This post was contributed by Josh Fenn.
PPTV and WASU, two of the most popular internet video-on-demand services in China, announced plans to form a strategic partnership and enter the internet TV space at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. During the announcement, WASU president Mr. Qiang Cao and PPTV CEO Dr. Vincent Tao sang the benefits of their companies’ camaraderie. According to them, social networking, video sharing, online shopping, and more are all in the cards for their customers in China. Interaction will be a key aspect of their foray into internet TV; rather than passively watching shows, people will engage with an online community much like they do on computers. PPTV and WASU currently operate on the software development side of things, and have no ostensible plans to produce consumer hardware – TV or otherwise.
Online TV enjoys widespread popularity in China, due in equal parts to its speedy person-to-person streaming within the country and to its cornucopia of foreign shows that aren’t available through state-run TV stations. Indeed, Chinese TV programs are often seen as playing second fiddle to their more liberal and high-budget western counterparts. However, in an effort to enforce international copyright laws, PPTV, WASU, PPStream, and other online TV services have recently removed many foreign shows and movies from their libraries. Thus, the program lineup of PPTV and WASU’s partnership could very well focus on domestic Chinese shows and movies.
Personalization and interaction are now two key aspects of media consumption for the younger generation of Chinese. People choose the programs they want to watch on their computer (or mobile device) at the times they want to watch them, and chat about recent episodes with their friends online. Because cable TV services in China lack the flexibility of online TV, younger people increasingly turn to their computer for entertainment. Online games and social media have likewise pulled people away from conventional TV programming.
Internet TV seems to be in a precarious place in China. Although full-sized, high definition TVs arguably offers a superior viewing experience, younger people in China are accustomed to watching shows at their leisure on iPads, cellphones, and even hand-held game consoles. Additionally, in order to compete with the computer, PPTV and WASU’s services will have to offer a robust social media aspect. Integration with RenRen and Sina Weibo is a must. Naturally, some of this functionality will be at the whim of the TV hardware manufacturers. But the rest of the burden will fall on PPTV and WASU to provide a good program lineup, a fun and intuitive way to interact with people, and a compelling reason to turn off the computer.