such as property ownership, sales and other taxes, libel and personal privacy is uncertain and may take years to resolve. Any new legislation or regulation, the application of laws and regulations from jurisdictions where laws do not currently apply to our business, or the application of existing laws and regulations to the Internet and other online services could significantly disrupt our operations or subject us to penalties.
The interpretation and application of existing PRC laws, regulations and policies, the stated positions of relevant PRC government authorities and possible new laws, regulations or policies have created substantial uncertainties regarding the legality of existing and future foreign investments in, and the businesses and activities of, Internet businesses in China, including our business.
 
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Non-compliance
with law on the part of third parties with which we conduct business could disrupt our business and adversely affect results of our operation and financial condition.
Third parties with which we conduct business, such as content providers, advertising agents, advertising customers and merchandise suppliers, may be subject to regulatory penalties or punishments because of their regulatory compliance failures or may be infringing upon other parties’ legal rights, which may, directly or indirectly, disrupt our business. Although we conduct review of legal formalities and certifications before entering into contractual relationships with third parties, and take measures to reduce the risks that we may be exposed to in case of any
non-compliance
by third parties, we cannot be certain whether such third party has violated any regulatory requirements or infringed or will infringe any other parties’ legal rights. For example, content providers may submit copyrighted content that they have no right to distribute. While our content management system screens content for potential copyright infringements, we may not be able to identify all instances of copyright infringement. In the event we deliver content that violates the copyrights of a third party, we may be required to pay damages to compensate such third party. Even though we have the contractual right to seek indemnification from the relevant content provider for such payment, there can be no assurance that we will be able to enforce such right. As a result, our business, results of operations and financial condition could be materially and adversely affected. Similarly, advertising content of advertising customers may also not be in full compliance with applicable laws and regulations that may have an adverse effect as to our business, results of operations and financial condition. See “— Advertisements on our mobile applications may subject us to penalties and other administrative actions.”
We cannot rule out the possibility of incurring liabilities or suffering losses due to any
non-compliance
by third parties. We cannot assure you that we will be able to identify irregularities or
non-compliance
in the business practices of third parties we conduct business with, or that such irregularities or
non-compliance
will be corrected in a prompt and proper manner. Any legal liabilities and regulatory actions affecting third parties involved in our business may affect our business activities and reputation, and may in turn affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
Privacy concerns relating to our products and services and the use of user information could damage our reputation, deter current and potential users and customers from using our mobile applications and negatively impact our business.
We collect personal data from our users in order to better understand our users and their needs and to help advertising customers target specific demographic groups. Through an automated process, we develop a social graph for each user based on such person’s profile, behavior and social relationships. Concerns about the collection, use, disclosure or security of personal information or other privacy-related matters, even if unfounded, could damage our reputation, cause us to lose users and customers and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition. While we strive to comply with applicable data protection laws and regulations, as well as our own posted privacy policies and other obligations we may have with respect to privacy and data protection, the failure or perceived failure to comply may result, and in some cases has resulted, in inquiries and other proceedings or actions against us by government agencies or others, as well as negative publicity and damage to our reputation and brand, each of which could cause us to lose users and customers, which could have an adverse effect on our business.
Any systems failure or compromise of our security that results in the unauthorized access to or release of our users’ or customers’ data could significantly limit the adoption of our products and services, as well as harm our reputation and brand and, therefore, our business. We expect to continue to expend significant resources to protect against security breaches. The risk that these types of events could seriously harm our business is likely to increase as we expand the number of products and services we offer and expand our user base.
New laws or regulations concerning data protection, or the interpretation and application of existing consumer and data protection laws or regulations, which is often uncertain and in flux, may be inconsistent with our practices. Complying with new laws and regulations could cause us to incur substantial costs or require us to change our business practices in a manner materially adverse to our business. For example, if privacy concerns or regulatory restrictions prevent us from selling demographically targeted advertising, we may become less attractive to advertising customers.
If we are unable to keep pace with rapid technological changes in the mobile Internet industries, our business may suffer.
The mobile content industry, and the Internet industry in general, are characterized by constant changes, including rapid technological evolution, continual shifts in customer demands, frequent introductions of new products and services and constant emergence of new industry standards and practices. Thus, our success will depend, in part, on our ability to respond to these changes in a cost-effective and timely manner. If we are unable to keep up with big data analysis, artificial intelligence and other technological developments, users may no longer be attracted to our platform. A decrease in the number of active users may reduce our monetization opportunities and have a material and adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.
 
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Our technological capabilities and infrastructure underlying our platform are critical to our success. The industry we operate in is subject to rapid technological changes and is evolving quickly in terms of technology innovation. We need to anticipate the emergence of new technologies and assess their market acceptance. We also need to invest significant resources, including financial resources, in research and development to keep pace with technological advances in order to make our products and services competitive in the market. However, development activities are inherently uncertain, and we might encounter practical difficulties in commercializing our development results. Our significant expenditures on research and development may not generate corresponding benefits. Given the fast pace with which the technology has been and will continue to be developed, we may not be able to timely upgrade our technologies in an efficient and cost-effective manner, or at all. New technologies in programming or operations could render our technologies, our platform or products or services that we are developing or expect to develop in the future obsolete or unattractive, thereby limiting our ability to recover related product development costs, outsourcing costs and licensing fees, which could result in a decline in our revenues and market share.
If our security measures are breached, or if our products and services are subject to attacks that degrade or deny the ability of users to access our products and services, our products and services may be perceived as not being secure, users may curtail or stop using our products and services and our business, results of operations and financial condition may be harmed.
Our products and services involve the storage and transmission of users’ information, and security breaches expose us to a risk of loss of this information, litigation and potential liability. We may experience cyber-attacks of varying degrees, including attempts to hack into our user accounts or redirect our user traffic to other websites. Functions that facilitate interactivity with other mobile applications, such as WeChat, which among other things allows users to log into our platform using their WeChat identities, could increase the scope of access of hackers to user accounts. Our security measures may also be breached due to employee error, malfeasance or otherwise. Additionally, outside parties may attempt to fraudulently induce employees or users to disclose sensitive information in order to gain access to our data or our users’ data or accounts, or may otherwise obtain access to such data or accounts. Any such breach or unauthorized access could result in significant legal and financial exposure, damage to our reputation and a loss of confidence in the security of our products and services that could have an adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition. Because the techniques used to obtain unauthorized access, disable or degrade service or sabotage systems change frequently and often are not recognized until launched against a target, we may be unable to anticipate these techniques or to implement adequate preventative measures. If an actual or perceived breach of our security occurs, the market perception of the effectiveness of our security measures could be harmed, we could lose users and we may be exposed to significant legal and financial risks, including legal claims and regulatory fines and penalties. Any of these actions could have a material and adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition.
We rely on third-party online payment platforms as to certain aspects of our operations.
Our users withdraw cash credits from their accounts on our mobile applications through third-party online payment systems. Our users also can use third-party online payment systems to supplement their spending on our mobile applications with additional funds. In such online payment transactions, secured transmission of confidential information such as customers’ personal information over public networks is essential to maintain consumer confidence.
We do not have control over the security measures of our third-party online payment platforms, and security breaches of the online payment systems that we use could expose us to litigation and possible liability for failing to secure confidential customer information and could, among other things, damage our reputation and the perceived security of all of the online payment systems that we use. If a well-publicized Internet or mobile network security breach were to occur, users concerned about the security of their online financial transactions may become reluctant to purchase our virtual items even if the publicized breach did not involve payment systems or methods used by us. In addition, there may be billing software errors that would damage customer confidence in these online payment systems. If any of the above were to occur and damage our reputation or the perceived security of the online payment systems we use, we lose active users, which may have an adverse effect on our business.
Furthermore, if any of the payment platforms we use decide to significantly increase the percentage they charge us for using their payment systems, our business, results of operations and financial condition may be materially and adversely affected.
Any change, disruption, discontinuity in the features and functions of major social networks could limit our ability to continue growing our user base, and our business may be materially and adversely affected.
We leverage social networks, such as WeChat and QQ, as part of our user acquisition and engagement effort. These social networks enable users to share content on our mobile applications or recommend our mobile applications to their friends, family and other social contacts to generate
low-cost
organic traffic and enhance user engagement for us. To the extent that we fail to leverage such social networks, our ability to attract or retain users may be harmed. If any of these social networks makes changes to its functions or support, or stops offering its functions or support to us, we may not be able to locate alternative social networks of similar scale to provide similar functions or support. Furthermore, we may fail to establish or maintain relationships with additional social network operators to support the growth of our business on economically viable terms, or at all. Any interruption to or discontinuation of our relationships with major social network operators may severely and negatively impact our ability to continue growing our user base, and any occurrence of the circumstances mentioned above may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
 
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Our business and growth could suffer if we are unable to hire and retain key personnel.
We depend on the continued contributions of our senior management and other key employees, many of whom are difficult to replace. The loss of the services of any of our executive officers or other key employees could harm our business. Competition for qualified talent in China is intense. Our future success is dependent on our ability to attract a significant number of qualified employees and retain existing key employees. If we are unable to do so, our business and growth may be materially and adversely affected and the trading price of the ADSs could suffer. Our need to significantly increase the number of our qualified employees and retain key employees may cause us to materially increase compensation-related costs, including share-based compensation.
We are also dependent on the services of Mr. Eric Siliang Tan, our
co-founder,
chairman and chief executive officer. Although Mr. Tan spends significant time with us and is active in the management of our business, he does not devote his full time and attention to us. If Mr. Tan reduces his time with us in the future and become less involved with the management of our business, we may no longer benefit from his extensive industry experience and our business and growth may suffer.
Our
co-founder,
chairman and chief executive officer, Mr. Eric Siliang Tan, has control over us and our corporate matters. Our dual-class voting structure will limit your ability to influence corporate matters and could discourage others from pursuing any change of control transactions that holders of our Class A ordinary shares and ADSs may view as beneficial.
We have a dual-class share structure which consists of Class A ordinary shares and Class B ordinary shares. In respect of matters requiring the votes of shareholders, holders of Class B ordinary shares are entitled to ten (10) votes per share, subject to certain conditions, while holders of Class A ordinary shares are entitled to one vote per share. Each Class B ordinary share is convertible into one Class A ordinary share at any time by the holder thereof, while Class A ordinary shares are not convertible into Class B ordinary shares under any circumstances. Upon any transfer of Class B ordinary shares by a holder to any person or entity which is not an affiliate of such holder, each of such Class B ordinary shares shall be converted into one Class A ordinary share in accordance with our amended and restated memorandum and articles of association.
Our
co-founder,
chairman and chief executive officer, Mr. Eric Siliang Tan, has control over us and our corporate matters. Mr. Tan beneficially owns 27,123,442 of our Class B ordinary shares through Innotech Group Holdings Ltd., a British Virgin Islands limited liability company which is ultimately controlled by him. As of the date of this annual report on Form
20-F,
these Class B ordinary shares constituted approximately 35.8% of our total issued and outstanding share capital and 72.9% of the aggregate voting power of our total issued and outstanding share capital due to the disparate voting powers associated with our dual-class share structure. See “Item 6. Directors, Senior Management and Employees — C. Share Ownership.” As a result of the dual-class share structure and the concentration of ownership, Mr. Tan has considerable influence over matters such as decisions regarding mergers, consolidations and the sale of all or substantially all of our assets, election of directors and other significant corporate actions. This concentrated control will limit your ability to influence corporate matters and could also discourage others from pursuing any potential merger, takeover or other change of control transactions, which could have the effect of depriving the holders of our ordinary shares and the ADSs of the opportunity to sell their shares at a premium over the prevailing market price.
We are a “controlled company” under the rules of NASDAQ Global Select Market and, as a result, we rely on exemptions from certain corporate governance requirements that provide protection to shareholders of other companies.
We are a “controlled company” as defined under the NASDAQ Stock Market Rules because Mr. Eric Siliang Tan holds more than 50% of the aggregate voting power of our company. For so long as we remain a controlled company under that definition, we are permitted to elect to rely, and will rely, on certain exemptions from corporate governance rules, including an exemption from the rule that a majority of our board of directors must be independent directors. As a result, you do not have the same protection afforded to shareholders of companies that are subject to these corporate governance requirements.
We have incurred and may continue to incur substantial share-based compensation expenses.
We have adopted an equity incentive plan that permits the grant of share options, restricted shares, restricted share units, dividend equivalents, share appreciation rights and share payments as equity-based awards, to our directors, officers, employees and consultants. The equity incentive plan replaced the 2017 equity incentive plan and 2018 equity incentive plan that we previously adopted in their entirety and assumed all awards granted under these two plans. The maximum aggregate number of ordinary shares that may be issued pursuant to all share options and other awards under our equity incentive plan was initially 12,464,141 Class A ordinary shares. On March 5, 2019, the Company increased the aggregate number of Class A ordinary shares reserved for issuance pursuant to awards granted under the equity incentive plan by 3.5% of the total number of Class A ordinary shares and Class B ordinary shares outstanding as of December 31, 2018. On every January 1 thereafter for four years, the aggregate number of Class A ordinary shares reserved and available for issuance pursuant to awards granted under the equity incentive plan will be increased by 2.0% of the total number of Class A ordinary shares and Class B ordinary shares outstanding on December 31 of the preceding calendar year. As of the date of this annual report on Form
20-F,
options to purchase 8,350,697 Class A ordinary shares had been granted and were outstanding under our equity incentive plan. We are required to account for options granted to our employees, directors and consultants. We are required to classify options granted to our employees, directors and consultants as equity awards and recognize share-based compensation expense based on the fair value of such share options, with the share-based compensation expense recognized over the period in which the recipient is required to provide service in exchange for the share option or other equity award.
 
