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Tencent Holding Ltd. (TCEHY -0.82%)
Q3 2021 Earnings Call
Nov 10, 2021, 7:00 a.m. ET


  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:


Good day and thank you for standing by. Welcome to Tencent Holdings Limited third quarter 2021 results announcement conference call. [Operator instructions] Please be advised that today's conference is being recorded. [Operator instructions] And now I would like to turn the conference over to Ms.

Jane Yip from Tencent IR team. Thank you. Please go ahead.

Jane Yip -- Investor Relations

Thank you. Good evening, everyone. Welcome to our 2021 third quarter results conference call. Before we start the presentation, we would like to remind you that it includes forward-looking statements, which are underlined by a number of risks and uncertainties and may not be realized in the future for various reasons.

Information about general market conditions is coming from a variety of sources outside of Tencent. This presentation also contains some unaudited non-IFRS financial measures that should be considered in addition to, but not as a substitute for, measures of the group's financial performance prepared in accordance with IFRS. For a detailed discussion of risk factors and non-IFRS measures, please refer to our disclosure documents on the IR section of our website. Let me introduce the management team on the call tonight.

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Our chairman and CEO, Pony Ma, will kick off with a short overview. President Martin Lau, and chief strategy officer, James Mitchell, will provide a business review. Chief Financial Officer John Lo will conclude with financial discussion before we open the floor for questions. I will now turn the call over to Pony.

Pony Ma -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Jane. Good evening. Thanks, everyone, for joining us. During the third quarter, the Internet industry, including the domestic games industries and certain advertiser categories, adapted to new regulatory and macroeconomic developments.

We are proactively embracing the new regulatory environment, which we believe should contribute to a more sustainable development path for the industry. In the domestic game market, our industry-leading efforts in fully complying with new regulations significantly reduced minors' game time and spending, fostering a healthier gameplay environment. We also invested actively in key strategic areas as well as in frontiers of technologies, along with making new commitments in common prosperity initiatives. Looking forward, we are committed to delivering superior experiences to users, assisting enterprises to digitalize their operations and contributing to the society at large.

Starting from this quarter, we disclose revenue from Domestic and International Games as new subsegment under VAS, reflecting the increasing scale of our international games business. Now let me go through the headline number, financial number for the quarter. Total revenue was RMB 142 billion, up 13% year on year and 3% quarter on quarter. Gross profit was RMB 63 billion, up 11% year on year and stable quarter on quarter.

Non-IFRS operating profit was RMB 41 billion, up 7% year on year or down 5% quarter on quarter. Non-IFRS net profit attributable to equity holders was RMB 32 billion, down 2% year on year and 7% quarter on quarter. Moving to our key services. We focus on upgrading technologies and product innovations, maintaining our first or second place market positions across key businesses, including social, games, digital content, payment, and public cloud services.

Combined MAU of Weixin and WeChat was RMB 1.26 billion. Mobile devices MAU of QQ was RMB 574 million. Now I will hand over to Martin and James for the business review.

Martin Lau -- President

Thank you, Pony, and good evening, good morning, everybody. For the third quarter of 2021, our total revenue grew 13% year on year. VAS represented 53% of our total revenue, within which Domestic Games subsegment revenue was 24%, International Games subsegment was 8%, and Social Networks subsegment revenue was 21%. Online Advertising accounted for 16% of our total revenue, and FinTech and Business Services was 30% of total revenue.

For Value-Added Services, segment revenue was RMB 75 billion for the third quarter, up 8% year on year. Social Networks subsegment revenue increased 7% year on year to RMB 30 billion, reflecting relatively rapid growth from video and music subscriptions and moderate growth from live streaming and in-game item sales. Total VAS subscriptions grew 10% year on year to 235 million. Video subscriptions increased 8% year on year to 129 million, driven by popular drama series.

For example, our self-commissioned TV drama, Crime Crackdown Down, as well as Honour of Kings tie-in, You Are My Glory, ranked No. 1 and No. 2 by video views across all online platforms in China for the quarter, broadening our user mix in terms of gender and age. The success of these series demonstrated our progress in content production and cross-media IP extension.

Music subscriptions increased 38% year on year to 71 million, as more users are attracted by TME's enhanced streaming experience. Looking at our games business. For Domestic Games, revenue grew 5% year on year to RMB 34 billion, primarily driven by Honour of Kings, Call of Duty Mobile, and Moonlight Blade Mobile. Revenue grew sequentially due to seasonal activities in Peacekeeper Elite and Dungeon & Fighter.

For International Games, the revenue increased 20% year on year to RMB 11 billion or 28% in constant currency terms, benefiting from robust performance of Valorant and Clash of Clans. Moving to Weixin. We continue to strengthen its content and commerce ecosystems. In Video Accounts, we are fostering rich and diverse content.

An increasing number of content creators from Official Accounts now express their ideas in video format, contributing to a differentiated set of content in Video Accounts. Our strength in sports coverage, music and games also enriched and diversified our content offering. Video consumption grew healthily as we proactively enhanced content and recommendation technology. For Mini Programs, we are deepening penetration across industries, including restaurants, retailing, and transportation.

The number of active Mini Programs increased by over 40% year on year, testifying to the vibrancy of the commerce ecosystem. By integrating WeCom's enterprise communication tool with Mini Programs, we enable the direct interactions between individual salesperson and customers in retailers' private domain environment. As a result, retailers can foster their own customer relationships and drive sales efficiently. For QQ, in our last upgrade for QQ, we've been stepping up our effort and technology on the interactive side.

We enhanced video and AI technologies to facilitate creative and efficient content production, driving more UGC activities on our platform. We customized AI tools for festivals and national landmarks, adding more engaging experiences for users to interact with the physical world. We also provided cross-screen interactive effects in video call, offering more entertaining shared experiences. Through these upgrades, we make users' interaction in QQ more exciting and immersive.

Turning to games. First, on Domestic Games. We believe fostering a healthy gameplay environment for domestic market is of paramount importance. Since September 1, we have implemented new measures to fully comply with the latest regulations on restricting minors' game time in China.

Subsequently, users under 18 years old accounted for 0.7% of our Domestic Games time spent in September, reduced significantly from 6.4% in the same period last year. In addition, these users accounted for 1.1% of our Domestic Games gross receipts in September, down from 4.8% in the same period last year. We continue to lead the industry in combating minors' usage of adult accounts. For example, we upgraded our screening system to identify misused adult accounts around the clock.

