This excerpt taken from the SOHU 10-Q filed May 11, 2009.
Wireless revenues are derived from providing short messaging services (SMS), Ring Back Tone (RBT), Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), multimedia messaging services (MMS) and interactive voice response (IVR), mainly consisting of news, weather forecast, chatting, entertainment information, ring tones, and logo downloads and various other mobile related products provided to mobile phone users. Wireless service fees are charged on a monthly or per message/download basis. Wireless revenues and cost of revenues are recognized in the month in which the service is performed, provided no significant obligations remain. We rely on mobile network operators in China to bill mobile phone users for wireless service fees. In order to meet ownership requirements under PRC law which restrict or prohibit wholly foreign-owned enterprises from providing Internet information and value-added telecommunication services such as wireless, we rely on Sohu Internet and Goodfeel to contract with the mobile network operators. Generally, (i) within 15 to 120 days after the end of each month, Sohu Internet or Goodfeel receives statements from each of the operators confirming the amount of wireless service charges billed to that operators mobile phone users and (ii) within 30 to 180 days after delivering monthly statements, each operator remits the wireless service fees, net of its service fees, for the month to Sohu Internet or Goodfeel. In order to recognize revenue and be paid for services provided, we rely on billing confirmations from the mobile network operators as to the actual amount of services they have billed to their mobile customers. We are unable to collect certain wireless services fees from an operator in certain circumstances due to technical issues with the operators network. This is referred to as the failure rate, which can vary from operator to operator. Recently, the time lag in receiving monthly statements from one of the mobile network operators has increased. At the end of each reporting period, where an operator has not provided Sohu Internet or Goodfeel with the monthly statements for any month confirming the amount of wireless service charges billed to that operators mobile phone users for the month, we, using information generated from our own internal system and historical data, make estimates of the failure rate and collectable wireless service fees and accrue revenue accordingly. The quarterly historical differences in our estimated revenue which was recorded in the financial statements compared to the actual revenue have ranged from an underestimation of $1,419,000 (gross margin underestimate of $654,000) to an overestimation of $340,000 (gross margin
overestimate of $171,000) since 2002 when wireless revenues began representing a significant portion of our total revenues. We believe we have the ability to make a reasonable estimate. However, differences between the actual failure rate and bad debt rate per an operators statement and our internal estimates could result in material differences in the amount and timing of our revenue and cost of non-advertising revenue for any period. For the three months ended March 31, 2009, 72% of our estimated wireless revenues were confirmed by the monthly statements received from the mobile network operators.
Our management must determine whether to record our wireless revenues using the gross or net method of reporting. Determining whether revenue should be reported gross or net is based on an assessment of various factors, the primary factor is whether we are acting as the principal in offering services to the customer or whether we are acting as an agent in the transaction. To the extent we are acting as a principal in a transaction, we report as revenue the payments received on a gross basis, and report as costs of revenue the amounts attributable to services provided by mobile network operators and other vendors. To the extent we are acting as an agent in a transaction, we report on a net basis reporting as revenue the payments received less commission and other payments to third parties. Whether we are serving as principal or agent in a transaction is judgmental in nature and is determined by evaluating terms of the arrangement.
Based on our assessment, the majority of our wireless revenues are recorded on a gross basis. We have primary responsibility for fulfillment and acceptability of the wireless services. The content and nature of the wireless services are designed and developed by us (either independently or with third parties) and are originate from our Websites, our links located on third parties Websites, or one of our dedicated phone numbers. The mobile network operators that we contract with to deliver these services to the end customers are not involved in the design or development of the services that are provided by us. The end customers purchase the wireless content, community access or value-added services, such as news, weather forecast, chatting, entertainment information, ring tones, and logo downloads and various other mobile related products provided to mobile phone users. The end customers receive identical services from us regardless of which mobile network operator is used to deliver the message. In addition, we provide customer services to the end customers directly and we could be requested by the mobile network operators to assume the credit risk if the operators are not able to collect fees from the end customers. We have determined that in addition to the indicators of gross reporting, there are also certain indicators of net reporting, including the fact that the mobile network operators set maximum prices that we can charge and that the mobile network operators also have the right to set requirements and procedures associated with using their platform. However, we have determined that the gross revenue reporting indicators are stronger, because we are the primary obligor, who adds value to the products. We also have inventory risk related to content and products, and have reasonable pricing latitude.
To the extent revenues are recorded on a gross basis, any commissions or other payments to third parties are recorded as costs or expenses so that the net amount (gross revenues, less costs and expenses) flows through to operating income. Accordingly, the impact on operating income is the same whether we record the revenue on a gross or on a net basis.