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On January 3, 2018, entities respectively controlled by our
co-founders
Mr. Eric Siliang Tan and Mr. Lei Li entered into share restriction deeds with us, pursuant to which a total of 15,937,500 ordinary shares beneficially owned by such
co-founders
became restricted shares. 12,187,500 of such restricted shares are beneficially owned by Mr. Eric Siliang Tan and were to be vested in a period over 34 months. 3,750,000 of such restricted shares are beneficially owned by Mr. Lei Li and were to be vested in a period over 24 months. These share restriction deeds were terminated, and all remaining restricted shares were vested, upon the completion of our initial public offering in September 2018. For accounting purposes, this transaction has been reflected retrospectively similar to a reverse stock split, with a grant of 15,937,500 restricted shares recognized in January 2018 at their then fair value of approximately RMB864.7 million and recognized as compensation expense over the vesting periods. For further information, see “Item 6. Directors, Senior Management and Employees — B. Compensation — Equity Incentive Plans — Share Restriction Deeds.” In 2018, 2019 and 2020, RMB951.6 million, RMB272.0 million and RMB463.2 million (US$71.0 million) was recognized as share-based compensation expenses, respectively.
We believe the granting of share-based compensation is of significant importance to our ability to attract, retain and motivate our management team and talented employees, and we will continue to grant share-based compensation to employees in the future. As a result, our expenses associated with share-based compensation may increase significantly, which may have an adverse effect on our results of operations and financial condition. See “Item 5. Operating and Financial Review and Prospects — A. Operating Results — Critical Accounting Policies — Share-based Compensation.”
Future investments in and acquisitions of complementary assets, technologies and businesses may fail and may result in equity or earnings dilution.
We may invest in or acquire assets, technologies and businesses that are complementary to our existing business. Our investments or acquisitions may not yield the results we expect. In addition, investments and acquisitions could result in the use of substantial amounts of cash, potentially dilutive issuances of equity securities, significant amortization expenses related to goodwill or intangible assets and exposure to potential unknown liabilities of the acquired business. Furthermore, if such goodwill or intangible assets become impaired, we may be required to record a significant charge to our results of operations. Such investments and acquisitions may also require our management team to devote a significant amount of attention. Moreover, the cost of identifying and consummating investments and acquisitions, and integrating the acquired businesses into ours, may be significant, and the integration of acquired businesses may be disruptive to our existing business operations. In addition, we may have to obtain approval from the relevant PRC governmental authorities for the investments and acquisitions and comply with any applicable PRC rules and regulations, which may be costly. In the event our investments and acquisitions are not successful, our results of operations and financial condition may be materially and adversely affected.
We may not be able to adequately protect our intellectual property, which could cause us to be less competitive.
We regard our intellectual property as critical to our success. Such intellectual property includes trademarks, patents, domain names, copyrights,
know-how
and proprietary technologies. We currently rely on trademarks, copyrights, trade secret law and confidentiality, invention assignment and
non-compete
agreements with our employees and others to protect our proprietary rights. See “Item 4. Information on the Company — B. Business Overview — Intellectual Property” and “Item 4. Information on the Company — C. Regulations — Regulations Related to Intellectual Property Rights.” However, we cannot assure you that any of our intellectual property rights would not be challenged, invalidated or circumvented, or such intellectual property will be sufficient to provide us with competitive advantages. One of our competitors previously filed an objection when we applied for the trademark registration for “Qutoutiao” on the purported ground that “Qutoutiao” is similar to a trademark registered by such competitor. Although such objection was denied by the Trademark Office and we have successfully registered trademark for “Qutoutiao” in 2019, we have received a verdict in which the Trademark Office partially supported such competitor’s subsequent challenge against the validity of this registered trademark. We have brought an administrative proceeding against the Trademark Office to dispute the verdict. In addition, our application for the trademark of “Midu Novels” was denied by the Trademark Office on the ground that “Midu Novels” was similar to an existing registered trademark on April 18, 2018. We have purchased that existing trademark and appealed to the Higher People’s Court of Beijing, which recently made a judgment requiring the Trademark Office to reconsider the application of our trademark. As of the date of this annual report, our application for the trademark of “Midu Novels” has not been approved yet.
 
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We will use our best efforts to maintain, protect and enforce our intellectual property rights. However, there can be no assurance that we will always prevail and our trademarks and other intellectual property will be fully protected. In addition, other parties may misappropriate our intellectual property rights, which would cause us to suffer economic or reputational damages. Because of the rapid pace of technological change, nor can we assure you that all of our proprietary technologies and similar intellectual property can be patented in a timely or cost-effective manner, or at all. Furthermore, parts of our business rely on technologies developed or licensed by other parties, or
co-developed
with other parties, and we may not be able to obtain or continue to obtain licenses and technologies from these other parties on reasonable terms, or at all.
It is often difficult to register, maintain and enforce intellectual property rights in China. 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. Confidentiality, invention assignment and
non-compete
agreements may be breached by counterparties, and there may not be adequate remedies available to us for any such breach. Accordingly, we may not be able to effectively protect our intellectual property rights or to enforce our contractual rights in China. Preventing any unauthorized use of our intellectual property is difficult and costly and the steps we take may be inadequate to prevent the misappropriation of our intellectual property. In the event that we resort to litigation to enforce our intellectual property rights, such litigation could result in substantial costs and a diversion of our managerial and financial resources. We can provide no assurance that we will prevail in such litigation. In addition, our trade secrets may be leaked or otherwise become available to, or be independently discovered by, our competitors. To the extent that our employees or consultants use intellectual property owned by others in their work for us, disputes may arise as to the rights in related
know-how
and inventions. Any failure in protecting or enforcing our intellectual property rights could materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
We may be subject to intellectual property infringement claims or other allegations by third parties for information or content displayed on, retrieved from or linked to our platform, or delivered to our users, which may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and prospects.
We may be subject to intellectual property infringement claims or other allegations by third parties for products or services on our platform, which may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and prospects.
Companies in the Internet, technology and media industries are frequently involved in litigation based on allegations of infringement of intellectual property rights, unfair competition, invasion of privacy, defamation and other violations of other parties’ rights. The validity, enforceability and scope of protection of intellectual property rights in Internet-related industries, particularly in China, are uncertain and still evolving. As we face increasing competition and as litigation becomes more common in China in resolving commercial disputes, we face a higher risk of being the subject of intellectual property infringement claims.
We allow content providers to upload texts, images and videos on our platform. We have procedures designed to reduce the likelihood that content might be used without proper licenses or third-party consents. However, these procedures may not be effective in preventing the unauthorized posting of copyrighted content. We may face liability for copyright or trademark infringement, defamation, unfair competition, libel, negligence, and other claims based on the nature and content of the materials that are delivered, shared or otherwise accessed through our platform.
Defending intellectual property litigation is costly and can impose a significant burden on our management and employees, and there can be no assurances that favorable final outcomes will be obtained in all cases. Such claims, even if they do not result in liability, may harm our reputation. Any resulting liability or expenses, or changes required to our platform to reduce the risk of future liability, may materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and prospects.
If we fail to implement and maintain an effective system of internal control, we may be unable to accurately or timely report our results of operations or prevent fraud, and investor confidence and the market price of the ADSs may be materially and adversely affected.
We are subject to the reporting requirements of the Exchange Act, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the rules and regulations of the NASDAQ Global Select Market. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act requires, among other things, that we maintain effective disclosure controls and procedures and internal control over financial reporting. We must perform system and process evaluation and testing of our internal control over financial reporting to allow management to report on the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting in our Form
20-F,
as required by Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
 
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Our management is responsible for establishing and maintaining adequate internal control over financial reporting (as defined in Rules 13a-15(f) under the Exchange Act). Our internal control system was designed to provide reasonable assurance regarding the reliability of financial reporting and the preparation and fair presentation of its published consolidated financial statements. All internal control systems, no matter how well designed, have inherent limitations. Therefore, even those systems determined to be effective may not prevent or detect misstatements and can provide only reasonable assurance with respect to financial statement preparation and presentation. Also, projections of any evaluation of effectiveness to future periods are subject to the risk that controls may become inadequate because of changes in conditions, or that the degree of compliance with the policies or procedures may deteriorate. As required by Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 and related rules promulgated by the Securities and Exchange Commission, our management conducted an assessment of the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2020. In making this assessment, it used the criteria established within the Internal Control—Integrated Framework (2013) issued by the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO). Based on this assessment, our management has concluded that, as of December 31, 2020, our internal control over financial reporting was ineffective due to the material weakness identified below.
In accordance with reporting requirements set forth by the SEC, a “material weakness” is a deficiency, or a combination of deficiencies, in internal control over financial reporting, such that there is a reasonable possibility that a material misstatement of our company’s annual or interim consolidated financial statements will not be prevented or detected on a timely basis. The material weakness, which was first identified in the course of preparing our consolidated financial statements for the year ended December 31, 2017, relates to the lack of sufficient financial reporting and accounting personnel with appropriate knowledge of U.S. GAAP and SEC reporting requirements to formalize key controls over financial reporting and to prepare consolidated financial statements and related disclosures.
To remedy our previously identified material weakness, we have undertaken and will continue to undertake steps to strengthen our internal control over financial reporting, including: (i) hiring more qualified resources including financial controller, equipped with relevant U.S. GAAP and SEC reporting experience and qualifications to strengthen the financial reporting function and to set up a financial and system control framework, (ii) implementing regular and continuous U.S. GAAP accounting and financial reporting training programs for our accounting and financial reporting personnel, (iii) establishing effective oversight and clarifying reporting requirements for non-recurring and complex transactions to ensure consolidated financial statements and related disclosures are accurate, complete and in compliance with SEC reporting requirements, and (iv) enhancing an internal audit function as well as engaging an external consulting firm to help us assess our compliance readiness under rule 13a-15 of the Exchange Act and improve overall internal control. However, such measures have not been fully implemented and we concluded that the material weakness in our internal control over financial reporting had not been remediated as of December 31, 2020.
Since we qualified as an “emerging growth company” as defined under the JOBS Act as of December 31, 2020, this annual report on Form 20-F does not include an attestation report of our independent registered public accounting firm. Once we cease to be an “emerging growth company” as the term is defined in the JOBS Act, our independent registered public accounting firm must attest to and report on the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting. In the future, our management may conclude that our internal control over financial reporting is still not effective. Moreover, even if our management concludes that our internal control over financial reporting is effective, our independent registered public accounting firm, after conducting its own independent testing, may not reach the same conclusion. In addition, our reporting obligations may place a significant strain on our management, operational and financial resources and systems for the foreseeable future. We may be unable to timely complete our evaluation testing and any required remediation.
Our internal control over financial reporting will not prevent or detect all errors and all fraud. A control system, no matter how well designed and operated, can provide only reasonable, not absolute, assurance that the control system’s objectives will be met. Because of the inherent limitations in all control systems, no evaluation of controls can provide absolute assurance that misstatements due to error or fraud will not occur or that all control issues and instances of fraud will be detected.
If we are unable to implement and maintain proper and effective internal control, we may not be able to produce timely and accurate financial statements. If that were to happen, the market price of the ADSs could decline and we could be subject to sanctions or investigations by the NASDAQ Global Select Market, SEC or other regulatory authorities.
 
