Short and sweet

By Fan Feifei | China Daily | 2017-06-05 07:11

Short and sweet

Zhu Feng (left), founder and CMO of Star Station TV, and one of her colleagues wearing a football mask, anchor a soccer program. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Quick videos prove a hit among mobile app users, business, investments grow

The ingredients of a successful Chinese digital cocktail-entertainment, technology, innovation and business-are unmistakable in the rise of the short video "industry".

They have yet again combined to create an online segment that is spawning hundreds of startups, thousands of aspiring performers, millions of users and billions in investments.

By this year-end, the number of online users enjoying short videos (whose duration is 10 seconds to a few minutes each) is expected to rise almost 58 percent year-on-year to reach a record 242 million, according to a report by the iiMedia Research, a global mobile internet firm focusing on third-party data mining and analysis.

Short videos focus on themes like travel, food, beauty, animation, sports and other leisure areas, as well as lifestyle information and real-time market information.

Wang Xiaohong, secretary-general of the China Online Video Research Center, said: "It is an inevitable trend that the short video format will become part of our daily life. The short video segment has become the most promising business, attracting a large number of platforms and investments."

This world of social mobile internet is inhabited by young startups that boast tens of millions of young users each (and, sometimes, unicorn valuations), young performers who rake in millions of yuan in personal earnings, established players that pump in billions of yuan on business expansion, and investors that are ever eager to back potential success stories to the extent of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Aikelili, a 22-year-old photographer and a videographer in Guangdong province, best captures the unfolding story.

He likes to upload many funny short videos on to Miaopai, a Chinese video sharing and live streaming service platform. Typically, his videos are less than a minute long, but some last a few minutes.

They show him dressed as a 30-something woman wearing ugly make-up, indulging in humor-a big draw for the app's users. His fan base is already over 6 million and increasing by the minute.

Aikelili is not a stray app-star. Papi Jiang, a female student pursuing a master's degree in theater direction at the Central Academy of Drama, Beijing, shot to fame after uploading similar original and funny short videos.

Her series of online videos have earned her countless fans. Last year, she received 12 million yuan ($1.7 million) from venture capital firms toward funding for her startup.

Their videos may be short, original, funny, but performers carefully plan their creations, to attract viewer eyeballs as well as investor attention, given the big money involved. Short videos are as much a platform for self-expression as they are well-thought-out new-age business.

Wang of the COVRC stressed that the distinction between short videos and long videos is not limited to their length. "The most obvious feature of short videos is that they have become a means for people to express themselves. They exist not just to convey information but to create opportunities for communication."

A good example in this regard is Miaopai, a short video-sharing platform run by A startup strong in video and live streaming technology, it clocks average daily visitors of more than 70 million. More than 1.5 million videos are uploaded daily.

Han Kun, CEO of Yixia, said users can upload their videos to Miaopai, classifying them into various categories, as per content and user preferences. "More and more people are producing content, and more and more people watch these videos ... We aim to build Miaopai into an entertainment video platform, with funny and interesting content."

Yixia said it will invest 1 billion yuan to support Chinese short video creators. It has already raised $500 million from its latest round of funding by undisclosed investors.

Zhang Jianfeng, senior vice-president of Yixia, said, "Young mobile users have a growing demand for short videos as their content consumption time tends to be fragmented and short. They prefer light, funny content. This is driving the explosive growth of short videos this year. Compared with long videos, short videos are more lively and vivid, with higher yields, lower cost and faster transmission."

Zhao Shuqing, dean of the Institute of Internet Information at the Communication University of China, attributed short videos' popularity to user demand and deep penetration of mobile phones among Chinese people.

Moreover, with the development of 5G technology, short videos will grow more rapidly, Zhang said.

Rapid growth entails some challenges. The quality of content produced and the ability to harness its commercial potential are major issues confronting the evolving business segment. To be sure, there is a shortage of high-quality content, Zhang said.

"How could we pick excellent content and send it out to reach diverse groups of people? That is a problem. We are exploring ways of commercializing short videos."

The iiMedia Research report said high-quality content and business expansion will define market competition this year.

Internet research company iResearch said as of July 1, 2016, short video industry received a total of 43 investments since 2015. That number is growing.

For instance, e-commerce behemoth Alibaba Group Holding Ltd is set to jump into the booming market for short videos. It has announced its video-streaming subsidiary Tudou will be transformed into a short video platform. Alibaba will invest about 2 billion yuan ($290 million) to encourage individual users to provide original content to the site.

Tudou said it will reward 2,000 content creators each month. In addition, it will offer a cut in advertising revenue from Tudou, Youku and UCWeb-all Alibaba-backed platforms. It is an attempt to lure video makers away from rival sites.

He Xiaopeng, president of Tudou, said Alibaba sees short videos as a key direction for future development.

"Short videos are our future, which is of great importance to Alibaba and Alibaba Digital Media and Entertainment Group, representing a kind of user demand, and a trend that will take the place of graphics," said He.

Tencent Holdings Ltd, another internet giant in China, is also marching into the short video market. In March, it led a $350 million investment in Kuaishou, a photo- and video-sharing app popular among rural communities and migrant workers.

Kuaisho received financing from Chinese internet search giant Baidu Inc and Sequoia Capital last year. It is currently valued at over $2 billion.

Online content aggregation app Toutiao has also joined the frenzy. In February, it acquired Flipagram, a US-based mobile video creation and sharing company.

Zhang Yiming, CEO of Toutiao, said last September the company will invest at least 1 billion yuan to support producers of high-quality original short videos this year.

According to Beijing-based internet consultancy Analysys, Miaopai reached 61.7 percent of Chinese mobile users in 2016, followed by Toutiao videos (53.1 percent) and Kuaishou (43.2 percent).

The explosion of short videos in a regulatory void has created societal concerns about the risk of vulgar online content proliferating unchecked, the absence of intellectual property protection, and inadequate supervision by the authorities concerned.

Such factors could hinder the healthy development of the short video business, experts said.

Dean Zhao said: "The lack of supervision and specific regulations and laws is a problem."

The authorities concerned should intensify efforts to crack down on illegal platforms; and the businesses concerned as well as content producers should display self-regulation, he said.

As for the segment's future, Ding Daoshi, a Beijing-based internet expert, said: "China's mobile video sector could prove profitable with advertising revenue and games. Players may also consider combining short videos with e-commerce platforms."

Wang of the COVRC said people's content consumption behaviors will likely change and real-life emotions could become part of short videos.

Short and sweet

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