As video apps emerge, so do concerns about content

opinion May 30, 2018 01:00

By Fan Feifei
China Daily
Asia News Network

Short videos are seeing explosive growth in China and are gradually becoming one of the major ways Chinese netizens are recording and sharing information.

Amid this rising popularity, China’s Internet regulator has ramped up oversight of the platforms they appear on, after some were found to be sharing harmful and vulgar content, and breaching copyright.

Kuaishou, a photo and video-sharing app popular among rural communities and migrant workers, allows users to upload short videos of 10 seconds to a few minutes each. The content ranges from cooking and dancing to family gatherings.

“We are devoted to recording the daily lives of ordinary people, and giving them a stage to express themselves,” said Su Hua, founder of Kuaishou.

Su said 87 per cent of Kuaishou’s users are of the post-90s generation. In March 2017, Kuaishou attracted a $350 million (Bt11.2 billion) investment from tech behemoth Tencent Holdings. It also received funding from search giant Baidu and Sequoia Capital in 2016. These  investments valued it at over $3 billion.

Statistics from data research firm QuestMobile show short video platforms witnessed surging growth in China last year with users exceeding 410 million, up 116.5 per cent on the previous year. Total time spent on short video apps accounted for 5.5 per cent of all time spent on mobile apps in 2017. That number stood at only 1.3 per cent in 2016.

Kuaishou’s rival Douyin has also joined the frenzy. The short video app is owned by Beijing Bytedance Technology Co, which also owns news aggregator app Toutiao.

Zhang Yiming, CEO of Toutiao, said the company invested more than 1 billion yuan (Bt5 billion) to support producers of high-quality original short videos last year. In addition to Douyin, Toutiao also has other short video platforms such as Huoshan and Xigua. Data company QuestMobile noted that, by the end of January, Kuaishou had 120 million daily users, while Douyin had 62 million and Huoshan had 53 million.

According to consultancy iiMedia, short video platforms completed 48 venture capital deals in 2017, compared with 41 in 2016. Both Alibaba Group  and Tencent have invested in video or livestreaming startups.

The sector’s rapid growth since the second half of 2016 is attributed to fourth-generation communications and mobile Internet technologies. Investors are eager to back potential success stories with hundreds of millions of dollars.

However, this lightning-quick surge has led to a regulatory gap that prompted concerns about the risk of vulgar online content, intellectual property violations and inadequate supervision.

For example, Kuaishou and Huoshan have been criticised for featuring video hosts who publicise and distribute counterfeit products.

The Cyberspace Administration of China ordered Kuaishou and Huoshan on April 4 to remove harmful and vulgar content so as to create a clean online environment. The platforms made public apologies, promising to overhaul their services by removing vulgar, pornographic or violent content, blacklisting publishers of such content, and prohibiting users under 18 from registering as livestreaming hosts.