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The discontinuation of any of the preferential tax treatments available to us in China could materially and adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.
Under PRC tax laws and regulations, Shanghai Jifen Culture Communications Co., Ltd., or Shanghai Jifen, one of our consolidated VIEs, is qualified to enjoy, certain preferential income tax benefits. The modified Enterprise Income Tax Law, effective on December 29, 2018, or the EIT Law, and its implementation rules generally impose a uniform income tax rate of 25% on all enterprises, but grant preferential treatment to “high and new technology enterprises strongly supported by the state”, or HNTEs, to enjoy a reduced enterprise tax rate of 15%. According to the relevant administrative measures, to qualify as a “HNTE”, Shanghai Jifen must meet certain financial and
non-financial
criteria and complete verification procedures with the administrative authorities. Continued qualification as a “HNTE” is subject to review by the relevant government authorities in China once every three years, and in practice certain local tax authorities also require annual evaluation of the qualification. In addition to the foregoing tax benefit, Shanghai Jifen and Shanghai Chenxing Software Technology Co., Ltd, or Shanghai Chenxing, a subsidiary of Shanghai Quyun, are both qualified to enjoy certain preferential value-added tax benefits, according to the Notice on Value-added Tax Policies for Software Products issued by the Ministry of Finance, or the MOF, and the State Administration of Taxation, or the SAT, on October 13, 2011. Apart from that, Shanghai Jifen obtained the certificate of Qualified Software Enterprise and Shanghai Chenxing were
pre-approved
for such certificate on January 19, 2021. Once meeting other criteria, Shanghai Jifen and Shanghai Chenxing (upon obtaining the certificate) will be qualified to enjoy certain preferential enterprise income tax benefits, according to relevant rules including, the Notice on Enterprise Income Tax Policies for Further Encouraging the Development of Software and Integrated Circuit Industries issued by the MOF and the SAT on April 20, 2012, Notice on Relevant Issues concerning Preferential Enterprise Income Tax Policies for Enterprises in Software and Integrated Circuit Industries issued by the MOF, the SAT, the National Development and Reform Commission, or the NDRC, and the MIIT, and Announcement on the Enterprise Income Tax Policies for Promoting the High-quality Development of the Integrated Circuit Industry and the Software Industry jointly issued by the MOF, the SAT, the NDRC and the MIIT on December 11, 2020. In the event the preferential tax treatments for Shanghai Jifen are discontinued or are not verified by the local tax authorities, and the affected entity fails to obtain preferential tax treatments based on other qualifications such as Advanced Technology Service Enterprise, it will become subject to the standard tax rates and policies, including the PRC enterprise income tax rate of 25%. We cannot assure you that the tax authorities will not, in the future, discontinue any of our preferential tax treatments, potentially with retroactive effect.
User growth and engagement depend upon effective interoperation with operating systems, networks, devices and major mobile application distribution channels that we do not control.
We make our products and services available across a variety of mobile operating systems and through major mobile application distribution channels, namely app stores. We are dependent on the interoperability of our products and services with popular devices and mobile operating systems that we do not control, such as Android and iOS. We are also dependent on users’ ability to find and download our mobile applications through app stores operated by third parties, such as the Apple App Store and app stores operated by mobile phone manufacturers in China such as Huawei, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi.
Any changes in such operating systems, devices or mobile application distribution channels that degrade the functionality of our products and services or give preferential treatment to competitive products or services could adversely affect usage of our products and services. Further, if the number of platforms for which we develop our products increases, it will result in an increase in our costs and expenses. In order to deliver high-quality products and services, it is important that our products and services work well with a range of mobile operating systems and devices which we do not control. The various app stores also have their own rules and requirements that our mobile applications need to comply with for them to be included in the respective app stores. Such rules and requirements may change from time to time. There are no assurances that our mobile applications will be able to continue to meet these rules and requirements, which may result in their removal from the relevant app stores. Compliance with these rules and requirements may also prove to be costly or require change to the functionality of our mobile applications that may make them less desirable to users. We may not be successful in developing relationships with key participants in the mobile Internet industry or in developing products or services that operate effectively with these mobile operating systems, devices and mobile application distribution channels. In the event it is difficult for our users to access and use our products and services on their mobile devices, our user growth and user engagement could be harmed, and our business, results of operations and financial condition could be adversely affected.
Our operations depend on the performance of the Internet infrastructure and fixed telecommunications networks in China.
Almost all access to the Internet in China is maintained through state-owned telecommunication operators under the administrative control and regulatory supervision of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, or the MIIT. Moreover, we primarily rely on a limited number of telecommunication service providers to provide us with data communications capacity through local telecommunications lines and Internet data centers to host our servers. We have limited access to alternative networks or services in the event of disruptions, failures or other problems with China’s Internet infrastructure or the fixed telecommunications networks provided by telecommunication service providers. Internet traffic in China has experienced significant growth during the past few years. Effective bandwidth and server storage at Internet data centers in large cities such as Shanghai are scarce. With the expansion of our business, we may be required to upgrade our technology and infrastructure to keep up with the increasing traffic on our platform. We cannot assure you that the Internet infrastructure and the fixed telecommunications networks in China will be able to support the demands associated with the continued growth in Internet usage. If we are unable to increase our online content and service delivering capacity accordingly, we may not be able to continuously grow our traffic, and the adoption of our products and services may be hindered, which could adversely impact our business and our share price.
 
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In addition, we have no control over the costs of the services provided by telecommunication service providers. Our information technology infrastructure cost increased as a result of we enriching our product offerings to include more engaging contents such as short videos, games and live-streaming. If the prices we pay for telecommunications and Internet services rise significantly, our business, results of operations and financial condition may be materially and adversely affected. Furthermore, if mobile Internet access fees or other charges to mobile Internet users increase, some users may be prevented from accessing the mobile Internet and thus cause the growth of mobile Internet users to decelerate. Such deceleration may adversely affect our ability to continue to expand our user base and increase our attractiveness to online customers.
Our business, results of operations and financial condition may be harmed by service disruptions, or by our failure to timely and effectively scale and adapt our existing technology and infrastructure.
We may experience service disruptions, outages and other performance problems due to a variety of factors, including infrastructure changes, human or software errors, hardware failure, capacity constraints due to an overwhelming number of people accessing our products and services simultaneously, computer viruses and denial of service, fraud and security attacks. Any disruption or failure in our infrastructure could hinder our ability to handle existing or increased traffic on our platform or cause us to lose content stored on our platform, which could significantly harm our business and our ability to retain existing users and attract new users.
As the number of our users increases and our users generate increasing volumes of user generated videos on our platform, and as we continue to diversify into new content formats, we may be required to expand and adapt our technology and infrastructure to continue to reliably store, analyze and deliver content. It may become increasingly difficult to maintain and improve the performance of our products and services, especially during peak usage times, as our products and services become more complex and our user traffic increases. In addition, because we lease our data center facilities, we cannot be assured that we will be able to expand our data center infrastructure to meet users’ demand in a timely manner, or on favorable economic terms. If our users are unable to access any of our mobile applications or we are not able to make information available rapidly on any of our mobile applications, or at all, users may become frustrated and seek other channels for their light entertainment needs, and may not return to our mobile applications or use our mobile applications as often in the future, or at all. This would negatively impact our ability to attract users and maintain high level of user engagement as well as our ability to attract advertising customers.
Legal or administrative proceedings or allegations of impropriety against us or our management could have a material adverse impact on our reputation, results of operation and financial condition.
We and members of our management may be subject to allegations or lawsuits brought by our competitors, individuals, government and regulatory authorities or other persons in the future. Any such lawsuit or allegation, with or without merit, or any perceived unfair, unethical, fraudulent or inappropriate business practice by us or perceived wrong-doing by any key member of our management team could harm our reputation and cause our user base to decline and distract our management from
day-to-day
operations of our company. We cannot assure you that we or key members of our management team will not be subject to lawsuits or allegations of a similar nature in the future. Where we can make a reasonable estimate of the liability relating to pending litigation and determine that an adverse liability resulting from such litigation is probable, we will record a related contingent liability. As additional information becomes available, we will assess the potential liability and revise estimates as appropriate. In 2018, 2019 and 2020, we did not record any contingent liabilities relating to pending litigation. However, Shanghai Jifen was named as the defendant in a lawsuit on January 20, 2020 on advertising dispute for breaching an agreement and the plaintiff sought a total payment of RMB103.2 million (US$14.9 million). On August 20, 2020, we and certain of our current and former directors and officers were named as defendants in a putative shareholder class action lawsuit filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. This action is brought on behalf of a putative class of persons who purchased or acquired our securities pursuant or traceable to our September 2018 initial public offering or April 2019 secondary public offering, or otherwise acquired our securities between September 14, 2018 and December 16, 2020 (the “Putative Class Period”). The complaint alleges violations of Sections 11, 12(a)(2), and 15 of the Securities Act of 1933, Sections 10(b) and 20(a) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, and Rule 10b-5 promulgated thereunder based on alleged materially false or misleading statements or omissions in offering documents and/or issued throughout the Putative Class Period. Lead Plaintiff was appointed, and a consolidated amended complaint was filed on January 15, 2021. We filed a motion to dismiss such amended complaint on March 16, 2021. For a detailed description of these cases, please refer to “Item 8. Financial Information — A. Consolidated Statement and other Financial Information — Legal and Administrative Proceedings”.
When we record or revise our estimates of contingent liabilities in the future, the amount of our estimates may be inaccurate due to the inherent uncertainties relating to litigation. In addition, the outcomes of actions we institute against third parties may not be successful or favorable to us. Litigation and allegations against us or any of our management members, irrespective of their veracity, may also generate negative publicity that significantly harms our reputation, which may materially and adversely affect our user base and our ability to attract content providers and advertising customers. In addition to the related cost, managing and defending litigation and related indemnity obligations can significantly divert our management and the board of directors’ attention from operating our business. We may also need to pay damages or settle the litigation with a substantial amount of cash. All of these could have a material adverse impact on our reputation, results of operation and financial condition.
 
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We may not have fully paid certain fees and surcharges in the past. As such, we may be subject to further scrutiny by the PRC tax authorities that may result in a finding which may subject us to additional taxes, fees and surcharges and fines or other penalties.
According to the Circular on Issues Relating to Cultural Undertaking Development Fee Policies and Administration of Levying and Collection Relating to Levying VAT in place of Business Tax, which was issued by the Ministry of Finance and the SAT, on March 28, 2016, or Circular 25, the provision of advertising services by advertising media agencies and outdoor advertisement business operators (including entities engaging in distribution, screening, promotion and exhibition of outdoor advertisements and other advertisements, as well as entities engaging in advertisement agency services) in China is subject to a cultural development fee. The fee was charged at an applicable rate of 3% of the net advertising revenues prior to June 30, 2019, which was reduced to 1.5% commencing on July 1, 2019, according to a preferential tax policy issued on June 12, 2019 by the government of Shanghai. The preferential policy is said to be in effect until December 31, 2024. The net advertising revenues refer to, as specified in Circular 25, the balance after deducting advertisement distribution fee paid to other advertising company or advertisement distributor, from the total tax inclusive price and out of pocket expenses obtained from provision of advertising and marketing services. Historically, we did not pay cultural development fee and surcharges for the part of our revenue that we did not consider as revenues from advertising services subject to Circular 25. Pursuant to the Announcement on the Supporting Tax and Fee Policy for Film Industry and Other Industries issued by MOF and SAT on May 13, 2020, the cultural development fee was waived from January 1, 2020 till December 31, 2020. Pursuant to the Announcement on the Extension of Certain Tax Preferential Policies in Response to COVID-19 Epidemic, the exemption period of the cultural development fee was extended till December 31, 2021. Although we have not been challenged by the tax authorities so far
,
we may face further scrutiny by the PRC tax authorities that may result in a conclusion that subjects us to additional taxes, fees and surcharges and substantially increases our taxes owed, thereby materially and adversely affecting our results of operations. As a result of not making adequate contributions, we may also be subject to fines or other penalties imposed by the relevant authorities pursuant to applicable laws and regulations.
A severe or prolonged downturn in the Chinese or global economy could materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
Any prolonged slowdown in the Chinese or global economy may have a negative impact on our business, results of operations and financial condition. In particular, general economic factors and conditions in China or worldwide, including the general interest rate environment and unemployment rates, may affect advertising customers’ willingness to advertise or consumers’ willingness to spend on entertainment. Economic conditions in China are sensitive to global economic conditions. The global financial markets have experienced significant disruptions since 2008 and the United States, Europe and other economies have experienced periods of recession. The recovery from the lows of 2008 and 2009 has been uneven and is facing new challenges, including the escalation of the European sovereign debt crisis from 2011 and the slowdown of the Chinese economy since 2012. There is considerable uncertainty over the long-term effects of the expansionary monetary and fiscal policies adopted by the central banks and financial authorities of some of the world’s leading economies, including the United States and China. There have been concerns over unrest in North Korea, Ukraine, the Middle East and Africa, which have resulted in volatility in financial and other markets. There have also been concerns over the expected withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union as well as concerns about the economic effect of the tensions in the relationship between the United States, China and neighboring Asian countries. If present Chinese and global economic uncertainties persist, we may have difficulty in attracting advertising customers or spending by consumers on entertainment. Additionally, continued turbulence in the international markets may adversely affect our ability to access the capital markets to meet liquidity needs.
We have limited business insurance coverage.
Insurance companies in China currently do not offer as extensive an array of insurance products as are offered by insurance companies in more developed economies. We do not have any business liability or disruption insurance coverage for our operations. Any uninsured business disruptions may result in our incurring substantial costs and diversion of resources, which could have an adverse effect on our results of operations and financial condition.
Risks Relating to Our Corporate Structure
We rely on contractual arrangements with our consolidated VIEs and their respective shareholders to operate our business, which may not be as effective as direct ownership in providing operational control and otherwise materially and adversely affect our business.
We rely on contractual arrangements with our consolidated VIEs and their respective shareholders to operate our business. For a description of these contractual arrangements, see “Item 4. — Information on the Company — D. Organizational Structure — Contractual Arrangements among Our WFOEs, Our Consolidated VIEs and Their Respective Shareholders.” The majority of our revenue is attributed to our consolidated VIEs and their subsidiaries. These contractual arrangements may not be as effective as direct ownership in providing us with control over our consolidated VIEs. If our consolidated VIEs or their respective shareholders fail to perform their respective obligations under these contractual arrangements, our recourse to the assets held by our consolidated VIEs is indirect and we may have to incur substantial costs and expend significant resources to enforce such arrangements in reliance on legal remedies under PRC law. These remedies may not always be effective, particularly in light of uncertainties in the PRC legal system. Furthermore, in connection with litigation, arbitration or other judicial or dispute resolution proceedings, assets under the name of any of record holder of equity interest in our consolidated VIEs, including such equity interest, may be put under court custody. As a consequence, we cannot be certain that the equity interest will be disposed pursuant to the contractual arrangement or ownership by the record holder of the equity interest.
 
