Line's User Base Falls as Social-Messaging Space Gets Crowded
Growth in Advertising Aids Revenue, but Chat App Lags Competitors
Messaging app Line Corp.'s user growth stalled out in late 2016. The company reported that monthly active users (MAUs) edged down to 217 million in Q4 2016 from 220 million the previous quarter.
Line was an early player in the emerging social-messaging space, but competition has grown heated, in particular from two Facebook messaging platforms, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp, and from Tencent Holdings' WeChat. Facebook Messenger hit 1 billion MAUs in July 2016; WhatsApp hit the billion-user milestone even earlier, in February of last year. Meanwhile, WeChat, the dominant social-messaging platform in China (but less of a force in other markets) reported that it had 846 million MAUs as of Q3 2016.
Line's users are concentrated in four markets—Japan, Thailand, Indonesia and Taiwan. Together, these four countries account for more than three-quarters of the service's MAUs.
While Line's user growth may have stalled, the platform has seen gains in its advertising business. Advertising accounted for 42% of revenue in Q4 2016, with virtual game items contributing 29% and "sticker packs"—an early innovation that was once a key revenue component—making up 19%.
And the company posted a profit for the year, as revenue increased roughly 17%.
Despite offering streaming music, online games and ecommerce features, Line hasn't kept pace with many of the features added by competitors like WeChat, arguably the world's leader in chat app innovation.
In advance of its IPO in June 2016, the company announced a slew of new services, including its own mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) service, a loyalty program, and a separate platform called Line@ designed to cater to businesses seeking to connect with customers and clients. But those services don't appear to have contributed significant revenue at this point—or to have pumped up user counts.