Online video streaming platforms Tencent Video and iQiyi have come under fire on Chinese social media for charging premium subscribers for earlier access to episodes of a popular TV series, resulting in executives from both companies promising to change the pricing policy for the series.

Why it matters: Video streaming sites have been trying to further monetize their user bases to fund their high and continuously rising content acquisition and production costs, among the companies’ biggest expenses.

  • iQiyi’s content costs for the third quarter of 2019 was RMB 6.20 billion ($870.5 million), which grew 3.0% year on year.

“Our original intention was to satisfy the different content demands of users, but we possibly didn’t do it very well this time” (our translation).

—Dai Ying, vice president of iQiyi at an event on Tuesday

Details: Premium subscribers for the two video streaming platforms were given the option to pay extra to watch in advance episodes of a popular online costume drama, “Qingyunian,” despite already paying RMB 20 (around $2.85) per month for a Tencent Video VIP subscription and RMB 19.8 per month for iQiyi.

  • Without the additional fee, VIP members on both platforms had advance access to six episodes of the drama, enabling them to watch episodes a few days before the official release.
  • Premium members could also pay RMB 3 per episode for early access to six more episodes each time the series is updated, or a total RMB 50 for six more episodes in advance for every upcoming update.
  • Following user backlash on Weibo, who blasted for the two platforms for overly prioritizing profits, both Tencent Video and iQiyi removed the RMB 50 option, leaving the RMB 3 per advance episode option.
  • According to a number of Weibo users, the remaining RMB 3 per episode option will cost users more, since there are currently 21 episodes that are viewable only through additional payment, which costs users RMB 63 to purchase in full.
  • The pricing policies on the two platforms ranked second on microblogging platform Weibo’s trending topics with more than 380 million views as of noon on Wednesday. “We paid for membership to support original work, but now they are forcing me to support piracy,” a Weibo user going by the handle “a wrinkly moon” commented on a post about the two streaming sites.
  • “What’s the point of a VIP if I need to spend more to watch the series? Simply for removing ads?” another user named “Kaoer’s red overcoat” posted on the platform.

Beijing to open streaming market to foreign firms that obey content rules

Context: This is not the first time that Chinese video streaming sites have faced subscriber backlash because of extra charges.

  • In August, Tencent Video was criticized by Chinese netizens for charging premium users an additional RMB 30 for early access to the last six episodes of a viral TV series named “Chenqingling.”
  • More than 2 million users purchased the early access, according to a 36Kr report.

Tony Xu

Tony Xu is Shanghai-based tech reporter. Connect with him via e-mail: tony.xu@technode.com

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.