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All of these contractual arrangements are governed by PRC law and provide for the resolution of disputes through arbitration in the PRC. Accordingly, these contracts would be interpreted in accordance with PRC laws and any disputes would be resolved in accordance with PRC legal procedures. The legal environment in the PRC is not as developed as in other jurisdictions, such as the U.S. As a result, uncertainties in the PRC legal system could limit our ability to enforce these contractual arrangements. In the event that we are unable to enforce these contractual arrangements, or if we suffer significant time delays or other obstacles in the process of enforcing these contractual arrangements, it would be very difficult to exert effective control over our consolidated VIEs, and our ability to conduct our business and our results of operations and financial condition may be materially and adversely affected. See “— Risks Relating to Doing Business in China — There are uncertainties regarding the interpretation and enforcement of PRC laws, rules and regulations.”
The arbitration provisions under these contractual arrangements have no effect on the rights of our shareholders to pursue claims against us under United States federal securities laws.
Furthermore, in connection with the share purchase agreement entered into with Shanghai Dongfang Newspaper Co., Ltd. and its subsidiaries, or collectively, The Paper, Shanghai Jifen has issued equity interests representing 1% of its enlarged share capital to Shanghai Xinpai Management Consulting Co., Ltd., or Shanghai Xinpai, an affiliate of The Paper, at a nominal price. However, Shanghai Xinpai is not a party to the contractual arrangements that are currently entered into among Shanghai Quyun Internet Technology Co., Ltd., or Shanghai Quyun, and Shanghai Jifen and its shareholders. As such, despite the fact that we are still able to enjoy economic benefits and exercise effective control over Shanghai Jifen and its subsidiaries, in contrast to what we have been granted by other shareholders of Shanghai Jifen under the contractual arrangements, we are unable to purchase or have Shanghai Xinpai pledge such 1% equity interests in the same manner as agreed under existing contractual arrangements, nor have we been granted the authorization of voting rights over these 1% equity interests. We believe Shanghai Quyun, our wholly-owned PRC subsidiary, still controls and is the primary beneficiary of Shanghai Jifen as it continues to have a controlling financial interest in Shanghai Jifen pursuant to ASC
810-10-25-38A.
See “Item 4. Information on the Company — D. Organizational Structure — Contractual Arrangements among Our WFOEs, Our Consolidated VIEs and Their Respective Shareholders — Supplemental Agreement to the Contractual Arrangements in Connection with The Paper.”
Any failure by our consolidated VIEs or their respective shareholders to perform their obligations under our contractual arrangements with them would materially and adversely affect our business.
We, through two of our subsidiaries and wholly foreign-owned enterprises in the PRC, have entered into a series of contractual arrangements with our consolidated VIEs and their respective shareholders. For a description of these contractual arrangements, see “Item 4. Information on the Company — D. Organizational Structure — Contractual Arrangements among Our WFOEs, Our VIEs and Their Respective Shareholders.” If our consolidated VIEs or their respective shareholders fail to perform their respective obligations under these contractual arrangements, we may incur substantial costs and expend additional resources to enforce such arrangements. We may also have to rely on legal remedies under PRC laws, including seeking specific performance or injunctive relief, and claiming damages, which we cannot assure you will be effective under PRC laws. For example, if the shareholders of our consolidated VIEs were to refuse to transfer their equity interests in the consolidated VIEs to us or our designee when we exercise the purchase option pursuant to these contractual arrangements, or if they were otherwise to act in bad faith toward us, then we may have to take legal actions to compel them to perform their contractual obligations.
All the agreements under our contractual arrangements are governed by PRC laws and provide for the resolution of disputes through arbitration in China. Accordingly, these contracts would be interpreted in accordance with PRC laws and any disputes would be resolved in accordance with PRC legal procedures. The legal system in the PRC is not as developed as in some other jurisdictions, such as the United States. As a result, uncertainties in the PRC legal system could limit our ability to enforce these contractual arrangements. Meanwhile, there are very few precedents and little formal guidance as to how contractual arrangements in the context of a VIE should be interpreted or enforced under PRC laws. There remain significant uncertainties regarding the ultimate outcome of such arbitration should legal action become necessary. In addition, under PRC laws, rulings by arbitrators are final and parties cannot appeal arbitration results in court unless such rulings are revoked or determined unenforceable by a competent court. If the losing parties fail to carry out the arbitration awards within a prescribed time limit, the prevailing parties may only enforce the arbitration awards in PRC courts through arbitration award recognition proceedings, which would require additional expenses and delay. In the event that we are unable to enforce these contractual arrangements, or if we suffer significant delay or other obstacles in the process of enforcing these contractual arrangements, we may not be able to exert effective control over our consolidated VIEs and relevant rights and licenses held by such VIEs which we require in order to operate our business, and our ability to conduct our business may be negatively affected. See “— Risks Related to Doing Business in China — There are uncertainties regarding the interpretation and enforcement of PRC laws, rules and regulations.”
The shareholders of our consolidated VIEs may have potential conflicts of interest with us, which may materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
The interests of the shareholders of our consolidated VIEs in their capacities as such shareholders may differ from the interests of our company as a whole, as what is in the best interests of our consolidated VIEs, including matters such as whether to distribute dividends or to make other distributions to fund our offshore requirement, may not be in the best interests of our company. There can be no assurance that when conflicts of interest arise, any or all of these shareholders will act in the best interests of our company or those conflicts of interest will be resolved in our favor. In addition, these shareholders may breach or cause our consolidated VIEs and their subsidiaries to breach or refuse to renew the existing contractual arrangements with us.
 
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Currently, we do not have arrangements to address potential conflicts of interest the shareholders of our consolidated VIEs may encounter, on the one hand, and as a beneficial owner of our company, on the other hand. We, however, could, at all times, exercise our option under the exclusive option agreement to cause them to transfer all of their equity ownership in our consolidated VIEs to a PRC entity or individual designated by us as permitted by the then applicable PRC laws. In addition, if such conflicts of interest arise, we could also, in the capacity of
attorney-in-fact
of the then existing shareholders of our consolidated VIEs as provided under the power of attorney agreements, directly appoint new directors of our consolidated VIEs. We rely on the shareholders of our consolidated VIEs to comply with PRC laws and regulations, which protect contracts and provide that directors and executive officers owe a duty of loyalty to our company and require them to avoid conflicts of interest and not to take advantage of their positions for personal gains, and the laws of the Cayman Islands, which provide that directors have a duty of care and a duty of loyalty to act honestly in good faith with a view to our best interests. However, the legal frameworks of China and the Cayman Islands do not provide guidance on resolving conflicts in the event of a conflict with another corporate governance regime. If we cannot resolve any conflicts of interest or disputes between us and the shareholders of our consolidated VIEs, we would have to rely on legal proceedings, which could result in disruption of our business and subject us to substantial uncertainty as to the outcome of any such legal proceedings.
If the PRC government deems that the contractual arrangements in relation to our consolidated VIEs do not comply with PRC regulatory restrictions on foreign investment in the relevant industries, or if these regulations or the interpretation of existing regulations change in the future, we could be subject to severe penalties or be forced to relinquish our interests in those operations.
The PRC government regulates telecommunications-related businesses through strict business licensing requirements and other government regulations. These laws and regulations also include limitations on foreign ownership of PRC companies that engage in telecommunications-related businesses. Specifically, foreign investors are not allowed to own more than a 50% equity interest in any PRC company engaging in value-added telecommunications businesses. The primary foreign investor must also have experience and a good track record in providing value-added telecommunications services, or VATS, overseas.
Because we are an exempted company incorporated in the Cayman Islands, we are classified as a foreign enterprise under PRC laws and regulations, and our wholly foreign-owned enterprise in the PRC is a foreign-invested enterprise, or FIE. Accordingly, none of these subsidiaries are eligible to operate VATS business in China. We conduct our business in China through our consolidated VIEs and their affiliates. Our PRC subsidiaries, Shanghai Quyun and Shanghai Zhicao Information Technology Co., Ltd., or Shanghai Zhicao, have entered into a series of contractual arrangements with our consolidated VIEs and their respective shareholders, which enable us to (i) exercise effective control over the consolidated VIEs, (ii) receive substantially all of the economic benefits of the consolidated VIEs, and (iii) have an exclusive option to purchase all or part of the equity interests and assets in the consolidated VIEs when and to the extent permitted by PRC law. As a result of these contractual arrangements, we have control over and are the primary beneficiary of the consolidated VIEs and hence consolidate its financial results as our consolidated VIEs under U.S. GAAP. For a description of these contractual arrangements, see “Item 4. Information on the Company — D. Organizational Structure — Contractual Arrangements among Our WFOEs, Our Consolidated VIEs and Their Respective Shareholders.”
We believe that our corporate structure and contractual arrangements comply with the current applicable PRC laws and regulations. Our PRC legal counsel, King & Wood Mallesons, based on its understanding of the relevant laws and regulations, is of the opinion that each of the contracts among our wholly-owned PRC subsidiaries, Shanghai Quyun and Shanghai Zhicao, our consolidated VIEs and their respective shareholders is valid, binding and enforceable in accordance with its terms. However, as there are substantial uncertainties regarding the interpretation and application of PRC laws and regulations, including the
Regulations on Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors
, or the M&A Rules, and the
Telecommunications Regulations
and the relevant regulatory measures concerning the telecommunications industry, there can be no assurance that the PRC government authorities, such as the MOFCOM or the MIIT, or other authorities that regulate Internet content providers and other participants in the telecommunications industry, would agree that our corporate structure or any of the above contractual arrangements comply with PRC licensing, registration or other regulatory requirements, with existing policies or with requirements or policies that may be adopted in the future. PRC laws and regulations governing the validity of these contractual arrangements are uncertain and the relevant government authorities have broad discretion in interpreting these laws and regulations.
If our corporate structure and contractual arrangements are deemed by the MIIT or the MOFCOM or other regulators having competent authority to be illegal, either in whole or in part, we may lose control of our consolidated VIEs and have to modify such structure to comply with regulatory requirements. However, there can be no assurance that we can achieve this without material disruption to our business. Further, if our corporate structure and contractual arrangements are found to be in violation of any existing or future PRC laws or regulations, the relevant regulatory authorities would have broad discretion in dealing with such violations, including:
 
   
revoking our business and operating licenses;
 
   
levying fines on us;
 
   
confiscating any of our income that they deem to be obtained through illegal operations;
 
   
shutting down our services;
 
   
discontinuing or restricting our operations in China;
 
   
imposing conditions or requirements with which we may not be able to comply;
 