We also proactively assist authorities in cracking down on illegal account transactions. Looking at the highlights of our games business. For Honour of Kings, we're bringing to life Chinese culture with a series of popular skins, which successfully transmitted provincial arts and traditions to a wider audience. We made significant progress in expanding successful PC franchise to mobile.

Wild Rift successfully reactivated an enlarged League of Legends user base by extending the authentic PC experience to mobile devices. In October 2021, it ranked second by DAU among all mobile games in China. We also invigorated auto-chess genre by introducing PvE and co-op gameplay in Fight of the Golden Spatula. It is the second most popular new game launch in China year to date by DAU, only behind Wild Rift.

For International Games, we have been developing our business for more than a decade now, and its scale relative to our domestic business has been increasing over the last few years. We do expect exciting opportunities ahead in the global games industry, as we discussed in our investment strategy with you earlier this year. In order to further develop this high-growth business, firstly, we enhanced our upstream game development capabilities. We're increasing investment in talent and leading studios.

Our China-based studio groups, especially TME and LightSpeed, are scaling up with new talent hires, not only in China but also globally. Riot and Supercell, which have developed multiple hit games, are also ramping up their development teams. In the meantime, we are acquiring and nurturing specialist genre-leading studios such as Digital Extremes, Grinding Gear Games, and Fatshark, to name a few. And we nurture them with our know-how, technology and funding.

Secondly, while strengthening our global IP portfolio with multiple strategies, internally, we extend our globally recognized IPs such as League of Legends, Clash, as well as Honour of Kings to mobile and to additional genres, expanding our addressable market. We are also creating games with the potential to become new global IPs such as Valorant and Brawl Stars. Externally, we partner with renowned IP owners to develop mobile games with global appeal such as PUBG Mobile, Call of Duty Mobile, and Pokémon UNITE, and there are more to come. Thirdly, to support our expansion in multiple regions, we're building up localized publishing and operational capabilities.

We're also stepping up our marketing efforts in eSports operations to foster player communities. We'll continue to step up our investment in our International Games business. Now with that, I'll pass to James to discuss other businesses.

James Mitchell -- Chief Strategy Officer

Thank you, Martin. Moving to online advertising. Total revenue was RMB 22.5 billion in the third quarter. Revenue growth slowed 5% year on year due to weakness from the education, insurance and game sectors.

While consumer staples, Internet services and automobile sectors, remained resilient, overall bidding density reduced. We expect advertising pricing industrywide may remain soft for several quarters due to macro challenges and regulations affecting certain key advertising sectors. We believe the advertising industry should adjust and rebase during 2022, then resume growth as secular growth drivers reassert themselves. Our Social and Others Advertising revenue increased 7% year on year to RMB 19 billion, primarily driven by Weixin Mini Programs and Official Accounts, although slowed by weaker eCPMs at our ad network.

We're enabling enterprises to connect users with salespeople by embedding WeCom chat-to-salesperson functionality within their advertisements, which is especially effective for lead-driven advertisers such as automobile dealers. An increasing number of transaction-driven advertisers such as grocery, e-commerce merchants use Mini Programs as their ads' landing pages, which helps them better convert traffic into transactions. Our Media Advertising revenue declined 4% year on year due to less revenue from the Tencent News app. On the positive side, we streamed top-tier drama series, variety shows and Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, generating improved sponsorship revenue on Tencent Video app.

Looking at FinTech and Business Services. Segment revenue was RMB 43 billion, up 30% year on year and up 3% quarter on quarter. Within FinTech Services, year-on-year revenue growth was mainly driven by increased commercial payment volume with healthy growth in categories such as groceries, power, and transportation. Commercial payment daily active users and per-user transactions both increased.

Compared to the second quarter of 2021, off-line commercial payment volume growth moderated on a year-on-year basis due to controlled measures against COVID-19 resurgence in certain provinces. We deepened our cooperation with UnionPay to develop new payments and service interconnection scenarios. Users can now scan Weixin Pay QR codes via the UnionPay Cloud QuickPass app to make off-line payments. And Cloud QuickPass also supports top-up purchases for QQ Points, QQ Music, and Tencent Video subscription services.

For Business Services, revenue grew at a healthy rate year on year, benefiting from continued digitalization in traditional industries such as financial services and transportation as well as video-ization of the Internet industry. We see substantial potential in China's underpenetrated customer relationship management market. Our CRM Software-as-a-Service solution, Tencent QiDian, has helped more than one million enterprises to enhance cost efficiency and customer service and is increasingly adopted by medium- and large-scale enterprises, including Dell, SF Express, and Siemens. Clients can automate 80% to 90% of their customer service workloads via the virtual assistant, leveraging our AI-powered solutions across chat, voice and other communications channels.

Our Tencent database structured query language Platform-as-a-Service solution, or TDSQL database, has served more than 3,000 clients from verticals, including financial services, public services, and telecom. Within the financial vertical, we see increasing demand for upgrading database architecture with enhanced security protection. TDSQL serves six out of the top 10 banks in China and increased its penetration within financial institutions' core systems due to their trust in our data security, reliability, and consistency. And I'll now pass to John to discuss the financial review.

John Lo -- Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, James. Hi, everybody. For the third quarter of 2021, total revenue was RMB 142.4 billion, up 13% year on year or 3% quarter on quarter. Gross profit was RMB 62.7 billion, up 11% year on year or broadly stable quarter on quarter.

Net other gains were RMB 23 billion, up 99% year on year or 11% quarter on quarter. This mainly comprised non-IFRS adjustment relating to our investee companies, including, number one, deemed disposal, and disposal gains of our investee companies in sectors such as games, Internet utility, and local services; number two, the valuation gains of certain investee companies in verticals such as e-commerce; number three, impairment provisions for investee companies in verticals such as FinTech and social entertainment. Operating profit was RMB 53.1 billion, up 21% year on year and 1% quarter on quarter. Net finance costs were RMB 1.9 billion, largely stable both year on year and quarter on quarter.

