Photo/Illutration Baidu co-founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Robin Li showcases artificial intelligence powered chatbot known as Ernie Bot by Baidu, during a news conference at the company’s headquarters in Beijing, China March 16, 2023. (REUTERS)

BEIJING--Chinese search engine giant Baidu on Monday cancelled a planned livestreamed product launch related to its ChatGPT-like “Ernie bot” that it had advertised as being open to media and the public.

The webcast, scheduled for Monday afternoon, was switched to a closed-door meeting with the first batch of companies that are testing the product, Baidu said in a statement on Monday morning.

The reason behind the change in format was in order to satisfy the “strong demand” from 120,000 companies that had applied to test Ernie bot, the company said, adding this would be the first of many closed-door meetings.

Baidu’s Hong Kong-listed shares fell as much as 4.5% on Monday morning on initial reports of the cancellation.

Ernie bot, so far China’s closest answer to U.S.-developed ChatGPT, was launched on March 16 by Baidu CEO Robin Li, who gave a livestreamed presentation that walked journalists through a series of pre-recorded demos displaying the Chinese chatbot’s different capabilities.

The company’s share price dropped while the presentation was still being livestreamed but rebounded the following day, due in part to strong demand from the Chinese corporate sector for generative artificial intelligence (AI), the technology powering products like Ernie bot and ChatGPT.