 
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requiring us to change our corporate structure and contractual arrangements;
 
   
restricting or prohibiting our use of the proceeds from overseas offering to finance our consolidated VIE’s business and operations; and
 
   
taking other regulatory or enforcement actions that could be harmful to our business.
Furthermore, new PRC laws, rules and regulations may be introduced to impose additional requirements that may be applicable to our corporate structure and contractual arrangements. See “— Substantial uncertainties exist with respect to whether the controlling of PRC onshore variable interest entities by foreign investors via contractual arrangements will be recognized as ‘foreign investment’ and how it may impact the viability of our current corporate structure and operations.” Occurrence of any of these events could materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition. In addition, if the imposition of any of these penalties or requirement to restructure our corporate structure causes us to lose the rights to direct the activities of our consolidated VIEs or our right to receive its economic benefits, we would no longer be able to consolidate the financial results of such VIEs in our consolidated financial statements. However, we do not believe that such actions would result in the liquidation or dissolution of our company, our wholly-owned subsidiaries in China or our consolidated VIEs or their subsidiaries. See “Item 4. Information on the Company — D. Organizational Structure — Contractual Arrangements among Our WFOEs, Our Consolidated VIEs and Their Respective Shareholders.”
Contractual arrangements in relation to our consolidated VIEs may be subject to scrutiny by the PRC tax authorities and they may determine that our consolidated VIEs owe additional taxes, which could negatively affect our results of operations and financial condition and the value of your investment.
Under applicable PRC laws and regulations, arrangements and transactions among related parties may be subject to audit or challenge by the PRC tax authorities. The PRC enterprise income tax law requires every enterprise in China to submit its annual enterprise income tax return together with a report on transactions with its related parties to the relevant tax authorities. The tax authorities may impose reasonable adjustments on taxation if they have identified any related party transactions that are inconsistent with arm’s length principles. We may face material and adverse tax consequences if the PRC tax authorities determine that the contractual arrangements among our wholly-owned PRC subsidiaries, Shanghai Quyun and Shanghai Zhicao, our consolidated VIEs and their respective shareholders were not entered into on an arm’s length basis in such a way as to result in an impermissible reduction in taxes under applicable PRC laws, regulations and rules, and adjust their income in the form of a transfer pricing adjustment. A transfer pricing adjustment could, among other things, result in a reduction of expense deductions recorded by Shanghai Quyun, Shanghai Zhicao or our consolidated VIEs for PRC tax purposes, which could in turn increase their tax liabilities without reducing their tax expenses. In addition, if our wholly-owned PRC subsidiaries, Shanghai Quyun and Shanghai Zhicao, request the shareholders of our consolidated VIEs to transfer their equity interests in our consolidated VIEs at nominal or no value pursuant to these contractual arrangements, such transfer could be viewed as a gift and subject the relevant subsidiaries to PRC income tax. Furthermore, the PRC tax authorities may impose late payment fees and other penalties on our PRC subsidiaries, Shanghai Quyun and Shanghai Zhicao, and consolidated VIEs for adjusted but unpaid taxes according to applicable regulations. Our financial position could be materially and adversely affected if the tax liabilities of our PRC subsidiaries, Shanghai Quyun and Shanghai Zhicao, and consolidated VIEs increase, or if they are required to pay late payment fees and other penalties.
We may lose the ability to use and enjoy assets held by our consolidated VIEs that are material to the operation of our business if the entity goes bankrupt or becomes subject to a dissolution or liquidation proceeding.
Our consolidated VIEs hold substantially all of our assets. Under the contractual arrangements, our consolidated VIEs may not and their respective shareholders may not cause it to, in any manner, sell, transfer, mortgage or dispose of its assets or its legal or beneficial interests in the business without our prior consent. However, in the event that the shareholders of our consolidated VIEs breach these contractual arrangements and voluntarily liquidate our consolidated VIEs, or our consolidated VIEs declare bankruptcy and all or part of their assets become subject to liens or rights of third-party creditors, or are otherwise disposed of without our consent, we may be unable to continue some or all of our business activities, which could materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition. If any of our consolidated VIEs undergoes a voluntary or involuntary liquidation proceeding, independent third-party creditors may claim rights to some or all of these assets, thereby hindering our ability to operate our business, which could materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
 
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If the custodians or authorized users of our controlling
non-tangible
assets, including chops and seals, fail to fulfill their responsibilities, or misappropriate or misuse these assets, our business and operations may be materially and adversely affected.
Under PRC law, legal documents for corporate transactions, including agreements and contracts that our business relies on, are executed using the chop or seal of the signing entity or with the signature of a legal representative whose designation is registered and filed with the relevant local branch of the SAMR. We generally execute legal documents by affixing chops or seals, rather than having the designated legal representatives sign the documents.
We have three major types of chops — corporate chops, contract chops and finance chops. We use corporate chops generally for documents to be submitted to government agencies, such as applications for changing business scope, directors or company name, and for legal letters. We use contract chops for executing leases and commercial contracts. We use finance chops generally for making and collecting payments, including issuing invoices. Use of corporate chops and contract chops must be approved by our legal department and administrative department, and use of finance chops must be approved by our finance department. The chops of our subsidiaries and consolidated VIEs and their subsidiaries are generally held by the relevant entities so that documents can be executed locally. Although we usually utilize chops to execute contracts, the registered legal representatives of our subsidiaries and consolidated VIEs and their subsidiaries have the apparent authority to enter into contracts on behalf of such entities without chops, unless such contracts set forth otherwise.
In order to maintain the physical security of our chops, we generally have them stored in secured locations accessible only to the designated key employees of our legal, administrative or finance departments. Our designated legal representatives generally do not have access to the chops. Although we have approval procedures in place and monitor our key employees, including the designated legal representatives of our subsidiaries and consolidated VIEs and their subsidiaries, the procedures may not be sufficient to prevent all instances of abuse or negligence. There is a risk that our key employees or designated legal representatives could abuse their authority, for example, by binding our subsidiaries and consolidated VIEs and their subsidiaries with contracts against our interests, as we would be obligated to honor these contracts if the other contracting party acts in good faith in reliance on the apparent authority of our chops or signatures of our legal representatives. If any designated legal representative obtains control of the chop in an effort to obtain control over the relevant entity, we would need to have a shareholder or board resolution to designate a new legal representative and to take legal action to seek the return of the chop, apply for a new chop with the relevant authorities, or otherwise seek legal remedies for the legal representative’s misconduct. If any of the designated legal representatives obtains and misuses or misappropriates our chops and seals or other controlling intangible assets for whatever reason, we could experience disruption to our normal business operations. We may have to take corporate or legal action, which could involve significant time and resources to resolve while distracting management from our operations, and our business and operations may be materially and adversely affected.
Substantial uncertainties exist with respect to whether the controlling of PRC onshore variable interest entities by foreign investors via contractual arrangements will be recognized as “foreign investment” and how it may impact the viability of our current corporate structure and operations.
On March 15, 2019, the National People’s Congress of the PRC adopted the Foreign Investment Law, which came into force on January 1, 2020. The Foreign Investment Law defines the “foreign investment” as the investment activities in China conducted directly or indirectly by foreign investors in the following manners: (i) the foreign investor, by itself or together with other investors establishes a foreign invested enterprises in China; (ii) the foreign investor acquires shares, equities, asset tranches, or similar rights and interests of enterprises in China; (iii) the foreign investor, by itself or together with other investors, invests and establishes new projects in China; (iv) the foreign investor invests through other approaches as stipulated by laws, administrative regulations or otherwise regulated by the State Council. The Foreign Investment Law keeps silent on how to define and regulate the VIEs, while adding a
catch-all
clause that “other approaches as stipulated by laws, administrative regulations or otherwise regulated by the State Council” can fall into the concept of “foreign investment,” which leaves uncertainty as to whether the foreign investor’s controlling PRC onshore variable interest entities via contractual arrangements will be recognized as “foreign investment.” Pursuant to the Foreign Investment Law, PRC governmental authorities will regulate foreign investment by applying the principle of
pre-entry
national treatment together with a “negative list,” which will be promulgated by or promulgated with approval by the State Council. Foreign investors are prohibited from making any investments in the industries which are listed as “prohibited” in such negative list; and, after satisfying certain additional requirements and conditions as set forth in the “negative list,” are allowed to make investments in the industries which are listed as “restricted” in such negative list. For any foreign investor that fails to comply with the negative list, the competent authorities are entitled to ban its investment activities, require such investor to take measures to correct its
non-compliance
and impose other penalties.
 
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It is uncertain whether any of the businesses that we currently operate or plan to operate in the future through our consolidated VIEs would be on the “negative list” as updated by the governmental authority from time to time and therefore be subject to any foreign investment restrictions or prohibitions. If any of the businesses that we operate were in the “restricted” category on the
to-be-issued
“negative list,” such determination would materially and adversely affect the value of the ADSs. We also face uncertainties as to whether the
to-be-issued
“negative list” would mandate further actions, such as MOFCOM market entry clearance, to be completed by companies with existing VIE structure and whether such clearance can be timely obtained, or at all. If we are not able to obtain any approval when required, our VIE structure may be regarded as invalid and illegal under the promulgated Foreign Investment Law, which may materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition, for instance, we may not be able to (i) continue our business in China through our contractual arrangements with our consolidated affiliated entities, (ii) exert effective control over our consolidated affiliated entities, or (iii) consolidate the financial results of, and receive economic benefits from our consolidated affiliated entities under existing contractual arrangements.
In addition, our corporate governance practice may be materially impacted and our compliance costs could increase if we were considered as a FIE under the Foreign Investment Law. For instance, the Foreign Investment Law purports to impose stringent ad hoc and periodic information reporting requirements on foreign investors and the applicable FIEs. Any company found to be
non-compliant
with these information reporting obligations could potentially be subject to fines and/or administrative liabilities, according to the Foreign Investment Law.
The PRC Foreign Investment Law leaves leeway for future laws, administrative regulations or provisions of the State Council to provide for contractual arrangements as a form of foreign investment. It is therefore uncertain whether our corporate structure will be seen as violating foreign investment rules as we are currently using the contractual arrangements to operate certain businesses in which foreign investors are currently prohibited from or restricted to investing. Furthermore, if future laws, administrative regulations or provisions of the State Council mandate further actions to be taken by companies with respect to existing contractual arrangements, we may face substantial uncertainties as to whether we can complete such actions in a timely manner, or at all. If we fail to take appropriate and timely measures to comply with any of these or similar regulatory compliance requirements, our current corporate structure, corporate governance and business operations could be materially and adversely affected.
Risks Relating to Doing Business in China
Changes in the political and economic policies of the PRC government may materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition and may result in our inability to sustain our growth and expansion strategies.
Substantially all of our operations are conducted in the PRC and substantially all of our revenue is sourced from the PRC. Accordingly, our business, results of operations and financial condition are affected to a significant extent by economic, political and legal developments in the PRC.
The PRC economy differs from the economies of most developed countries in many respects, including the extent of government involvement, level of development, growth rate, control of foreign exchange and allocation of resources. Although the PRC government has implemented measures emphasizing the utilization of market forces for economic reform, the reduction of state ownership of productive assets, and the establishment of improved corporate governance in business enterprises, a substantial portion of productive assets in China is still owned by the government. In addition, the PRC government continues to play a significant role in regulating industry development by imposing industrial policies. The PRC government also exercises significant control over China’s economic growth by allocating resources, controlling payment of foreign currency-denominated obligations, setting monetary policy, regulating financial services and institutions and providing preferential treatment to particular industries or companies.
While the PRC economy has experienced significant growth in the past three decades, growth has been uneven, both geographically and among various sectors of the economy. The PRC government has implemented various measures to encourage economic growth and guide the allocation of resources. Some of these measures may benefit the overall PRC economy, but may also have a negative effect on us. Our business, results of operations and financial condition could be materially and adversely affected by government control over capital investments or changes in tax regulations that are applicable to us. In addition, the PRC government has implemented in the past certain measures to control the pace of economic growth. These measures may cause decreased economic activity, which in turn could lead to a reduction in demand for our services and consequently materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
There are uncertainties regarding the interpretation and enforcement of PRC laws, rules and regulations.
Substantially all of our operations are conducted in the PRC, and are governed by PRC laws, rules and regulations. Our PRC subsidiaries and consolidated VIEs and their subsidiaries are subject to laws, rules and regulations applicable to foreign investment in China. The PRC legal system is a civil law system based on written statutes. Unlike the common law system, prior court decisions may be cited for reference but have limited precedential value.
 