Share of losses of associates and joint ventures were RMB 5.7 billion compared to share profit of RMB 2.6 billion last year. The movement reflected the impact on non-IFRS adjustments of certain associates, increased investment in community group buying initiative by certain associates, as well as losses recognized from certain associates in the social media sector, partially offset by enhanced performance of certain associates in the e-commerce sector. On a non-IFRS basis, we recorded share of losses of RMB 282 million this quarter for associates and joint ventures compared to share profit of RMB 3.2 billion a year ago. Income tax expense was RMB 5.5 billion this quarter.

The effective tax rate for the quarter was 12%. IFRS net profit attributable to equity holders was RMB 39.5 billion, up 3% year on year or down 7% quarter on quarter. Diluted EPS was RMB 4.074, up 3% year on year or down 7% quarter on quarter. Now I'll share with you our non-IFRS financial figures.

Operating profit was RMB 40.8 billion, up 7% year on year or down 5% quarter on quarter. Net profit after NCI was RMB 31.8 billion, down 2% year on year and 7% quarter on quarter. Diluted EPS was RMB 3.269, down 1% year on year and 7% q on q. Moving on to gross margin.

The overall gross margin was 44.1%, down 1.1 percentage points year on year and 1.3 percentage points quarter on quarter. Breaking in the segments. Gross margin for Value-Added Services was 53%, up 0.4 percentage point year on year or largely stable q on q. Gross margin for Online Advertising was 46.4%, down 4.5 percentage points year on year or 2.4 percentage points quarter on quarter.

Both year on year and quarter-on-quarter decrease reflected increased bandwidth and server costs, including those associated with our Video Accounts service. Gross margin for FinTech and Business Services was 28.5%, up 0.6 percentage point year on year or down 3.5 percentage points quarter on quarter. The year-on-year increase was driven by mix shift within FinTech Services, partially offset by greater revenue contribution from lower margin Business Services. The sequential decline mainly reflected our continued investment in cloud computing, including talents and operations.

On operating expenses. Selling and marketing were RMB 10.4 billion, up 17% year on year or 4% quarter on quarter. The Y-o-Y increase was primarily driven by increased marketing spending on gains as well as consolidation of Bitauto. As a percentage of revenues, selling and marketing expenses were 7% of revenues, broadly stable compared to the first quarter of 2020.

R&D expenses were RMB 13.7 billion, up 39% year on year or 7% q on q. R&D expenses represented approximately 10% of revenues. G&A expenses, including R&D, were RMB 10.2 billion, up 39% year on year or 3% quarter on quarter. Both year on year and quarter-on-quarter increase reflected greater staff costs.

Excluding share-based compensation, G&A expenses increased by 23% year on year and 7% quarter on quarter. At the quarter end, we had approximately 107,000 employees, up 38% year on year or 14% quarter on quarter, primarily due to our increased resources allocated to our strategic growth initiatives. Let's take a look at the operating and net margin ratios. For 3Q 2021, non-IFRS operating margin was 20.7%, down 1.7 percentage points y on y or 2.3 percentage points q on q.

Non-IFRS net margin was 22.8%, down 3.8 percentage points year on year or 2.6 percentage points quarter on quarter. Finally, I will share with you some key financial metrics for the quarter. Total capex was RMB 7.1 billion, down 11 -- down 19% year on year or up 2% quarter on quarter. Within total capex, operating capex was RMB 5.6 billion, down 28% year on year.

Non-operating capex increased 62% year on year to RMB 1.5 billion, reflecting higher spending on land use rights and building constructions. Free cash flow for the quarter was RMB 24.1 billion, down 14% year on year or up 40% quarter on quarter. Net debt position was RMB 26.1 billion, compared to RMB 21 billion last quarter, mainly reflecting cash flow for M&A activities and payment for purchase of -- repurchase of shares, partly offset by free cash flow generation and on-market divestitures of certain listed securities. The fair market value of our shareholdings and listed investee companies, excluding subsidiaries, was approximately RMB 1.2 trillion or USD 185 billion at the end of third quarter.

We repurchased approximately 5.6 million shares with an aggregate cost of RMB 2.2 billion or USD 334 million for the third quarter of 2021. Thank you. We shall open the floor for questions. 

Jane Yip -- Investor Relations

Operator, please invite the first question.

Questions & Answers:


[Operator instructions] Your first question comes from the line of Piyush Mubayi from Goldman Sachs. Please ask your question. 

Piyush Mubayi -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Good evening, Martin, James, John, and Jane. And thank you for taking my question. My first question is about the buzzword that's floating around so many times nowadays. How would you assess your positioning in the Metaverse, the next iteration of the Internet? Do you see this as transformational or an extension of your current business models? And how would you size the opportunity versus the current estimates of the gaming industry that are north of USD 200 billion? And if I may slip in a second one on advertising. In light of the pricing challenges that you talked about where China macro, PIPL, and regulations all appear to be headwinds, how do you rank these sets of risks? And with regard to your comment on a rebasement in 2022, could ad growth rates get back to double-digit growth rate sometime in 4Q? Or would it be sometime in 2022, in your opinion? Thank you. 

Pony Ma -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

So on Metaverse, I think this is actually sort of a very exciting but a little bit big concept. The way we look at Metaverse in terms of sort of -- at a high level is that we felt anything that really makes the virtual world more real and making the real world more rich with virtual experiences can actually sort of become part of the Metaverse big world. And as a result, we felt it's going to be an opportunity that really add the growth to the existing industries. For example, it will be an addition to the gaming industry.

It will also be an addition to the social networking industry. And in some cases, when you have real-life applications like business applications, it actually also can be a growth engine for that industry too. And the reason is we felt that there are actually multiple pathways through which you can actually get into the Metaverse opportunity. For example, you can have very interactive games, very high production and open world type of games.

You also can have multiple games under a common world view or IP. You can have a gaming platform that provides the infrastructure for people to create a lot of different games within the gaming platform. You can have a social network, which can be gamified and support much more programmable experiences. You also can have a real-world experience but augmented by augmented reality and virtual reality.

So that's sort of how we think about the different pathways to which you get to Metaverse. Now in terms of our capabilities and our positioning, right, we felt we actually have a lot of the technology and know-how building blocks for us to explore and develop for the Metaverse opportunity. For example, we have a lot of gaming experiences. We also have very strong social networking experience.

In addition to that, in terms of technology building blocks, we have engine capability. We have AI capability. We have the capability to build a large server architecture that can serve a huge number of concurrent users. We are very experienced in managing digital content economies as well as real-life digital assets.

