Nobel laureate Mo Yan talks new media at iQiyi conference

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Nobel Prize-winning author Mo Yan spoke at the annual conference of video-streaming platform iQiyi in Beijing on May 9, 2019. (Image credit: Technode/Cassidy McDonald)
Nobel Prize-winning author Mo Yan spoke at iQiyi’s annual conference in Beijing May 9. (Image credit: TechNode/Cassidy McDonald)

Nobel Prize-winning author Mo Yan, known for unconventional, semi-fantastic novels set in China’s countryside, made an appearance on Thursday at the 2019 iQiyi World Conference in Beijing.

On stage, the 64-year-old writer spoke in sweeping terms about the progress of technology and entertainment over time. “Things that could only happen in mythology now happen in reality,” Mo said. The author, who has faced censorship in the past, also spoke of potentially transforming his words into new forms of media.

Somewhat whimsically, he concluded by imagining a multi-sensory experience where an audience member, viewing a roast chicken on the screen, could also get a whiff of its savory smell. While less ambitious, iQiyi CEO Gong Yu stated earlier in the day that the platform saw potential in pursuing AR and VR technology for the platform.

The appearance of Mo, China’s only Nobel laureate in literature who still resides in-country, seemed to be part of iQiyi’s attempt to bolster its credentials. In 2018, iQiyi attributed a 72% year-on-year increase in subscribers to its sizable investment in original content production. However, it came at a cost. The company, owned by Baidu, reported losses of RMB 9.1 billion (around $1.3 billion) during the same period.

In an interview Thursday, iQiyi CTO Liu Wenfeng said that the company was aiming to control costs so spending was expected to trend downward while scaling its user base. When asked, however, he did not specify a timeline for profitability.

Besides the challenge of monetization, iQiyi faces an increasingly strict regulatory environment. On Thursday, Weibo netizens noticed that a woman appearing on an iQiyi variety show, “Idol Producer,” who had previously worn her hair dyed green was now sporting purplish-black locks, a change apparently made in post-production. Regulators have previously criticized the flamboyant styling choices of TV performers, leading producers to edit footage in order to tone down their hair colors. iQiyi representatives declined to comment to TechNode on the change.

On the same day, iQiyi also denied rumors that it plans to lay off 15% to 20% of its staff in Shanghai, Tencent News reported.

With contributions from Cassidy McDonald and Wei Sheng.

Correction: This article has been corrected to reflect that the woman whose hair color was changed was not an actress on “Idol Producer.”