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In 1979, the PRC government began to promulgate a comprehensive system of laws, rules and regulations governing economic matters in general. The overall effect of legislation over the past three decades has significantly enhanced the protections afforded to various forms of foreign investment in China. However, China has not developed a fully integrated legal system, and recently enacted laws, rules and regulations may not sufficiently cover all aspects of economic activities in China or may be subject to significant degrees of interpretation by PRC regulatory agencies. In particular, because these laws, rules and regulations are relatively new, and because of the limited number of published decisions and the nonbinding nature of such decisions, and because the laws, rules and regulations often give the relevant regulator significant discretion in how to enforce them, the interpretation and enforcement of these laws, rules and regulations involve uncertainties and can be inconsistent and unpredictable. In addition, the PRC legal system is based in part on government policies and internal rules, some of which are not published on a timely basis or at all, and which may have a retroactive effect. As a result, we may not be aware of our violation of these policies and rules until after the occurrence of the violation.
Any administrative and court proceedings in China may be protracted, resulting in substantial costs and diversion of resources and management attention. Since PRC administrative and court authorities have significant discretion in interpreting and implementing statutory and contractual terms, it may be more difficult to evaluate the outcome of administrative and court proceedings and the level of legal protection we enjoy than in more developed legal systems. These uncertainties may impede our ability to enforce the contracts we have entered into and could materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
A PRC regulation establishes more complex procedures for acquisitions conducted by foreign investors that could make it more difficult for us to grow through acquisitions.
On August 8, 2006, six PRC regulatory agencies, including the MOFCOM, the State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, or the SASAC, the SAT, the SAIC, the CSRC, and the State Administration of Foreign Exchange, or the SAFE, jointly adopted the
Regulations on Mergers and Acquisitions of Domestic Enterprises by Foreign Investors
, or the M&A Rules, which came into effect on September 8, 2006 and were amended on June 22, 2009. The M&A Rules include, among other things, provisions that purport to require that an offshore special purpose vehicle that is controlled by PRC domestic companies or individuals and that has been formed for the purpose of an overseas listing of securities through acquisitions of PRC domestic companies or assets to 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. However, substantial uncertainty remains regarding the scope and applicability of the M&A Rules to offshore special purpose vehicles.
These regulations also established additional procedures and requirements that are expected to make merger and acquisition activities in China by foreign investors more time-consuming and complex. For example, the M&A rules require 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 if (i) any important industry is concerned, (ii) such transaction involves factors that have or may have impact on the national economic security, or (iii) such transaction will lead to a change in control of a domestic enterprise which holds a famous trademark or PRC time-honored brand. The approval from the MOFCOM shall be obtained in circumstances where overseas companies established or controlled by PRC enterprises or residents acquire affiliated domestic companies. Mergers, acquisitions or contractual arrangements that allow one market player to take control of or to exert decisive impact on another market player must also be notified in advance to the SAMR when the threshold under the Provisions on Thresholds for Prior Notification of Concentrations of Undertakings, or the Prior Notification Rules, issued by the State Council in August 2008 (as amended in September 2018) is triggered. In addition, the security review rules issued by the MOFCOM that became effective in September 2011 specify that mergers and acquisitions by foreign investors that raise “national defense and security” concerns and mergers and acquisitions through which foreign investors may acquire de facto control over domestic enterprises that raise “national security” concerns are subject to strict review by the MOFCOM, and the rules prohibit any activities attempting to bypass a security review, including by structuring the transaction through a proxy or contractual control arrangement. We may grow our business in part by acquiring other companies operating in our industry. Complying with the requirements of the new regulations to complete such transactions could be time-consuming, and any required approval processes, including approval from the MOFCOM, may delay or inhibit our ability to complete such transactions, which could affect our ability to expand our business or maintain our market share. See “Item 4. Information on the Company — C. Regulations — Regulations Related to Mergers and Acquisitions and Overseas Listings.”
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, and other relevant 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. In August 2011, the MOFCOM promulgated the
Rules on Implementation of Security Review System
, or 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
 
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a change in control of a domestic enterprise that holds a well-known PRC trademark or a time-honored PRC brand. Furthermore, on December 19, 2020, the NDRC and the MOFCOM promulgated the Measures for Security Review of Foreign Investment, or the Foreign Investment Security Review Measures, which took effect on January 18, 2021. Under the Foreign Investment Security Review Measures, investment in certain key areas which results in acquiring the actual control of the assets is required to obtain approval from designated governmental authorities in advance. As the Foreign Investment Security Review Measures are recently promulgated, there are great uncertainties with respect to its interpretation and implementation. 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.
In addition, the PRC Anti-Monopoly Law requires that the anti-monopoly law enforcement agency be notified in advance of any concentration of undertaking if certain thresholds are triggered. On October 23, 2020, the SAMR further issued the Interim Provisions on the Review of Concentration of Undertakings, which took effect on December 1, 2020, to further enhance the enforcement on the supervision of concentration of undertakings. Complying with the requirements of the relevant regulations to complete any such transaction could be time-consuming, and any required approval process, including approval from the MOFCOM, or other governmental authorities may delay or inhibit our ability to complete such transactions, which could affect our ability to expand our business.
PRC regulations relating to investments in offshore companies by PRC residents may subject our
PRC-resident
beneficial owners or our PRC subsidiaries to liability or penalties, limit our ability to inject capital into our PRC subsidiaries or limit our PRC subsidiaries’ ability to increase their registered capital or distribute profits.
The SAFE promulgated the Circular on Relevant Issues Concerning Foreign Exchange Control on Domestic Residents’ Offshore Investment and Financing and Roundtrip Investment through Special Purpose Vehicles, or SAFE Circular 37, on July 4, 2014, which replaced the former circular commonly known as “SAFE Circular 75” promulgated by the SAFE on October 21, 2005. SAFE Circular 37 requires PRC residents to register with local branches of the SAFE in connection with their direct establishment or indirect control of an offshore entity, for the purpose of overseas investment and financing, with such PRC residents’ legally owned assets or equity interests in domestic enterprises or offshore assets or interests, referred to in SAFE Circular 37 as a “special purpose vehicle.” Pursuant to SAFE Circular 37, “control” refers to the act through which a PRC resident obtains the right to carry out business operation of, to gain proceeds from or to make decisions on a special purpose vehicle by means of, among others, shareholding entrustment arrangement. SAFE Circular 37 further requires amendment to the registration in the event of any significant changes with respect to the special purpose vehicle, such as change of shareholders of the special purpose vehicle, increase or decrease of capital contributed by PRC individuals, share transfer or exchange, merger, division or other material event. In the event that a PRC shareholder holding interests in a special purpose vehicle fails to fulfill the required SAFE registration, the PRC subsidiaries of that special purpose vehicle may be prohibited from making profit distributions to the offshore parent and from carrying out subsequent cross-border foreign exchange activities, and the special purpose vehicle may be restricted in its ability to contribute additional capital into its PRC subsidiaries. Moreover, failure to comply with the various SAFE registration requirements described above could result in liability under PRC law for evasion of foreign exchange controls. According to the Notice on Further Simplifying and Improving Policies for the Foreign Exchange Administration of Direct Investment released on February 13, 2015 by the SAFE and recently amended on December 30, 2019, local banks will examine and handle foreign exchange registration for overseas direct investment, including the initial foreign exchange registration and amendment registration, under SAFE Circular 37 from June 1, 2015.
Mr. Eric Siliang Tan and Mr. Lei Li have completed the SAFE registration pursuant to SAFE Circular 37 in 2017, with Innotech Group Holdings Ltd. and News Optimizer (BVI) Ltd. being separately registered as the respective “special purpose vehicle.” After transferring all shares in Innotech Group Holdings Ltd. to the trust of which himself is also a beneficiary, Mr. Eric Siliang Tan, as well as all the other beneficiaries of the trust who are PRC residents are required to complete relevant registrations pursuant to SAFE Circular 37. We have notified substantial beneficial owners of our ordinary shares and the beneficiaries of the trust who we know are PRC residents of their filing obligation, including the obligation to make updates under SAFE Circular 37, and the beneficial owners have undertaken to complete relevant registrations as soon as such registration is practical with local SAFE. Nevertheless, we may not be continuously aware of the identities of all of our beneficial owners who are PRC residents. We do not have control over our beneficial owners and there can be no assurance that all of our
PRC-resident
beneficial owners will comply with SAFE Circular 37 and subsequent implementation rules, and there is no assurance that the registration under SAFE Circular 37 and any amendment will be completed in a timely manner, or will be completed at all. The failure of our beneficial owners who are PRC residents to register or amend their foreign exchange registrations in a timely manner pursuant to SAFE Circular 37 and subsequent implementation rules, or the failure of future beneficial owners of our company who are PRC residents to comply with the registration procedures set forth in SAFE Circular 37 and subsequent implementation rules, may subject such beneficial owners or our PRC subsidiaries to fines and legal sanctions. Failure to register or comply with relevant requirements may also limit our ability to contribute additional capital to our PRC subsidiaries and limit our PRC subsidiaries’ ability to distribute dividends to our company. These risks may materially and adversely affect our business, results of operations and financial condition.
Any failure to comply with PRC regulations regarding employee equity incentive plans may subject the PRC plan participants or us to fines and other legal or administrative sanctions.
Pursuant to SAFE Circular 37, PRC residents who participate in equity incentive plans in overseas
non-publicly-listed
companies due to their position as director, senior management or employees of the PRC subsidiaries of the overseas companies may submit applications to SAFE or its local branches for the foreign exchange registration with respect to offshore special purpose companies. Our directors, executive officers and other employees who are PRC residents and who have been granted options may follow SAFE Circular 37 to apply for the foreign exchange registration before our company becomes an overseas listed company. As an overseas listed company, we and our directors, executive officers and other employees who are PRC residents and who have been granted options are subject to the Notice on Issues Concerning the Foreign Exchange Administration for Domestic
 
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Individuals Participating in Stock Incentive Plan of Overseas Publicly Listed Company, issued by SAFE in February 2012, according to which, employees, directors, supervisors and other management members participating in any equity incentive plans of an overseas publicly listed company who are PRC residents are required to register with SAFE through a domestic qualified agent, which could be a PRC subsidiary of such overseas listed company, and complete certain other procedures. Failure to complete the SAFE registrations may subject them to fines and legal sanctions and may also limit the ability to make payment under our equity incentive plans or receive dividends or sales proceeds related thereto, or our ability to contribute additional capital into our wholly-foreign owned enterprise in China and limit our wholly-foreign owned enterprise’s ability to distribute dividends to us. We also face regulatory uncertainties that could restrict our ability to adopt additional equity incentive plans for our directors and employees under PRC law.
We rely to a significant extent on dividends and other distributions on equity paid by our principal operating subsidiaries to fund offshore cash and financing requirements. Any limitation on the ability of our PRC operating subsidiaries to make payments to us could materially and adversely affect our ability to conduct our business.
We are a holding company and rely to a significant extent on dividends and other distributions on equity paid by our principal operating subsidiaries and on remittances from the consolidated VIEs for our offshore cash and financing requirements, including the funds necessary to pay dividends and other cash distributions to our shareholders, fund inter-company loans, service any debt we may incur outside of China and pay our expenses. When our principal operating subsidiaries or the consolidated VIEs incur additional debt, the instruments governing the debt may restrict their ability to pay dividends or make other distributions or remittances to us. Furthermore, the laws, rules and regulations applicable to our PRC subsidiaries and certain other subsidiaries permit payments of dividends only out of their retained earnings, if any, determined in accordance with applicable accounting standards and regulations.
Under PRC laws, rules and regulations, each of our subsidiaries incorporated in China is required to set aside at least 10% of its net income each year to fund certain statutory reserves until the cumulative amount of such reserves reaches 50% of its registered capital. These reserves, together with the registered capital, are not distributable as cash dividends. As a result of these laws, rules and regulations, our subsidiaries incorporated in China are restricted in their ability to transfer a portion of their respective net assets to their shareholders as dividends, loans or advances. Certain of our subsidiaries did not have any retained earnings available for distribution in the form of dividends as of December 31, 2020.
In addition, registered share capital and capital reserve accounts are also restricted from withdrawal in the PRC, up to the amount of net assets held in each operating subsidiary.
Limitations on the ability of our consolidated VIEs to make remittance to the wholly-foreign owned enterprise and on the ability of our subsidiaries to pay dividends to us could limit our ability to access cash generated by the operations of those entities, including to make investments or acquisitions that could be beneficial to our businesses, pay dividends to our shareholders or otherwise fund and conduct our business.
We may be treated as a resident enterprise for PRC tax purposes under the PRC Enterprise Income Tax Law, and we may therefore be subject to PRC income tax on our global income.
Under the modified Enterprise Income Tax Law and its implementing rules, enterprises established under the laws of jurisdictions outside of China with “de facto management bodies” located in China may be considered PRC tax resident enterprises for tax purposes and may be subject to the PRC enterprise income tax at the rate of 25% on their global income. “De facto management body” refers to a managing body that exercises substantive and overall management and control over the production and business, personnel, accounting books and assets of an enterprise. The SAT issued the
Notice Regarding the Determination of Chinese-Controlled Offshore-Incorporated Enterprises as PRC Tax Resident Enterprises on the Basis of De Facto Management Bodies
, or Circular 82, on April 22, 2009. Circular 82 provides certain specific criteria for determining whether the “de facto management body” of a Chinese-controlled offshore-incorporated enterprise is located in China. Although Circular 82 only applies to offshore enterprises controlled by PRC enterprises, not those controlled by foreign enterprises or individuals, the determining criteria set forth in Circular 82 may reflect the SAT’s general position on how the “de facto management body” test should be applied in determining the tax resident status of offshore enterprises, regardless of whether they are controlled by PRC enterprises. If we were to be considered a PRC resident enterprise, we would be subject to PRC enterprise income tax at the rate of 25% on our global income. In such case, our profitability and cash flow may be materially reduced as a result of our global income being taxed under the Enterprise Income Tax Law. We believe that none of our entities outside of China is a PRC resident enterprise for PRC tax purposes. However, the tax resident status of an enterprise is subject to determination by the PRC tax authorities and uncertainties remain with respect to the interpretation of the term “de facto management body.”
 