So all in all, we felt that we have a lot of tech and capability building blocks that will allow us to approach the Metaverse opportunity through the multiple pathways we talked about. Now with advertising, I would pass to James.

James Mitchell -- Chief Strategy Officer

Yes. So thank you, Piyush. You asked about the various challenges facing the China advertising market and how we would rank them. So I think that in terms of size and immediacy, the regulations affecting industries such as education, the games, insurance, have the most substantial and fastest impact.

And then the macro environment is also impactful in that -- in a very robust macro environment, then one would expect certain categories, slow advertising spending. Other categories will leap into the gap and sort of backfill and take advantage of the lower prices and higher ROIs. And I think that will happen over time, but in a more challenging macro environment, it happens less quickly than in a more robust macro environment. Then in terms of the Personal Information Protection or -- and also, you didn't mention it, but other people may want Apple's IDFA changes.

Those are relatively less impactful. For the Personal Information Protection, though, we implemented that as of November 1. And it's important to remember that people who choose to opt out still see ads. It's just the ads are less relevant to their needs.

And we think that as a consequence, at least up till now, the opt-out rate has been very low single digits. And then for IDFA, you may be aware that in the United States and Western markets, there was effectively two shoes that dropped. The first one was impaired targeting ability. And then the second more impactful issue was impaired attribution ability.

In China, we've been through the targeting challenge. And the attribution challenge appears less, partly because the industry has a variety of mechanisms for driving attribution and partly because Apple only represents a teens percent of Internet traffic in China versus a much higher proportion in Western markets. So that's in terms of sort of sizing, prioritizing the various challenges. In terms of timing, when advertising may resume a faster growth rate, then obviously, it depends very much on any future regulations that emerge as well as any future macro challenges that emerge.

Putting those to one side, then a couple of observations. One is that I think our advertising comps are generally toughest in the first quarter of next year. In a normal year, the first quarter is seasonally a low quarter. And then you see very strong sequential advertising revenue growth in the second and third quarters versus if you look at -- in 2021, that clearly wasn't the case.

So we have a tough comp in first quarter '22 that then eases. And then secondly, while there are a number of categories that are weak and they tend to be the categories that would normally react most quickly to lower pricing by increasing in their volume, there's other categories that are still quite robust, including clothing, personal goods, healthcare, and so forth. Now I believe, in general, these categories react more slowly. They make more human being-driven ad buying decisions rather than the algorithmic ad buying decisions that a mobile game or an online education company might.

But it's a reality that because pricing has softened, therefore, the ROI from buying ads improved. And so over time, we would expect some of those slower-moving advertiser categories to reassert themselves. Thank you. 


Our next question comes from Charlene Liu from HSBC. Please go ahead. 

Charlene Liu -- HSBC -- Analyst

Hi, management. Thank you very much for the opportunity and for taking my question. I guess I want to follow up on a point that James was making on -- I think earlier on, you discussed some of the challenged verticals such as education, games and insurance and whatnot. I was wondering if you can share a little bit more on how much do these verticals contribute to the advertising business.

You also mentioned that we're seeing some green shoots perhaps in segment like healthcare. Are these -- how much can they really make up for, I guess, the weaknesses that we're seeing in some of the challenged verticals that you discussed earlier? And I have a follow-up for online game. Thank you.

James Mitchell -- Chief Strategy Officer

Well, in terms of making up for weakness, we commented that we expect weakness to persist for several quarters. So I want to emphasize the adjective several, which is not something that we believe will return to prior trends immediately. In terms of how much those categories contribute, then directionally speaking, games would be in the low to mid-teens. Education has dropped to the low single digits now, and insurance is a subset of finance but, again, will be a low single-digit percentage.

In terms of categories that are relatively healthier, then financial services, ex insurance, and personal care products and clothing, food and beverage. For us, our transportation-related advertising has been very strong, but that partly reflects the reinvigoration of Bitauto and the injection of the video content from its [Inaudible] share of automobile-related advertising and then healthcare. But as I mentioned, these categories tend to make their decisions on a sort of annual or quarterly basis rather than on real-time basis. And so when advertising pricing softens, as it has done, they don't react immediately.

Charlene Liu -- HSBC -- Analyst

OK. Great. I think on the online game front, in particular, for overseas expansion, can you discuss what are some of the challenges you may anticipate amid our overseas expansion efforts for online game? And can you also share some details on the pipeline? Thank you.

James Mitchell -- Chief Strategy Officer

Well, in terms of the pipeline, both for domestic and the international business, we tend not to talk about games until their launch or at least until they're very close to launch. But just looking at the slide and thinking about what's been publicly announced, TME and LightSpeed both announced a number of titles, which are global IPs and you should expect to be released globally. They also have some other titles which are their own IPs, which we also hope will succeed globally, although time will tell whether that's the case or not. Riot has announced a number of games, including the mobile version of Valorant.

Supercell has announced three flash-based games. Grinding Gear Games has announced Path of Exile 2. Fatshark's announced Darktide, and so on and so forth. So none of our studios are sitting still.

All of them have products in the pipeline, and some of them are announced products, some of them, unannounced products, and therefore, a little bit further away. In terms of the challenges we face, I think that they're pretty similar to the challenges that other companies in the game industry face. Just to touch on two that are front of mind at the moment. One is the war for talent.

We believe that the game industry is really a talent-driven industry. And so we spend a lot of time at our own studios and also working with our investee and daughter studios working on the most appropriate compensation plans. And each situation is a little bit different. But in general, we want our studios to be in a position where they can reward the people who contribute very handsomely.

And we think we're there, and we can remain in that good position going forward because it is something we spend a great deal of time and energy on.Another issue for the game industry, because I believe that's front of mind, is the fact that, for the industry as a whole in mobile games, the app stores take a bigger profit pool than the game developers do. And I think there's a number of pressures from a regulatory perspective, from a legal perspective, including some announcements today, that have direct bearing on how that profit pool is split between app stores versus game developers. That should be helpful for game developments in general and especially for some of the smaller game developers. So those are two of the challenges that the game industry outside China faces and that we also face as a participant. 

Charlene Liu -- HSBC -- Analyst

All right. Thank you. 


Our next question comes from Alex Yao from J. P. Morgan. Please ask your question. 

