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Dating Sites Heat Up

Monday, 14 Feb 2011 | 12:43 PM ET
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PhotoAlto/Michele Constantini | PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections | Getty Images
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Romance isn't just about buying candy and roses — finding that special someone is an endeavor increasingly moving online.

The growth of Facebook was expected to bring the demise of online dating sites — why pay to meet people online, when you can do it through your social network for free?

In fact, the opposite is true. People join Internet dating sites to expand beyond their social network — they already know their friends and friends' friends — and the business of online dating is booming.

IAC's Match unit, which includes Match.comand Chemistry.comreported a 30 percent increase in subscribers, revenue, and profits last quarter. eHarmony, which is private, continues to grow in the US and abroad, with an estimated $250 million in revenue from subscriptions last year. And though the vast majority of online dating sites are subscription services, that's not the only way companies are cashing in on demand for online romance — OKCupid is free and ad supported, with 3.5 million active users and twice that many people logging into the site each month.

What's driving the growth of online dating? Growth feeds on itself: One in five relationships start online, that ubiquity sparks massive word-of-mouth. By now, it seems like any stigma surrounding online dating is gone. Plus, the growth of smartphones means that people can access their online dating services constantly, growing use and engagement.

IAC's CEO Greg Blatt tells me he thinks that just like everyone socializes on Facebook, all single people will have a profile on an online dating site. He's not saying that online dating will fully replace traditional ways of meeting people, but rather that people are living all parts of their lives online, and online dating is the natural outgrowth of that.

The demographic driving online dating growth: baby boomers. Fifty to sixty year olds are Match.com's fastest growing demographic, up nearly 90 percent in the past five years. eHarmony reports a boom in older users. And niche sites catering to this group are flourishing. Spark Networks, which owns JDate and other niche dating sites reports that Singleseniorsmeet.com — exactly what it sounds like — is its fastest growing property. And as more baby boomers head towards retirement, that means more time to spend searching and dating online.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.