The short video party is almost done in China
The time has long past for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to reclaim control of the latest iteration of mass influence media.
The Chinese e-commerce war has been a bit of a fizzler so far, but that’s probably because the Chinese major tech platforms are still waiting to see where the battleground us and which weapons will be permitted.
In the meantime, we’re live streaming to sell and we’re transforming from demure into something …more western.
Nearly 60% of worldwide social network users will be based in the Asia-Pacific in 2023. Even with just 2.7% growth forecast for this year, our own backyard will adding more users this year (circa 60 million) than the rest of the world combined.
That’s not because of us and the Kiwi’s either. While the South East Asian tiger economies have much to contribute, (their uptake of Douyin is huge, the sheer scale of China’s online market dominates all, even as total internet coverage nears completion.
That a state apparatus as paranoid as it is powerful has let things go this far is either some very ordinary Totalitarianing on the part of the CCP, or a reflection of its own confidence that mass influence outside the permitted is already assured.
China’s internet is not a hotbed of activism, just as it is not a den of inequity and vice.
Everything in the real or cyber world of the CCP is already under tight scrutiny. The government is watching. And when they’re not, their roaming gangs of proto-bully, arch-nationalist cyber-armies seek and destroy those who overstep an unseen line, or set about pressuring officials and websites to do the government’s work and get censoring.
Either way really, the latest signal of intent is bad news for all the punters laying bets on the end of Chinese tech market intervention on the part of the benevolent dictatorship of President Xi Jinping.
Earlier this week there was some backslapping that Alibaba’s wild restructuring plan was a sign the safety wheels could be coming off for a sector that’s been wearing the naughty hat for more than 2 years.
But it’s easy to forget that there’s far more at stake here than controlling big tech. There’s no point going to the trouble of that if you’re not controlling their users.
At the moment, Douyin’s most popular influencer, the app’s first to top 100 million fans is – @疯狂小杨哥 (Crazy Little Brother Yang) who’s likeable if a little tedious comedy routines have now left the fitness livestreamer Liu Genghong and the fabulous actor Andy Lau (who I once watched walk into a pylon in Hong Kong Airport and then rouse on his bodyguard) in his wake.
These three are pretty representative of an incredibly benign approach to short video-making.
Yang’s got to be first to be in the firing line on success terms alone.
He’s very quickly proven to be a Grade-A mover of merchandise. Yang’s now the ambassador for local carmaker Aeolus (东风风神) and his reputation among online shoppers is gold.
According to data firm, Mama Chan over the last quarter, Xiao Yang has attracted an average 36 million viewers and sales for each livestream are between US$4 and US$7 million (30 million to 50 million Yuan).
There’ll be some mad short video-making in the next few weeks following a briefing this week at the creepy sounding Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC).
CAC is the central internet regulator, censor, oversight, soon to be butt kicker and control agency for the PRC. Under the loopy administrative arrangement “One institution with Two names”, CAC is the friendly outward facing name of the less snappy but mpre accurateOffice of the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission of the Chinese Communist Party.
Enter Cyber cop vice minister Niu Yibing, who on Tuesday told reporters in his best kindergarten speak that the state is very worried about the proliferation of dickheads using social media – that’s not everyone’s fault – the only one’s to blame are Americans, democracy, teenagers, capitalism, tech giants, people not busy enough, the undisciplined, the weak, and parents and children.
Niu said the only thing to do since you can’t be trusted is to go ahead and lay down some new ground rules. Policies will be incoming, so do keep an eye out.
In the broadest possible terms – which I don’t even need to go into here – we’ll be cracking down on pretty much anything which might fall under the banner of ”harmful.” Everything about social media could use some – and this could mean anything – ”rectifying,” while the dissemination of ”certain content” on short video platforms needs to not happen.
Unfortunate teenagers can also look forward to some real tough love state intervention, to cure them of short video addiction and help families help them tackle the disease at the root.
But they’ll want to move quickly, because China’s short video craze is one y away from going nuclear.
The platform companies cottoned on early as the providers of short-video apps and while ByteDance/TikTok’s sibling Douyin, and Kuaishou were the originators.
Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Baidu Inc have yet to play their full hands. This might happen sooner, as the new policies get rolled out.
For now, China’s short video app users rose 8.3% in 2022 to 1.012 billion (more than 70% of the China’s population) at the end of last year and a little over 90% of the near 300 billion yuan market share belongs to the top two. The astonishingly successful short video apps of Douyin and Kuaishou, are respectively bathing in more than 600 million monthly active users a piece.
According to the National Radio and Television Administration these users spent on average 168 minutes on the service last year
At the beginning of March, the China Internet Network Information Centre (CINIC) produced similarly astounding numbers, suggesting that was when users of the short-video app format popularised by tech giants like TikTok owner ByteDance in China topped 1 billion for the first time.
Dazzlingly, this equates to 94.8% of Chinese netizens regularly watching short videos and livestreams.
It’s no wonder the China National Radio and Television Administration has been jumping up and down this year about needing to get some control over the format’s emergence as an instant tool of mass influence.
In 2018, the short video industry, could only talk of a round 640 million regular users. The rise comes in tandem with a booming livestream e-commerce industry.
According to the Chinese market research firm iiMedia, the livestream e-commerce industry in China cleared US$210 billion or 1.4 trillion yuan last year, a circa 20% jump on 2021.
Live streaming will be worth US$310 billion (2.15 trillion yuan) in 2025, iimedia forecasts. Taobao’s livestream channel boasts some 50 billion viewers since 2016.
Following some heavy investment across short video platforms and livestream e-commerce services it’s time to expect some abrupt changes, like the 2021 move by officials to designate gaming time for children to a maximum 3 hours binge a week.
That delicate touch led directly to a further step down in the share price and revenue streams of the major Chinese tech names like Alibaba, Tencent and NetEase.
Niu also said that China will try to stop so-called “water armies” — or users paid to spread certain messages online.
Because if the wrong message got out, that would be bad.