Alex Yao -- JPMorgan Chase and Company -- Analyst

Thank you management for taking my question. I have a -- first question is a follow-up on the implementation of PIPL. James, you mentioned that the opt-out ratio is quite low, perhaps around low single digit. So presumably the impact on your own property advertising operation should be quite small.

How about the impact on your ad network business? Can you share some color? And then secondly, regarding domestic gaming operation. How will the current game monetization approval suspension change your gaming operation and the product launch strategy in the next couple of quarters? Thank you. 

James Mitchell -- Chief Strategy Officer

We haven't yet published. And given historically, we typically publish a mid-single-digit number of new games each quarter, then you can see that we have a backlog that will keep us busy for many quarters to come. So obviously, it would be better for the industry as a whole if -- as and when the BanHao issuance resumes in terms of bringing more innovation to market. But I think you can see that between our big existing games, between some of the very high-DAU new games we've recently launched and our several dozen games with BanHao that we haven't yet launched, we think we can navigate through this temporary period and get up -- move forward.

So there, I'd really emphasize the temporary nature. In terms of the question around the ad network, so to clarify, our ad network pricing was weaker in the third quarter, but that was due to a combination of the demand factors that we've talked about in terms of regulation from certain sectors, macro challenges. And then on the supply side, the limitations on so-called flash screen advertising had a bigger negative impact on the ad network business than on our owned and operated inventories. PIPL didn't and doesn't have as substantial an impact as those two factors.


Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Robin Zhu from Bernstein. Please ask your question. 

Robin Zhu -- Sanford C. Bernstein -- Analyst

Hi, management. Thank you for letting me ask the question. Just two, I guess two questions, please. One, on WeChat, Mini Programs, and the eCommerce GMV growth there and the ads growth there.

I mean you guys very helpfully shared some data in the last couple of quarters. If we could get an update on what's going on there, how that's contributing to the advertising growth and whether you expect any of the -- whether it's regulatory or PIPL or something else to impact growth in the next couple of quarters. And second question, just on the broader regulatory environment. I mean it seems optically that the rates of new announcements have slowed somewhat.

Last quarter, I think, John -- or no, sorry, last quarter, management said, look, there's still plenty of stuff to come on the regulatory front. I wonder if that view has changed as of this quarter. Thank you. 

Martin Lau -- President

So on Mini Programs, in terms of GMV and ads growth, I think that overall message we want to tell you is it remains healthy and strong. We don't -- once you make this a permanent item to disclose. And as long as the trend is intact, we don't talk about the specific numbers this time around. In terms of the ecosystem, this time around, we actually try to provide you with additional color regarding the diversity of the ecosystem.

And you can see the number of Mini Programs have actually increased 40%, which means that it's actually a very vibrant ecosystem, covering an increasing number of different industries and types of applications. And this is exactly one of the key drivers behind the strong growth of GMV and ads growth. So that's sort of what we do want to share with you this time around. Now on the second question, maybe James can answer.

James Mitchell -- Chief Strategy Officer

And this was -- the question was around the overall regulatory environment. And I mean, actually, Martin is probably better...

Martin Lau -- President

Oh, what's -- is it the overall?

James Mitchell -- Chief Strategy Officer

Yes, overall regulatory environment.

Martin Lau -- President

So the overall regulatory environment, I would say, last time we were asked about this question, right, and our answer is that there will be more regulations coming in. And I think we have been proven to be right. And we have seen more regulatory development over the last few months. And we also believe that a stricter regulation is a new normal for the entire industry, and that's not just for China but also globally.

But we do want to emphasize that the rationale behind the regulatory push is actually -- especially China is really the government trying to drive higher-quality and sustainable and healthier growth for the entire industry with a focus on consumer rights and privacy protection. So that's the reason why we are proactively working with the regulators on implementing all the necessary changes. And we expect once the industry has really complied with the new regulations, have made all the adjustments, then even when new regulations come around in the future, which, by nature, if there has been already a lot of regulations and the regulations in the future on an incremental basis will be smaller in terms of percentage-wise, and as the industry adapted further, then the impact on the industry will be less and less over time. That's what we felt. 

Robin Zhu -- Sanford C. Bernstein -- Analyst

Thank you. 


Our next question comes from Guanren Wang from CITIC. You can go ahead. 

Guanren Wang

Hello. Thank you for taking my question. I have two questions. The first one is about the content development strategy of WeChat and Video Account.

Just as you mentioned that Tencent's cross-IP strategy has achieved great success, so I think that Tencent has a barrier that its competitor cannot surpass in a very short time. So I mean, how the WeChat Video Account could benefit from TME or China Literature or the eSports? How this Tencent's unit content advantage can empower the development of the Video Account? And on the other hand, how the Video Account distribution mechanism could feedback Tencent's content system? So -- and the second one is about the Tianjin Internet. Last week, the Tencent digital ecosystem meeting is held. And also the Tianjin Internet mentioned a lot.

So I mean, how is the Tianjin Internet strategy and how is progress and business model and the time node? So I hope the management could share more about the Tianjin Internet. Thank you. 

Martin Lau -- President

OK. On Video Accounts, I think the key points I would like to make is that Video Accounts is a product that has seen very healthy growth. And it started off to be -- from nothing, right, and it's going to a relatively sizable product. But it's still relatively young.

And in terms -- being a short video platform, it's actually much, much smaller than the market leaders at this point in time. But having said that, right, we are encouraged by the development of our Video Accounts because it has a pretty unique content. There are a lot of Official Accounts content creator who are now sharing their knowledge on Video Accounts. We are particularly strong in terms of knowledge-based short video.

And we also have a lot of other areas of content which are quite unique. For example, sports when -- during the Olympics, we -- our Video Accounts actually cross-benefit with our sports channel and was able to generate a lot of video views from users on the Olympic games. So for now, we felt very encouraged by the development so far of the Video Accounts and also the trend of its growth. And we felt, at this point in time, the most important thing for us is actually to continue to enrich the content ecosystem and also keep on improving our recommendation technology so that we can actually allow more users to come into contact with more content.