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Dividends payable to our foreign investors and gains on the sale of ADSs or our ordinary shares by our foreign investors may become subject to PRC tax.
Under the modified Enterprise Income Tax Law and its implementation regulations issued by the State Council, a 10% PRC withholding tax is applicable to dividends payable to investors that are
non-resident
enterprises, which do not have an establishment or place of business in the PRC or which have such establishment or place of business but the dividends are not effectively connected with such establishment or place of business, to the extent such dividends are derived from sources within the PRC. Similarly, any gain realized on the transfer of ADSs or ordinary shares by such investors is also subject to PRC tax at a current rate of 10%, subject to any reduction or exemption set forth in applicable tax treaties or under applicable tax arrangements between jurisdictions, if such gain is regarded as income derived from sources within the PRC. If we are deemed a PRC resident enterprise, dividends paid on our ordinary shares, and any gain realized from the transfer of our ordinary shares or the ADSs, would be treated as income derived from sources within the PRC and would as a result be subject to PRC taxation. Furthermore, if we are deemed a PRC resident enterprise, dividends payable to individual investors who are
non-PRC
residents and any gain realized on the transfer of ADSs or ordinary shares by such investors may be subject to PRC tax at a current rate of 20%, subject to any reduction or exemption set forth in applicable tax treaties or under applicable tax arrangements between jurisdictions. If we or any of our subsidiaries established outside China are considered a PRC resident enterprise, it is unclear whether holders of ADSs or our ordinary shares would be able to claim the benefit of income tax treaties or agreements entered into between China and other countries or areas. If dividends payable to our
non-PRC
investors, or gains from the transfer of ADSs or our ordinary shares by such investors, are deemed as income derived from sources within the PRC and thus are subject to PRC tax, the value of your investment in ADSs or our ordinary shares may decline significantly.
We and our shareholders face uncertainties with respect to indirect transfers of equity interests in PRC resident enterprises or other assets attributed to a Chinese establishment of a
non-Chinese
company, or immovable properties located in China owned by
non-Chinese
companies.
On February 3, 2015, the SAT issued the
Bulletin on Issues of Enterprise Income Tax on Indirect Transfers of Assets by
Non-PRC
Resident Enterprises
, or Bulletin 7, which partially replaced and supplemented previous rules under the
Notice on Strengthening Administration of Enterprise Income Tax for Share Transfers by
Non-PRC
Resident Enterprises
, or SAT Circular 698, issued by the SAT, on December 10, 2009. Pursuant to this Bulletin 7, an “indirect transfer” of assets, including equity interests in a PRC resident enterprise, by
non-PRC
resident enterprises may be
re-characterized
and treated as a direct transfer of PRC taxable assets, if such arrangement does not have a reasonable commercial purpose and was established for the purpose of avoiding payment of PRC enterprise income tax. As a result, gains derived from such indirect transfer may be subject to PRC enterprise income tax. According to Bulletin 7, “PRC taxable assets” include assets attributed to an establishment in China, immovable properties located in China, and equity investments in PRC resident enterprises, in respect of which gains from their transfer by a direct holder, being a
non-PRC
resident enterprise, would be subject to PRC enterprise income taxes. When determining whether there is a “reasonable commercial purpose” of the transaction arrangement, features to be taken into consideration include: whether the main value of the equity interest of the relevant offshore enterprise derives from PRC taxable assets; whether the assets of the relevant offshore enterprise mainly consists of direct or indirect investment in China or if its income mainly derives from China; whether the offshore enterprise and its subsidiaries directly or indirectly holding PRC taxable assets have real commercial nature which is evidenced by their actual function and risk exposure; the duration of existence of the business model and organizational structure; the replicability of the transaction by direct transfer of PRC taxable assets; and the tax situation of such indirect transfer and applicable tax treaties or similar arrangements. In respect of an indirect offshore transfer of assets of a PRC establishment, the resulting gain is to be included with the enterprise income tax filing of the PRC establishment or place of business being transferred, and would consequently be subject to PRC enterprise income tax at a rate of 25%. Where the underlying transfer relates to the immovable properties located in China or to equity investments in a PRC resident enterprise, which is not related to a PRC establishment or place of business of a
non-resident
enterprise, a PRC enterprise income tax of 10% would apply, subject to available preferential tax treatment under applicable tax treaties or similar arrangements, and the party who is obligated to make the transfer payments has the withholding obligation. Where the payor fails to withhold any or sufficient tax, the transferor is required to declare and pay such tax to the tax authority by itself within the statutory time limit. Late payment of applicable tax will subject the transferor to default interest. Bulletin 7 does not apply to transactions of sale of shares by investors through a public stock exchange where such shares were acquired from a transaction through a public stock exchange. On October 17, 2017, the SAT promulgated the
Announcement of the State Administration of Taxation on Issues Concerning the Withholding of
Non-resident
Enterprise Income Tax at Source
, or SAT Circular 37, which was amended and became effective on June 15, 2018, and SAT Circular 698 then was repealed with effect from December 1, 2017. SAT Circular 37, among other things, simplified procedures of withholding and payment of income tax levied on
non-resident
enterprises.
There is uncertainty as to the application of Bulletin 7. We face uncertainties as to the reporting and other implications of certain past and future transactions where PRC taxable assets are involved, such as offshore restructuring, sale of the shares in our offshore subsidiaries or investments. Our company may be subject to filing obligations or taxed if our company is transferor in such transactions, and may be subject to withholding obligations if our company is transferee in such transactions under Bulletin 7. For transfer of shares in our company by investors that are
non-PRC
resident enterprises, our PRC subsidiaries may be requested to assist in the filing under Bulletin 7. As a result, we may be required to expend valuable resources to comply with Bulletin 7 or to request the relevant transferors from whom we purchase taxable assets to comply with these circulars, or to establish that our company should not be taxed under these circulars, which may materially and adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition.
 
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We are subject to restrictions on currency exchange.
Substantially all of our revenue is denominated in Renminbi. The Renminbi is currently convertible under the “current account,” which includes dividends, trade and service-related foreign exchange transactions, but not under the “capital account,” which includes foreign direct investment and loans, including loans we may secure from our onshore subsidiaries or consolidated VIEs. Currently, certain of our PRC subsidiaries may purchase foreign currency for settlement of “current account transactions,” including payment of dividends to us, without the approval of the SAFE by complying with certain procedural requirements. However, the relevant PRC governmental authorities may limit or eliminate our ability to purchase foreign currencies in the future for current account transactions. Foreign exchange transactions under the capital account remain subject to limitations and require approvals from, or registration with, the SAFE and other relevant PRC governmental authorities. Since a significant amount of our future revenue and cash flow will be denominated in Renminbi, any existing and future restrictions on currency exchange may limit our ability to utilize cash generated in Renminbi to fund our business activities outside of the PRC or pay dividends in foreign currencies to our shareholders, and may limit our ability to obtain foreign currency through debt or equity financing for our onshore subsidiaries and consolidated VIEs.
PRC regulation of loans to, and direct investment in, PRC entities by offshore holding companies and governmental control of currency conversion may restrict or prevent us from making loans to our PRC subsidiaries and our consolidated VIEs, or making additional capital contributions to our PRC subsidiaries.
We, as an offshore holding company, are permitted under PRC laws and regulations to provide funding to our PRC subsidiaries, which are treated as foreign-invested enterprises under PRC laws, through loans or capital contributions. However, loans by us to our PRC subsidiaries to finance their activities cannot exceed statutory limits and must be registered with the local counterpart of SAFE and capital contributions to our PRC subsidiaries are subject to the requirement of making necessary filings or registrations through enterprise registration system with relevant governmental authorities in China.
SAFE promulgated the Notice of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Reforming the Administration of Foreign Exchange Settlement of Capital of Foreign-invested Enterprises, or Circular 19, effective on June 1, 2015, in replacement of the Circular on the Relevant Operating Issues Concerning the Improvement of the Administration of the Payment and Settlement of Foreign Currency Capital of Foreign-Invested Enterprises, or SAFE Circular 142, the Notice from the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Relevant Issues Concerning Strengthening the Administration of Foreign Exchange Businesses, or Circular 59, and the Circular on Further Clarification and Regulation of the Issues Concerning the Administration of Certain Capital Account Foreign Exchange Businesses, or Circular 45. According to Circular 19, the flow and use of the Renminbi capital converted from foreign currency-denominated registered capital of a foreign-invested company is regulated such that Renminbi capital may not be used for the issuance of Renminbi entrusted loans, the repayment of inter-enterprise loans or the repayment of banks loans that have been transferred to a third party. Although Circular 19 allows Renminbi capital converted from foreign currency-denominated registered capital of a foreign-invested enterprise to be used for equity investments within the PRC, it also reiterates the principle that Renminbi converted from the foreign currency-denominated capital of a foreign-invested company may not be directly or indirectly used for purposes beyond its business scope. Thus, it is unclear whether SAFE will permit such capital to be used for equity investments in the PRC in actual practice. SAFE promulgated the Notice of the State Administration of Foreign Exchange on Reforming and Standardizing the Foreign Exchange Settlement Management Policy of Capital Account, or Circular 16, effective on June 9, 2016, which reiterates some of the rules set forth in Circular 19, but changes the prohibition against using Renminbi capital converted from foreign currency-denominated registered capital of a foreign-invested company to issue Renminbi entrusted loans to a prohibition against using such capital to issue loans to
non-associated
enterprises. Violations of SAFE Circular 19 and Circular 16 could result in administrative penalties. Circular 19 and Circular 16 may significantly limit our ability to transfer any foreign currency we hold to our PRC subsidiaries, which may adversely affect our liquidity and our ability to fund and expand our business in the PRC.
Due to the restrictions imposed on loans in foreign currencies extended to any PRC domestic companies, we are not likely to make such loans to our consolidated VIEs and their subsidiaries, each a PRC domestic company. Meanwhile, we are not likely to finance the activities of our consolidated VIEs and their subsidiaries by means of capital contributions given the restrictions on foreign investment in the businesses that are currently conducted by our consolidated VIEs and their subsidiaries.
In light of the various requirements imposed by PRC regulations on loans to, and direct investment in, PRC entities by offshore holding companies, we cannot assure you that we will be able to complete the necessary government registrations or obtain the necessary government approvals on a timely basis, if at all, with respect to future loans to our PRC subsidiaries or any consolidated VIEs or future capital contributions by us to our PRC subsidiaries. As a result, uncertainties exist as to our ability to provide prompt financial support to our PRC subsidiaries or consolidated VIEs and their subsidiaries when needed. If we fail to complete such registrations or obtain such approvals, our ability to use foreign currency and to capitalize or otherwise fund our PRC operations may be negatively affected, which could materially and adversely affect our liquidity and our ability to fund and expand our business.
 
