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Tencent and Baidu make strides into already-crowded short video market
Kuaishou and Douyin may currently be among the frontrunners in China’s short video streaming industry, but new entrant apps from Tencent and Baidu are hoping to challenge their dominance.
Earlier this month, news broke that Tencent was spending RMB 3 billion ($478 million) in subsidies to lure influencers to an upgraded version of its short video streaming app, Weishi (微视). And a few days ago, local news media reported that Baidu Tieba, a large online community platform owned by Baidu, would be investing most of its budget into building up its short-video ecosystem, including supporting Nani, a Baidu-owned app launched last December.
China’s short-form video is one of the country’s fastest-growing markets. According to iiMediaResearch, China’s short video users passed 240 million in 2017 and is estimated to reach 353 million this year. The popularity of short videos and the development of monetization channels also helped boost market revenues to a staggering RMB 5.73 billion ($913 million) last year.
But while Tencent and Baidu may be bullish on making inroads into China’s short video market, they will likely be facing an uphill battle if they’re looking to unseat popular apps like Kuaishou, Miaopai, and Douyin. Even with the support of its parent company, Nani is currently too small in size and too new to the market to lock horns any time soon with bigger, more established apps, all of which have their loyal user bases.
Compared to Nani, Tencent’s Weishi has more of an upper hand and a longer history. It first appeared in app stores in the September of 2013 — making it one of China’s earliest short-video sharing apps — and peaked in user numbers in early 2014. At that time, Weishi was hailed as China’s response to Vine and, according to reports, in the period between December 27, 2013 and February 25, 2014, it was among the top three most downloaded social networking apps in China’s Apple app store. Its popularity, however, waned in the following years and last April, the app was even briefly taken offline.
Analysts have pointed out Tencent’s service ecosystem is its biggest advantage in its fight against other short video streaming apps. Not only can Tencent leverage its user bases in QQ and WeChat, China’s most popular messaging app, but it can offer Weishi resources in licensed music through Tencent-backed music apps like Kugo Music and QQ Music.
But is that enough for Weishi to actually beat out other short video apps in the market? So far, Weishi’s prospects aren’t exactly rosy. The updated version of Weishi looks eerily like Douyin, which might create problems for an app looking to establish a brand distinction in an already-crowded market. Furthermore, local media has disclosed that Tencent’s plan to subsidize RMB 3 billion to influencers and content creators, although attractive on the surface, is rife with issues. Many streaming hosts have complained that the criteria by which videos are evaluated and deemed good enough to receive monetary rewards are inconsistent and that Tencent’s self-proclaimed RMB 3 billion investment into content seems little more of a publicity stunt.
The timing at which Tencent and Baidu are choosing to invest in short video apps may also be considered inopportune. In the past month, China’s media regulators have stepped up its crackdown on China’s video apps, demanding companies like Kuaishou to audit the videos hosted on their platforms and get rid of “vulgar and inappropriate” content. In response to the administration’s increased monitoring of online content, Douyin announced earlier this month that it was undergoing a “system upgrade” and temporarily suspended its live-streaming and comment features. Video apps such as Watermelon Video (西瓜视频) also soon followed suit, barring new video uploads, live streams, and live comments as part of the company’s larger efforts to bring its platform to government standards.