And as a result, the amount of time that people actually spend on our Video Accounts would actually increase. And once that's done, right, when that has reached even further scale, then I felt a lot of the cross-benefits that you talk about, for example, with music, animation, comics, eSports, would actually come into play even more. At this point in time, I think the key focus for us is actually to keep on scaling our Video Accounts in a sustainable and healthy way. Now in terms of the Tianjin Internet, I think it's partly using our technology to actually make the real-world experience enriched with virtual experience and also leveraging virtual technology to actually help real-life simulations.

So it's -- I think a lot of the core logic is actually similar to what we answered on the Metaverse. So I would refer you to the answers that we provide on there.


Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of William Packer from Exane BNP Paribas. Please go ahead.

William Packer -- Exane BNP Paribas -- Analyst

Hi, management. Firstly, on the domestic gaming regulatory front, the key focus so far has been limitations on the game play spend by minors and gaming approvals. As regulation evolves, do you think we should expect restrictions on adult time or spend on video games? And just as a quick follow-up, we're seeing an opening of the various platform ecosystem, including Tencent's, an increased interoperability. Could you talk through the key positives and negatives from a financial perspective of these developments, for example, increased ad or payment revenue opportunities or increased competition for engagement? Thank you.

James Mitchell -- Chief Strategy Officer

So William, on your first question, we believe that up until now, the public concern around the game industry has been very largely concentrated on the issue of whether children are spending too much time in games. And the recent regulations address that head on and what we believe very effectively. So the short answer is no, we don't expect the scenario you envisage. The longer answer would be that we think it's actually very beneficial for a country to have a robust presence in the gaming industry, both from a sort of technology perspective but also from a cultural perspective.

From a technology perspective, games have been really the cutting edge, have been driving the cutting edge of some of the most interesting hardware innovation. So for example, game sort of reason why computers have dedicated graphic processing units separate from the CPU. And it is the GPUs that are today being used for training and inference artificial intelligence. At a software level, the games have capitalized the utilization of services like Unreal Engine, which are today proliferating across enterprise, and of course, supporting the immersive Internet as well.

And then at the talent level, some of the highest-profile, most successful individuals in the technology industry globally like Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg have spoken about that their enjoyment of games when they were young and how that set them on the path in the technology industry and the success that they enjoy today. So that's from a technology industry perspective. From a cultural perspective, the United States is in a very happy position where -- because of Hollywood, the U.S. can export American culture globally through attractive movies.

Korea, it's now in a similar position with TV series. Japan is in a similar position with manga and anime. And so games represent one of the only opportunities for countries which historically haven't been sort of global participants in cultural exchange to become that. And you can see that today, if you look at the top 100 games in Japan, I think 30 come from China from mobile games.

If you look at the top 100 mobile games in the United States, 20 something come from Chinese companies. So anyway, we think that it's advantageous to society on multiple levels for there to be a thriving and robust game industry, assuming that the game industry can control adjacent issues such as children playing games too much, which we believe the China game industry is now doing.

Martin Lau -- President

So in terms of the interoperability among different platforms, I think we actually provided a very long answer last time regarding our philosophy on the ecosystem consideration. But I would say a few things, right? One is, as you said, if there's more interoperability and more openness in terms of the different platforms, we felt it could be good for our business, in particular, with respect to payment and ads business. And the reason is we are the company that probably has got the most engagement but the least monetized engagement. And if there are more other platforms sending us more commercial activities to us, then there could be financial benefits.

But I think we look at this issue from more of the key considerations regarding: one, user protection; two, information and content compliance; and three, the impact on the ecosystem. Now in terms of user protection, if there is a very big platform with a lot of users and there's also commercial interest involved in sending to another platform's users, there could be spamming that could happen. And that's something we actually try to protect quite carefully. And if there are people sending messages to another group of people, then you want to balance the interest for the sender versus the receiver.

And especially if one sender actually send it to many receivers, and then it's typically called spamming. And it could actually cause a lot of users bearing damage. So that's one aspect. The second aspect is actually information and content compliance.

When you have a platform which actually manage millions of suppliers on the other side and when it sends a message or a content over, then whose responsibility is it to ensure that the content and information is compliant with law and regulations? It may be regarding news and fictitious news, it may be about counterfeit products. So these are very difficult issues. If you have a single merchant, then it's much easier to police. But if it's a platform with millions and tens of millions of merchants on the other side, then it's much harder to police.

And finally, it's an ecosystem, right? We kept on saying our ecosystem is fundamentally open, and we do prioritize to provide support for SMEs and brands to succeed. So that's why when you have another platform with different platform regulations and economic models coming in, then it may be damaging to the ecosystem of a lot of the small/medium enterprises within our platform. And that's something that we pay a lot of attention to. So I would say we will continue to proactively explore cooperation with the platforms, but it has to be in a manner that addresses the user protection point, that information and content compliance point as well as it has to be beneficial to the ecosystem, especially for the small and medium enterprises that are on our ecosystem.


Thank you. Our next question comes from Gary Yu from Morgan Stanley. Please ask your question.

Gary Yu -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

Hi. Thank you for the opportunity to ask questions. I have two questions. The first one is regarding your strategic investment, which you kind of mentioned in the first quarter earnings.

How should we look at the impact on SG&A trends going into next year? Should we continue to see increase in level of investments? Or will we be able to start to see kind of more normalized margin trend going forward after this year of step-up in investment? Second is a follow-up on Metaverse. You mentioned about the opportunities and maybe Tencent position in this space. How should we look at some of the key hurdles in the next couple of years? One area is from the technology front. In terms of hardware, is there something that we look into investing to accelerate the hardware development? The second angle is on regulatory front.

How should we look at regulatory stance in terms of Metaverse given the heavy focus on addiction issue on the games side of the world? Thank you. 

James Mitchell -- Chief Strategy Officer

So I'll talk about strategic investment as well. Martin answers the additional Meta question. So I think that we -- our company invests aggressively for the future. And since we're optimistic about the future, we're investing optimistically and aggressively, and that's reflected in our rapid headcount growth and that's also reflected in our rapid SG&A expense growth.

Within the SG&A expense growth, it's worth separating the headline number, which includes stock-based compensation, from the cash number. Now in terms of how this trend will evolve going forward, then I think we'll -- time will tell, but I think the opportunities will only get bigger and brighter in the future. And therefore, we'll continue to invest in the future. And therefore, the variable is not do we slow our rate of investment.