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Fluctuations in exchange rates could result in foreign currency exchange losses and could materially reduce the value of your investment.
The value of the Renminbi against the U.S. dollar and other currencies may fluctuate and is affected by, among other things, changes in political and economic conditions and the foreign exchange policy adopted by the PRC government. On July 21, 2005, the PRC government changed its policy of pegging the value of the Renminbi to the U.S. dollar. Following the removal of the U.S. dollar peg, the Renminbi appreciated more than 20% against the U.S. dollar over the following three years. Between July 2008 and June 2010, this appreciation halted and the exchange rate between the Renminbi and the U.S. dollar remained within a narrow band. Since June 2010, the Renminbi has fluctuated against the U.S. dollar, at times significantly and unpredictably. On November 30, 2015, the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund completed the regular five-year review of the basket of currencies that make up the Special Drawing Right, or the SDR, and decided that with effect from October 1, 2016, Renminbi is determined to be a freely usable currency and will be included in the SDR basket as a fifth currency, along with the U.S. dollar, the Euro, the Japanese yen and the British pound. In the fourth quarter of 2016, the Renminbi has depreciated significantly in the backdrop of a surging U.S. dollar and persistent capital outflows of China. With the development of the foreign exchange market and progress towards interest rate liberalization and Renminbi internationalization, the PRC government may in the future announce further changes to the exchange rate system, and we cannot assure you that the Renminbi will not appreciate or depreciate significantly in value against the U.S. dollar in the future. It is difficult to predict how market forces or PRC or U.S. government policy may impact the exchange rate between the Renminbi and the U.S. dollar in the future.
Substantially all of our revenue and costs are denominated in Renminbi. We are a holding company and we rely on dividends paid by our operating subsidiaries in China for our cash needs. Any significant fluctuation of Renminbi against the U.S. dollar may materially and adversely affect our results of operations and financial position reported in Renminbi when translated into U.S. dollars, and the value of, and any dividends payable in U.S. dollars. To the extent that we need to convert U.S. dollars into Renminbi for our operations, appreciation of the Renminbi against the U.S. dollar would have an adverse effect on the Renminbi amount we would receive. Conversely, if we decide to convert our Renminbi into U.S. dollars for the purpose of making payments for dividends on our ordinary shares or for other business purposes, appreciation of the U.S. dollar against the Renminbi would have a negative effect on the U.S. dollar amount.
We could be adversely affected by political tensions between the United States and China.
Political tensions between the United States and China have escalated in recent years due to, among other things, the trade war between the two countries since 2018, the
COVID-19
pandemic, the PRC National People’s Congress’ passage of Hong Kong national security legislation, the imposition of U.S. sanctions on certain Chinese officials from China’s central government and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region by the U.S. government, and the imposition of sanctions on certain individuals from the U.S. by the Chinese government, various executive orders issued by former U.S. President Donald J. Trump, such as the one issued in August 2020 that prohibits certain transactions with ByteDance Ltd., Tencent Holdings Ltd. and the respective subsidiaries of such companies, the executive order issued in November 2020 that prohibits U.S. persons from transacting publicly traded securities of certain “Communist Chinese military companies” named in such executive order, as well as the executive order issued in January 2021 that prohibits such transactions as are identified by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce with certain “Chinese connected software applications,” including Alipay and WeChat Pay, as well as the Rules on Counteracting Unjustified Extra-territorial Application of Foreign Legislation and Other Measures promulgated by China’s Ministry of Commerce, or MOFCOM, on January 9, 2021, which will apply to situations where the extra-territorial application of foreign legislation and other measures, in violation of international law and the basic principles of international relations, unjustifiably prohibits or restricts the citizens, legal persons or other organizations of China from engaging in normal economic, trade and related activities with a third State (or region) or its citizens, legal persons or other organizations. Rising political tensions between China and the U.S. could reduce levels of trades, investments, technological exchanges and other economic activities between the two major economies, which would have a material adverse effect on global economic conditions and the stability of global financial markets. The measures taken by the U.S. and Chinese governments may have the effect of restricting our ability to transact or otherwise do business with entities within or outside of China and may cause investors to lose confidence in Chinese companies and counterparties, including us. If we were unable to conduct our business as it is currently conducted as a result of such regulatory changes, our business, results of operations and financial condition would be materially and adversely affected.
Furthermore, there have been recent media reports on deliberations within the U.S. government regarding potentially limiting or restricting China-based companies from accessing U.S. capital markets, and delisting China-based companies from U.S. national securities exchanges. In January 2021, after reversing its own delisting decision, the NYSE ultimately resolved to delist China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom in compliance with the executive order issued in November 2020, after receiving additional guidance from the U.S. Department of Treasury and its Office of Foreign Assets Control. These delistings have introduced greater confusion and uncertainty about the status and prospects of Chinese companies listed on the U.S. stock exchanges. If any further such deliberations were to materialize, the resulting legislation may have a material and adverse impact on the stock performance of China-based issuers listed in the United States such as us, and we cannot assure you that we will always be able to maintain the listing of our ADSs on a national stock exchange in the U.S., such as the NYSE or the Nasdaq Stock Market, or that you will always be allowed to trade our shares or ADSs.
Our ADSs may be delisted under the Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act if the PCAOB is unable to inspect auditors who are located in China. The delisting of our ADSs, or the threat of their being delisted, may materially and adversely affect the value of your investment. Additionally, the inability of the PCAOB to conduct inspections deprives our investors with the benefits of such inspections.
 
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The Holding Foreign Companies Accountable Act, or the HFCA Act, was enacted on December 18, 2020. The HFCA Act states if the SEC determines that we have filed audit reports issued by a registered public accounting firm that has not been subject to inspection by the PCAOB for three consecutive years beginning in 2021, the SEC shall prohibit our shares or ADSs from being traded on a national securities exchange or in the over the counter trading market in the U.S.
Our auditor, the independent registered public accounting firm that issues the audit report included elsewhere in this prospectus, as an auditor of companies that are traded publicly in the United States and a firm registered with the PCAOB, is subject to laws in the United States pursuant to which the PCAOB conducts regular inspections to assess its compliance with the applicable professional standards. Since our auditor is located in China, a jurisdiction where the PCAOB has been unable to conduct inspections without the approval of the Chinese authorities, our auditor is currently not inspected by the PCAOB.
On March 24, 2021, the SEC has adopted interim final amendments to implement the submission and disclosure requirements of the HFCA Act. We will not be required to comply with the interim final amendments until the SEC has identified us as having a “non-inspection” year under a process to be subsequently established by the SEC. The SEC is assessing how to implement other requirements of the HFCA Act including the identification process and the trading prohibition requirements described above.
The SEC may propose additional rules or guidance that could impact us if our auditor is not subject to PCAOB inspection. For example, on August 6, 2020, the President’s Working Group on Financial Markets, or the PWG, issued the
Report on Protecting United States Investors from Significant Risks from Chinese Companies
to the then President of the United States. This report recommended the SEC implement five recommendations to address companies from jurisdictions that do not provide the PCAOB with sufficient access to fulfil its statutory mandate. Some of the concepts of these recommendations were implemented with the enactment of the HFCA Act. However, some of the recommendations were more stringent than the HFCA Act. For example, if a company was not subject to PCAOB inspection, the report recommended that the transition period before a company would be delisted would end on January 1, 2022.
It is unclear when the SEC will complete its rulemaking and when such rules will become effective and what, if any, of the PWG recommendations will be adopted. The implications of this possible regulation in addition to the requirements of the HFCA Act are uncertain. Such uncertainty could cause the market price of our ADSs to be materially and adversely affected, and our securities could be delisted or prohibited from being traded “over-the-counter” earlier than would be required by the HFCA Act. If our securities are unable to be listed on another securities exchange by then, such a delisting would substantially impair your ability to sell or purchase our ADSs when you wish to do so, and the risk and uncertainty associated with a potential delisting would have a negative impact on the price of our ADSs.
The PCAOB’s inability to conduct inspections in China prevents it from fully evaluating the audits and quality control procedures of our independent registered public accounting firm. As a result, we and investors in our ordinary shares are deprived of the benefits of such PCAOB inspections. The inability of the PCAOB to conduct inspections of auditors in China makes it more difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of our independent registered public accounting firm’s audit procedures or quality control procedures as compared to auditors outside of China that are subject to the PCAOB inspections, which could cause investors and potential investors in our stock to lose confidence in our audit procedures and reported financial information and the quality of our financial statements.
In May 2013, the PCAOB announced that it had entered into a Memorandum of Understanding on Enforcement Cooperation with the CSRC and the PRC Ministry of Finance, which establishes a cooperative framework between the parties for the production and exchange of audit documents relevant to investigations undertaken by the PCAOB in the PRC or by the CSRC or the PRC Ministry of Finance in the United States. The PCAOB continues to be in discussions with the CSRC and the PRC Ministry of Finance to permit joint inspections in the PRC of audit firms that are registered with the PCAOB and audit Chinese companies that trade on U.S. exchanges.
 
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If additional remedial measures are imposed on the “big four”
PRC-based
accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm, in administrative proceedings brought by the SEC alleging such firms’ failure to meet specific criteria set by the SEC with respect to requests for the production of documents, we could be unable to timely file future financial statements in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act.
Starting in 2011, the Chinese affiliates of the “big four” accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm, were affected by a conflict between the United States and Chinese law. Specifically, for certain United States listed companies operating and audited in mainland China, the SEC and the PCAOB sought to obtain from the Chinese accounting firms access to their audit work papers and related documents. The firms were, however, advised and directed that under Chinese law they could not respond directly to the United States regulators on those requests, and that requests by foreign regulators for access to such papers in China had to be channeled through the CSRC.
In late 2012, this impasse led the SEC to commence administrative proceedings under Rule 102(e) of its Rules of Practice and also under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 against the Chinese accounting firms, including our independent registered public accounting firm. In January 2014, the administrative law judge reached an initial decision to impose penalties on the firms including a temporary suspension of their right to practice before the SEC. The accounting firms filed a petition for review of the initial decision. On February 6, 2015, before a review by the commissioners of the SEC had taken place, the firms reached a settlement with the SEC. Under the settlement, the SEC accepts that future requests by the SEC for the production of documents will normally be made to the CSRC. The firms will receive matching Section 106 requests, and are required to abide by a detailed set of procedures with respect to such requests, which in substance require them to facilitate production via the CSRC. If they fail to meet specified criteria, the SEC retains authority to impose a variety of additional remedial measures on the firms depending on the nature of the failure. Remedies for any future noncompliance could include, as appropriate, an automatic
six-month
bar on a single firm’s performance of certain audit work, commencement of a new proceeding against a firm, or in extreme cases the resumption of the current proceeding against all four firms. 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.
In the event that the SEC restarts the administrative proceedings, depending upon the final outcome, listed companies in the United States with major PRC operations may find it difficult or impossible to retain auditors in respect of their operations in the PRC, which could result in financial statements being determined to not be in compliance with the requirements of the Exchange Act, including possible delisting. Moreover, any negative news about any such future proceedings against these audit firms may cause investor uncertainty regarding China-based, United States listed companies and the market price of the ADSs may be adversely affected.
If our independent registered public accounting firm were 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 consolidated financial statements, our consolidated 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 the ADSs from the NASDAQ Global Select Market or deregistration from the SEC, or both, which would substantially reduce or effectively terminate the trading of the ADSs in the United States.
Risks Relating to the ADSs
The trading price of the ADSs may be volatile, which could result in substantial losses to you.
The trading prices of the ADSs have been, and are likely to continue to be, volatile and could fluctuate widely due to factors beyond our control. This may happen because of broad market and industry factors, like the performance and fluctuation in the market prices or the underperformance or deteriorating financial results of other listed companies based in China. The securities of some of these companies have experienced significant volatility since their initial public offerings, including, in some cases, substantial price declines in the trading prices of their securities. The trading performances of other Chinese companies’ securities after their offerings, including technology companies and mobile content platform companies, may affect the attitudes of investors toward Chinese companies listed in the United States, which consequently may impact the trading performance of the ADSs, regardless of our actual operating performance. In addition, any negative news or perceptions about inadequate corporate governance practices or fraudulent accounting, corporate structure or matters of other Chinese companies may also negatively affect the attitudes of investors towards Chinese companies in general, including us, regardless of whether we have conducted any inappropriate activities. Furthermore, securities markets may from time to time experience significant price and volume fluctuations that are not related to our operating performance, which may have a material and adverse effect on the trading price of the ADSs.
 
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In addition to the above factors, the price and trading volume of the ADSs may be highly volatile due to multiple factors, including the following:
 
   
regulatory developments affecting us or our industry;
 
   
announcements of studies and reports relating to the quality of our credit offerings or those of our competitors;
 
   
changes in the economic performance or market valuations of other mobile content platform companies;
 
   
actual or anticipated fluctuations in our quarterly results of operations and changes or revisions of our expected results;
 
   
changes in financial estimates by securities research analysts;
 
   
conditions in the markets for mobile content and targeted advertising and marketing services;
 
   
announcements by us or our competitors of new product and service offerings, acquisitions, strategic relationships, joint ventures, capital raisings or capital commitments;
 
   
additions to or departures of our senior management;