By now, you’ve likely heard that Douyin and Kuaishou, algorithmically-driven short video apps, have “taken China’s internet by storm.” The folks at Quest Mobile (Chinese) reckon short video apps account for 20% of users’ internet time in H1 2020. That’s no mean feat—it puts short video viewing on par with instant messaging as China’s favorite internet activity.
Michael Norris is a TechNode contributor and Research and Strategy lead at AgencyChina.
TechNode Insider is a new open platform for those in the know to discuss China tech with TechNode’s audience. Learn more here.
There’s just one thing wrong with this story—Douyin and Kuaishou aren’t really short video apps anymore.
Douyin supports videos anywhere between 15-seconds and 15 minutes, livestream content that may stretch over an hour, as well as mini-games. Kuaishou’s in the same boat, with a vibrant video game streaming scene to boot. The label “short video platform” has outlived its usefulness.
Let’s take a quick look at why the term “short video platform” is less helpful than before and why it matters.
What’s wrong with calling them ‘short video platforms’?
When short video apps first rose to prominence in 2013, they really were about short video. The Chinese term duanshipin (“short video”) was used to highlight the difference between an emergent content format (snackable video) and an established content format (tv-style streamed programming).
“Short video” wasn’t meant to stick around. It’s the type of term that should have gone away once everyone got the memo that online video doesn’t have to be a mobile-friendly version of 21- or 42-minute made-for-television programming.
However, the term persisted.
The term was easier to understand than alternatives, such as the alphabet soup of UGC, PGC, and PUGC (User Generated Content, Professionally-Generated Content, and Professional User Generated Content—don’t ask). Further, “short video” was easier to build a working, commonly-accepted definition around, becoming the default nomenclature for video content anywhere under five minutes.
Without question, Douyin and Kuaishou are the most successful platforms built on short video content. Both boast eye-popping numbers of daily active users and increasing impressive shares of users’ internet time.
|Platform||DAUs||% User Internet Time (H1, 2019)||% User Internet Time (H1, 2020)|
|Bytedance (Douyin)||600 million||12.0%*||15.3%*|
Note: The Douyin figure in the table above is a total for all mainland apps belonging to parent company Bytedance. Douyin is Bytedance’s most popular app.
However, in 2019, these platforms started supporting different content types. Today, short video remains a platform staple, but it’s far from the only type of video available on Douyin and Kuaishou. A report released by Kuaishou earlier this year illustrates this nicely.
Kuaishou has 300 million daily active users, of which 170 million watch livestream and 100 users engage in livestream e-commerce each day. (That, by the way, makes Kuaishou China’s fourth-largest e-commerce platform.) As Kuaishou further broadens its capabilities in e-commerce and cloud gaming (in Chinese), the range of on-platform activity will become even more diverse.
Given this range of activity, it’s no longer accurate to call Douyin and Kuaishou “short-video platforms.”
Why does it even matter?
It might seem a little academic to object to the term as a catch-all for Douyin and Kuaishou.
However, as these companies prepare to go public, names matter.
Kuaishou is reported to be considering a $5 billion IPO next year. Bytedance, as part of its judo-wrestling match with the Trump Administration, may IPO TikTok, Douyin’s overseas cousin. Getting frames of reference right is an important part of each company’s dance with public markets.
That’s because company valuation is an interplay between stories and numbers: Every number that makes up a valuation has a story behind it, just as every story about a company has a number attached to it. Terms like “short video” straitjacket stories these companies can weave and narrow potential investors’ appreciation of what Douyin and Kuaishou really are. The onus is on Douyin and Kuaishou to develop and field-test nomenclature that conveys their platforms’ depth, content diversity, and what they might offer in the future.
Bilibili sets an instructive example. In its investor overview, it states “[W]e have evolved from a content community inspired by anime, comics and games (ACG) into a full-spectrum online entertainment world, covering a wide array of genres and media formats, including videos, live broadcasting, and mobile games.” That’s the sort of framing required to fight mischaracterizations like “the closest thing China has to Youtube.”
What would be a better name? “Online entertainment world” is a little too Rick and Morty for my taste. I’d stay away from hackneyed riffs on “super-app” and go with “entertainment hub,” encompassing video, gaming, and, increasingly e-commerce.
Whichever way Douyin and Kuaishou decide to frame themselves, you can be sure they’ll steer clear from the term “short video platform.” Kuaishou, probably first in line to IPO, already calls itself a “platform.” That’s apt. The only reference to short video in the company’s online introduction is in the company timeline (Chinese). That highlights the degree the term “short video” is a relic. It’s outlived its usefulness, and sells these rich, diverse entertainment platforms short.