It's rather how quickly will our various investments translate into revenue and margin. And going through the three specific strategic areas that we talked about at the first quarter results, then I think our investments in Business Services, for example, in enterprise software, translate into revenue on a measured basis that there are some products we have, typically the smaller ones, that -- already monetized. But because they are subscale, they're low margin. There are other products we have such as WeCom, such as Tencent Meeting, such as Tencent Documents, which were very substantial scale and we're not yet monetizing.

But when we do, they'll generate attractive margins. So that's on the Business Services. Then for the games, we have an increasing number of games released each year and moving from 2022 into 2023, particularly an increase in AAA games, and that reflects the sizing up of headcount at a number of our key studios in the last two years and the development cycle for these AAA or high-production value games. And so the success of those AAA budget games as we move through '22 and into 2023 will determine the margins for the game industry to some extent.

And then third, for short video, our bandwidth costs have been increasing quite quickly this year. And one of the drivers for that has been a step-up in consumption of short video, particularly of Shiping Hao. And so currently, we monetize short video Shiping Hao at a moderate rate through the interactive features. As when we insert advertising into the Shiping Hao, then I think that will have an impact on the margins and the profile of that investment cycle.

Martin Lau -- President

Now in terms of Metaverse, I would say it's still early days. So there will be a lot of challenges. There's a lot of uncertainty. So the future would be very exciting.

But then the way through which it will be realized will probably take longer than people expected and would probably need a number of iterations. And I would say the key challenge is really, as we discussed about the multiple pathways to get to Metaverse, then it's really what is the most attractive user experience in each of the pathway. And this is the most important question to answer. If you don't answer that question and just try to take the word, then it's hard to come up with the product and crystallize the product that attract people.

And the other one is really in order to realize such distinguishing and engaging user experience, what's the technology that's actually needed. But we do believe that the driving force will still be software-driven and the technology that really help us to provide the user experience, be it engine technology, be it the ability to provide better, real experience, high-fidelity experience across many -- a large number of concurrent users, AI technology, for example, in order to customize the different experience for different people, right, there are a lot of these technologies which are really software-driven. So hardware will probably be an assisting condition but not the necessary condition. We felt, even in the mobile device right now, it will be quite sufficient in the first place.

But of course, if at the time when VR and other hardware becomes clearly necessary, I think the industry is actually ready to embrace it. And we actually sort of have the technology to do it. So in a way, it's going to be like when people say, "Oh, mobile Internet, what exactly is going to happen right now?" There will be hardware developers who are developing mobile phones, but then the actual driver will be the apps that actually make use of those mobile phones. And I think that's what would happen with the hardware as well in this case.

In terms of regulatory, I would say, it's -- in terms of any service, you just have to be compliant in the different territories that you operate, right? So for the global market, there will be a set of regulations. For the China market, there will be another set of regulations. But we felt it's not fundamentally averse to the development of Metaverse. Metaverse in itself will be tech-driven.

As James talked about, there's a lot of technologies that's related to the development of games as well as for the Metaverse. And as a result, the Chinese government will be in support of the development of such technologies as long as the user experience is actually provided under the regulatory framework.


Thank you. Our next question comes from John Choi from Daiwa Capital Markets. Please ask your question. 

John Choi -- Daiwa Capital Markets -- Analyst

Thanks for taking my question. Just quickly, two questions here. On cloud computing, I understand that we had a pretty healthy growth. But right now, as the overall macro is kind of slowing down, we've been seeing some -- a little bit of delay of so-called the capex or IT budget being deployed.

Are we likely seeing any of that? Or as we look into 2022, is the growth trend still intact? And secondly, just a quick follow-up on your international game strategy. If we look into your -- I mean, clearly, we've been doing a great job but mostly from a mobile standpoint of view. But if we extend our platform, particularly in console or more on the PC side, on the more of the casual, what is our strategy there? And should we be expecting more strategic investments or M&A and decide to acquire more IP? Thank you.

James Mitchell -- Chief Strategy Officer

So on the cloud question, our view is that the dominant trend is companies in China increasingly adopting infrastructure in the cloud, platform in the cloud and software in the cloud, and we think that trend continues with or without a faster or slower macroeconomic environment. Specifically on the point of CapEx bouncing around, I think that's true and I think that reflects the fact that in 2020, there was a high degree of uncertainty in the technology industry in China about the ability to continue purchasing servers and GPUs and smart NIC cards and so forth. And that caused some stockpiling, which I think has now been unwound. And the global supply chain seems to be moving to a more normal basis, at least from a sort of a regulatory perspective vis-a-vis the United States.

So I'd say, at this point in time, we think that Business Services will be less affected by regulation and macro fluctuation than Advertising. And then your question around console and PC, I wasn't sure I caught the nuance. I mean, obviously, we've been creating PC games for many years, more recently as the x86 architecture has converged between PC and console. We've started releasing games on console as well, including Pokémon UNITE most recently.

And if you look at a number of what we refer to as sort of genre-leading specialty studios outside China, then the majority of them are actually console- and PC-centric, and they've developed a reputation and a reality for operating particularly good games within a particular genre on console and PC, and we're now supporting them to do that at bigger scale than before. In terms of IP, then generally speaking, IP matters more to mobile and perhaps a little bit less of PC outside China. The non-China PC gaming audience is a relatively engaged sophisticated audience that looks at reviews on Steam and Epic Game store and collects feedback from other players. And so what you can often see situations where our development team who works on one particular IP very successfully actually separate from that IP and create something else that is a brand-new IP but ends up being bigger and better.

And stereotypically -- or classic example, the Epic Games where for a decade, they were associated exclusively with the Gears of War IP, but subsequently, they sold Gears of War and they focused on creating the Fortnite IP, which is even bigger and better than Gears of War.


Thank you. Our next question comes from Alicia Yap from Citigroup. Please ask your question.

Alicia Yap

Hi. Good evening, management. Thanks for taking my questions. I have two questions.

The first one is regarding your new versions of the CRM, SaaS, CDN. It seems like you will be launching a new version by the end of this year to provide a deeper integration with -- between the Tencent Meeting and also the WeCom. So how should we think about this upcoming online advertising opportunity within WeChat that could further expand and penetrate into other traditional industry vertical? And then second question, I guess, is there's a lot of Metaverse question tonight. So I guess just to follow up a little bit on this as related to your international games development and expansion, just wondering if management could share the opportunity that you see in the global context of this Metaverse opportunity.

