Being a vlogger — a person who films video blogs — or a “YouTuber” in general is one of the most popular lifestyle choices among young people who want to share their lives, thoughts, and expertise with an online audience. Moreover, this emerging industry is a means through which some prolific content creators can earn a good living. Since March 2007, when YouTube launched its YouTube Partner Program, creators on the West’s biggest video-streaming service have been able to share in a combined 55% of the platform’s advertisement revenue.
But the competition is fierce: 0.64% of the content on YouTube attracts 81.6% of all views on the platform.
With more than 1 billion people in China using smartphones, it comes as no surprise that video streaming platforms and apps are also extremely popular in the country. And since YouTube is inaccessible without a VPN, other services are vying to control the lucrative Chinese vlogging industry. While major players such as Tik Tok are already carving up the short video streaming space, the battle for China’s vloggers is still heated. Here are the major players.
Xi Gua Video
Xi Gua (西瓜; watermelon) Video used to be Toutiao Video, a platform launched in 2016 as part of ByteDance’s news app Jinri Toutiao. Relaunching the platform as a separate app one year later, chief manager Zhang Nan said that Xi Gua was meant to become “China’s YouTube.” Vlogger Ms Yeah, the most-followed Chinese YouTuber, started her massive social media empire as a creator on Xi Gua.
The vlogging trend in China basically started with Xi Gua’s collaboration with musician and actress Ouyang Nana, who currently studies at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Her down-to-earth vlogs about the study-abroad life have not only boosted her popularity (with tens of millions of views), but also allowed people to grasp an up-and-coming video content market that now involves movie stars, internet celebrities, and online video creators.
On top of producing original mini-variety shows, Xi Gua has always focused on cultivating vloggers and video creators. With help from Vlog College, a free, seven-day online training program, much of the platform’s video content consumers have turned into creators, while experienced vloggers have improved the quality of their video streams over time. The Vlog College program also offers cash rewards and other perks as bonuses for creators. On the occasion of Xi Gua’s quarterly award for “Best Moment” of professional, user-generated content this past January, the platform officially announced that more than 600 creators had made over 500,000RMB (71,429USD) from the platform in 2018, some of them earning more than 10 million RMB (over 1.4 million USD) in a year.
Compared to Bilibili (see below), another popular user-generated-content-based streaming platform, Xi Gua has more monthly active users (130 million) across a more diverse range of ages and regions, not to mention a more sophisticated recommendation algorithm backed by the AI technology of its parent company, ByteDance.
As China’s leading youth-culture-focused online video community, notable for its focus on animation, comics and games (ACG) — and bullet commentary — Bilibili has over 100 million monthly active users. Among video streaming platforms in China, Bilibili users are probably the most loyal. Part of the reason for its high user stickiness is that there are no banner advertisements on the platform at all — which also means that creators’ work cannot be monetized directly.
But Bilibili’s video “uploaders,” as they’re designated on the platform, need good production values to earn a living, while the platform needs to consistently improve video content to retain its fan base. In January 2018, Bilibili launched a Creator Driving Plan for accounts with more than 1,000 followers and a total of over 100,000 individual views. Once qualified uploaders’ new videos are viewed more than 1,000 times, they receive a bonus from the platform according to their overall viewing stats. More than 160,000 uploaders have joined the plan at this writing.
To bolster this program, Bilibili has launched vlogging competitions with themes like “First Time in My Life,” “Ideal Life,” and “Be A Vlogger,” sponsored and promoted by the platform to encourage more vlogs to be made and released internally.
Since entering into a partnership with Tencent last October, Bilibili has the capital to invest in high-value content creators for the time being, but will have to explore a more sustainable monetization strategy in the long term — assuming its “no advertisement” principle doesn’t change.
In February, ecommerce platform Taobao bought an 8% stake in Bilibili, giving Bilibili’s top-tier uploaders — the ones with millions of followers — access to China’s premiere online commercial platforms. And Bilibili itself is increasingly trying to connect sponsors and creators to support more business collaboration through its video content. At the same time, the company has been trying to generate commercial opportunities through offline, experiential events such as Bilibili World and Bilibili Macro Link.
In the meantime, Bilibli is developing collaborations for its own original content, including animation and documentaries. For example, the second season of popular food documentary The Story Of Chuan’er, co-produced with Authrule Digital Media, was released last month.
Though it’s made by the same parent company as Xi Gua, short video streaming app Douyin — known as Tik Tok overseas — surprisingly joined the vlogging game this year. The maximum users used to be allowed to upload on the platform was a short video of 15 seconds or less, but after Douyin’s “One Billion Traffic Support for Vlog Plan” was launched in April, users were allowed to share videos of up to one minute long, and were encouraged to create mini-vlogs ranging from 30-60 seconds.
Winners of the newly-launched plan will receive increased traffic driven by the platform, along with business collaboration opportunities. For the better short-form vloggers taking part, the opportunity to sign with a MCN (Multi-Channel Network) company like ByteDance can lead to agent backing and a real career in the vlogging industry.
Although Sina Weibo is usually seen as the equivalent of Twitter in China, there is much more to do on the well-established platform than launch text wars. On the contrary, Weibo, via its streaming subsidiary Miaopai, is one of the most important platforms in the video space. Ahead of a “Super Celeb Festival” held by Weibo in Chengdu at the beginning of August, the social media platform launched a “Super Celeb Vlogging Challenge” to boost vlog content on its network. As a reward, the top 10 vloggers received online promotional resources from the platform.
In summary, there are quite a few channels for Chinese vloggers to share their videos today. As a beginner, Xi Gua could be an ideal platform to start with, due to its direct monetization system and billions-strong user base. But the more important question for both platforms and vloggers might be how to create better content without much experience of digital video filming culture, a foundation that many professional YouTubers already have. Casey Neistat, for example, has been filming since 2001.
If the quality of Chinese vlogs doesn’t continually improve, the enormous market that these platforms are expecting may never emerge.