Chinese Internet companies Baidu, Tencent and Qihoo 360 are reportedly competing to purchase Sogou, Sohu‘s search business. Sina Tech’s report cites unnamed sources in the investment industry (link via Google Translate) and Sogou CEO Wang Xiaoquan has already taken to his Sina Weibo account to brush off the report as “unreliable,” but it’s worth noting that rumors of two recent acquisitions–PPS by Baidu and Alibaba’s purchase of a stake in Sina Weibo–both turned out to be true.
According to Sina Tech’s sources, Sogou, the third largest search engine in China, is currently stymied by a development bottleneck and can’t grab any more market share away from Baidu and Qihoo 360. Baidu has 67.21 percent market share and Qihoo 360 holds 14.94 percent, compared to Sogou’s 9.15 percent slice, according to data from CNZZ. The company has been considering a sale for the past six months, with Qihoo offering $140 million including stock and cash options, while Baidu is offering an undisclosed but higher amount of cash. Meanwhile, Tencent has entered the fray mainly because it doesn’t want Qihoo 360 to get its hands on Sogou.
The sale has been held up in part because of dissension within Sogou’s top ranks. CEO Wang Xiaochuan is reportedly at the head of the faction that wants to sell to Qihoo 360, but Sohu chairman Charles Zhang prefers Baidu’s offer. Sina Tech sources say, however, that Qihoo 360′s offer looks poised to triumph. If Qihoo 360 does indeed buy Sogou, the deal will boost the combined company’s market share to about 25 percent. Qihoo 360 will also reap the benefits of Sogou’s unique “smart input” method, which currently has 195 million active users.
“If the two merge it will really subvert the current structure of the search market. It’ll become a power struggle between two competitors,” said Sina Tech’s source.
A Baidu spokesman declined comment. Qihoo 360 and Tencent have also been emailed for comment.