What do we need to be prepared in terms of capturing this evolving trend, especially in -- whether we need to prepare a separate global infrastructure or some social network infrastructure to capture this opportunity in the global context? Thank you. 

Martin Lau -- President

So I think on CDN, it is a good observation that we're actually starting to integrate more among our different enterprise-facing SaaS. And there will be more integration between WeCom and Tencent Meeting and Tencent Docs and CDN and potentially other SaaS as well. And WeCom also provide a link into the WeChat -- Weixin ecosystem, right? So I would say there's fundamental benefits for these different SaaS apps to be talking to each other, and that actually sort of provide a more unified experience for anyone, any enterprise customer who wants to use one or two or many of our SaaS applications. And then in terms of being able to connect these SaaS to the consumers within Weixin in a controlled and secured way is actually very helpful, both for the enterprise as well as for the consumers so that they can actually get served by the different businesses in a well-protected manner.

And when that happens, right, in our prepared comment, we also talk about when enterprise can use this to foster selling or serving relationship with their customers, then it can provide additional GMV to our Mini Programs. For example, it also can provide a reason for them to advertise more within Weixin. So yes, Metaverse. I've answered enough, so James, maybe you can take a crack at that.

James Mitchell -- Chief Strategy Officer

OK. I mean I actually hadn't heard Martin's tag line of making the virtual world more real and making the physical world more rich before, but it's very good. So I'll repeat it. So I think that's the destination.

Now in terms of the pathways to the destination, it's not necessarily in our interest to talk at great length about our specific plans, whether inside or outside China. But maybe just to elaborate on what Martin was saying a little bit and what different pathways they are, what capabilities they need to aggregate, then I think that the most -- the pathway that most closely resembles the Metaverse today is games, virtual world, open world games. And for games, they already have many of the components in place. And I think the challenge is aggregating more and more virtual experiences -- virtual game experiences together.

So it's Fortnite together with Rocket League in the Epic example, where multiple different so-called game experiences within the Roblox example. And also providing more and more powerful tools so that other amateur but also professional content creators can create experiences, including nongame experiences, within these virtual worlds. Second path that is less well understood is taking user-operated communities that already have a high degree of functionality technology bots and then moving them from a text and image basis to more of an immersive video basis, and that's scenario where companies like Discord have opportunity. And then the third is taking a preexisting social network.

But with the social network, one needs to both provide the 3D graphics capabilities that [Inaudible] with the server-based community and also provide the UGC and PGC tools that the game companies need to do. So while the social networks such as [Inaudible] and Snap, have the most capital resources that they also have a good amount of work to do. So anyway, I think that doesn't answer your question directly, but I hope that sheds some light on how we think about the pathways and the future and why we're doing some of the things that we're doing.

Jane Yip -- Investor Relations

Thank you. And in the interest of time, we will take the last question.


Our final question comes from Eddie Leung from Bank of America. Please go ahead. 

Eddie Leung -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

How are you going, guys? Probably a bit more boring. So two questions. The first one is regarding DAU. I'd be curious if the growth we are seeing right now is primarily driven by new clients or increasing spending of existing clients because we know that may have some indications on the margins.

And then secondly, just a follow-up question on headcount. I understand James has talked a bit about that. But if we look at the increase in headcount this year, we are looking at -- even including the additions from some of the acquisitions or companies, Bitauto and Sogou, we are still looking at 20,000, 30,000 or more people, right? So if we look into next year, what areas can we think about still require more headcount?

Martin Lau -- President

So in terms of cloud, I would say both indicators are actually quite important, right? And in terms of existing clients, I would say, if it's just volume growth on low-margin products, and then it's less valuable. But then if we can actually cross-sell our SaaS and PaaS products to the existing customers, then that will be much better for our overall margin. And in terms of number of clients, it's mainly happening at the long tail, right? The medium and small, especially small companies, would be the key driver for the number of clients. And typically, they don't really drive sales and revenue that much.

So even if you have a high percentage growth, the impact is actually lowering the ARPU of the customers, but not really driving the overall business volume. But the important thing is that these smaller companies would grow over time. And when they grow over time, if they grow without cloud, then it will be very profitable for us over time, over their lifetime. So that's why our cloud business actually focused on both ends, basically growing the number of customers that we have on the long tail, and at the same time, supporting our existing customers so that they can grow their business volume, especially cross-selling them from IaaS to PaaS to SaaS.

So on the second question?

Pony Ma -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

I think in terms of the headcount growth, as you have mentioned clearly earlier, some of them are related to the acquired new subsidiaries, and this accounts for roughly 9,000 people. And on top of that, we do recruit new graduates from time to time, and there will be another 5,000, 6,000 on an annual basis. In respect of the areas in which we will spend more or we have spent more, basically, the business-facing services, including cloud, including maps, including a lot of different business within the CSIG, we also do have some organic growth on our online gaming division. As James has mentioned earlier, it's very [Inaudible] for talent, especially in the online games area.

And so we will invest furthermore on the online game spots. And the other thing is we will invest in the content part because beforehand, a lot of those head manpower has been subcontracted out. But now we are trying to build up our own team of people in this area. So as you know, content -- well, sort of control the content as well as doing a bit of content creation and things like that in order to control the overall quality of the content.

Going forward, I think we are not talking about growth above 30%, 40% headcount growth on an annual basis, but it will be more moderate in 2022 at least.

Jane Yip -- Investor Relations

OK. Thank you. We are closing the call now. If you wish to check out our press release and other financial information, please visit the IR section of our company website.

The replay of this webcast will also be available soon. Thank you, and see you next quarter.


[Operator signoff]

Duration: 83 minutes

Call participants:

Jane Yip -- Investor Relations

Pony Ma -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Martin Lau -- President

James Mitchell -- Chief Strategy Officer

John Lo -- Chief Financial Officer

Piyush Mubayi -- Goldman Sachs -- Analyst

Charlene Liu -- HSBC -- Analyst

Alex Yao -- JPMorgan Chase and Company -- Analyst

Robin Zhu -- Sanford C. Bernstein -- Analyst

Guanren Wang

William Packer -- Exane BNP Paribas -- Analyst

Gary Yu -- Morgan Stanley -- Analyst

John Choi -- Daiwa Capital Markets -- Analyst

Alicia Yap

Eddie Leung -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

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