Back in early May, Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) announced a new dating feature for its social network. That news torpedoed shares of Match Group (NASDAQ: MTCH), the online dating giant that owns services including Match.com, Tinder, OkCupid, and PlentyOfFish.
But Match Group rebounded from that initial decline as a strong first-quarter report allayed fears about the company's future, while several new catalysts bolstered investor confidence. Let's examine how three of those catalysts could widen Match's moat against Facebook.
Match's Tinder redefined online dating, but the app can burn out users with "swipe fatigue" by offering them too many choices. Match's solution to that problem is Crown, an app that won the company's internal "ideathon" and was developed by a team of millennial women.
Instead of offering users an endless stream of potential partners, Crown presents an algorithm-curated selection of 16 potential matches at noon each day. The app displays two photos at a time, the user "crowns" the winner, and the process repeats until only one potential match remains. The winner is then given a chance to chat with you, but he or she can also decide to pass.
Speaking to TechCrunch in mid-June, Match VP Andy Chen said Crown offers a "Bachelorette-style process of elimination which helps users choose between quality over quantity." Crown is also designed to encourage users to chat more.
Chen stated that the app -- which has been in a limited beta over the past few months -- already has "several thousand" users, is "organically growing," and has day-over-day retention rates that are "already as strong" as Match's other apps.
About a week after launching Crown, Tinder started testing a new feature that helps users find better matches based on things they have in common, like education, jobs, and hobbies. The feature, called Tinder Picks, will be launched for Tinder Gold subscribers. Tinder Picks will be refreshed every 24 hours, but Gold members can buy more access (via "packs" of 10, 20, and 30 Picks) at any time.
That feature could strengthen the company's base of paid Tinder subscribers (which include its Plus and Gold members) -- which grew by 1.6 million annually and 368,000 sequentially to 3.5 million last quarter. Match's total average subscribers rose 26% annually to 7.4 million.
Tinder Picks is currently live in 10 overseas markets, but hasn't been launched in the U.S. yet. Pundits note this new feature is likely aimed at countering Coffee Meets Bagel, a popular female-oriented app that emphasizes curated choices over endless swiping.
Lastly, Match recently acquired a 51% stake in Hinge, a New York City-based relationship service that aims to provide "an alternative to swipe culture by creating smart matches and natural conversations." The deal also provides Match with the option of purchasing the entire company over the following year.
Hinge claims that 75% of first dates on its platform turn into second dates, and that it's the No. 1 mobile-first dating app mentioned in the New York Times Weddings section. It also claims that it's "where the next generation is going when they're over dating games and ready to find meaningful connections."
Match made its first investment in Hinge last September. Since then, the app grew its user base by over 400%, with "meaningful traction" in key urban and East Coast markets, according to Match. The company press release on the deal didn't give a number of users, but the service could expand Match's paid subscriber base, since Hinge is a paid service that costs $12.99 per month, $6.99 per month on a three-month plan, or $4.99 per month on a six-month plan. It could also expand Match's reach with slightly older users who want to settle down.
Match won't go down without a fight
Facebook's entrance into the dating market could present obstacles, but Match still has plenty of tricks up its sleeve. The company is constantly expanding its ecosystem with new apps, features, and investments, and those moves could ensure that its core business keeps growing -- even if Tinder's growth slows down.
Wall Street expects Match's revenue to rise 27% this year as its earnings more than double. Its stock isn't terribly cheap, at 32 times this year's earnings and 27 times next year's earnings. But fresh catalysts like Crown, Picks, and Hinge could justify those valuations.
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