Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, is testing paid videos again, but some users push back

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ByteDance’s Douyin, the Chinese sibling of TikTok that has over 600 million daily active users, is testing paid content as the entertainment giant continues to seek ways to diversify its revenue.

The initiative, which started as early November 9 based on videos seen by the South China Morning Post, has received mixed reactions from Chinese users who have long been accustomed to free content.

For example, Nutsbear, an influencer followed by more than 2 million viewers and known for telling war stories, on Friday lowered the price of his first paid video – a 21-minute-long review of the 1942 Battle of the Coral Sea between Japan, the US and Australia – to just 3 yuan (US$0.42). The initial price for the video, uploaded on November 12, was 8 yuan.

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Most of the comments under the video were about the pricing, not the content itself. A user with the pseudonym Baifenzhibai said the price was a good deal for the quality of the video. But user Denghuolanshan said that “it is still expensive to charge 3 yuan for a 20-minute video”, while user Haiouzhuchuan said “it’s time to uninstall Douyin”.

According to the rules of the new initiative seen by a marketing intelligence firm with the WeChat account name of Jianshishijie, the new function is now only available for content creators with at least 100,000 followers. They must verify their accounts with an authentic identity and not have violated any rules within the past month.

It is up to creators to decide whether to activate the paid service, and they are free to set their own price. But the Douyin platform charges a 30 per cent “technology service fee” for each order.

ByteDance did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the paid content project outside business hours on Sunday.

It is not the first time Douyin has asked users to pay to watch videos on the app. In 2021, it allowed some short-form dramas – budgeted productions with each episode lasting only a few minutes – to charge money. Even though they have a much lower budget than films and TV series, they are still more costly than user-generated content.

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This time, the initiative has expanded to cover more genres, including knowledge-sharing and entertainment, as short dramas are set to face stronger regulatory oversight in China.

Last month, the National Radio and Television Administration said it would take measures to “strengthen and refine management” of these dramas. It already pulled more than 25,300 short web dramas containing violence, pornography and vulgar content from November last year through February.

It is unknown whether paid videos will be widely accepted as Chinese netizens have long consumed free content, but the situation has improved for those charging for content. The percentage of paid subscribers on China’s video platforms rose to 77.6 per cent in 2022 from just 48 per cent in 2018, according to consultancy Frost & Sullivan.

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