NEW MEDIA AGE -- Apr 30 -- The UK dating services industry is worth an estimated £600 million a year and, according to Hitwise, there are more than 1,300 dating sites in operation. Meanwhile, Jupiter Research predicts the number of paying members of dating sites will reach 6 million in the next three years, rising from 2.6 million in 2006. In the midst of such vast anticipated growth, two of the biggest players — Meetic, which owns Dating Direct, and IAC, owner of Match.com — have agreed to a deal.
Industry reaction to the owners of Match.com and Dating Direct getting into bed together seems to be one of general puzzlement. IAC plans to sell its European operations of Match.com to Meetic in return for €5 million (£4.5 million) and a 27% interest in Meetic. So why would the world's largest dating site suddenly decide to sell its profitable European operation? Ross Williams, co-founder of WhiteLabelDating, which powers dating sites for publishers, sees the strategy behind the decision. "There was a clause in the announcement that didn't make many of the headlines, but I think will tell you the direction IAC is going in: Match has the option to buy Meetic in its entirety in about three years. So this is kind of phase one of setting the limits of both businesses."
There's a general feeling in the industry that the Meetic/IAC deal will be just the first of a number of unions in a sector that has hundreds of competitors. Markus Frind, founder and CEO of free dating site Plenty of Fish, believes we'll see more forced marriages in the UK market. "A lot of dating sites have been losing traffic over the last two years and some aren't even profitable; that can't go on forever," he says. But it seems the economic squeeze isn't impacting the bigger players in this sector. eHarmony launched in the UK last October saw an almost 2% increase in the number of pages people viewed on days when the Dow Jones was down 100 points or more. Match.com has also seen a 35% increase in sign-ups since the beginning of the year.
With so many players in the market, differentiating each dating service arguably comes down to how effectively sites match individuals. While approaches differ slightly, no one player seems to be doing anything radically different. Online dating service Parship claims to have been the first in Europe to offer a scientific approach to matchmaking, with its psychometric compatibility test, taken by more than 9 million people to date. eHarmony uses an in-depth 250-question questionnaire based on 35 years of clinical psychology research. Tapping into this trend, Match.com launched its work-in-progress personality test in December 2008.
Another growth opportunity for the buoyant dating market is the 'second' generation of single people, who are gradually putting their trust online. WhiteLabelDating, which runs Fun at Fifty, has seen a "massive increase" in the popularity of its over-50s dating site. Launched in October 2008, user numbers have risen each month, with March 2009 showing visits up by 47% on the previous month.
The full article was originally published at New Media Age, but is no longer available.
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