ByteDance wants users to pay for minute-long videos

Business & Technology

Can the Chinese tech company behind TikTok and its Chinese version, Douyin, succeed where Hollywood-backed Quibi failed and get people to pay for short mobile phone films?

douyin tiktok
Illustration for SupChina by Derek Zheng

TikTok’s sister app, Douyin, is trying something new. In addition to the free, user-created videos that propelled it to success, it wants to offer professionally produced content at a price:

  • Users can purchase individual mini-episodes or an entire show, with prices as low as 1 yuan ($0.16) per episode. According to 36Kr, workplace and campus dramas make up most of the content, but traditional Chinese culture is also emerging as a common theme.
  • Many of the videos are adapted from web novels, potentially easing the transition to paid content by drawing on content that Chinese users are accustomed to paying for chapter by chapter on web novel platforms.

Seeking growth

ByteDance’s growth is slowing, and the company — under the leadership of new CEO Liáng Rǔbō 梁汝波 — is all too aware of Beijing’s tech crackdown, reportedly delaying plans to go public because of it. In dealing with the regulatory uncertainty, it wants new ways to make money.

But will people want to pay for content on entertainment apps they’ve long used for free? Rivals like Kuaishou and Tencent are also betting on paid mini-dramas, but some U.S. companies have already tried and failed at similar revenue models. Quibi was the most dramatic example: Less than a year after launch, it was sold off for just a tenth of its unicorn valuation because it failed to attract customers.

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