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WeChat updates video function to woo the short-video market

Kero Sun
Photo by: Kero Sun

With corporate life experiencing a sudden halt due to COVID-19, companies in China abruptly migrated a majority of their business communications online which has escalated the number of online users to 904 million during the first quarter of 2020, compared with its 457.3 million users 10 years ago.

Unlike the rest of the world, nifty communicative tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams are out of reach due to the firewall. Chinese in-house tech giant Tencent has released WeChat Work to assist companies to work remotely.

The pandemic has also created opportunities for online content platforms to grow due to a heightened need for entertainment. Earlier this year, Tencent released a new “Video Channel” function in its all-rounder app WeChat, which allows short-videos to be published more swiftly.

According to Allen Zhang, the vice president at Tencent Holdings Limited, WeChat wishes to share accessible content creation tools that work for every user. However, the current functionalities on the platform still appear “unfinished”.

The traditional layout of Wechat’s platform is more aligned with long-form broadcast text and images which makes video-based content a less compatible medium in its current form. Prior to the update, the Tencent Video Channel plugin is needed to integrate videos into the main body. The updated video function is designed to address this flaw.

Video Channel on WeChat’s Interface

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As an omnipotent super-app, WeChat is undoubtedly ranked first in terms of downloads with the latest figures being 332.54 billion downloads in Android devices alone according to Qimai data analysis. However, its revenue gain is not as glamorous.

On the contrary, TikTok’s reigning power over the fast-growing short-video content market has seen a more rewarding growth when juxtaposed against its downloads. Possessing 281,96 billion downloads amongst Android devices, TikTok’s head company ByteDance has won the best of both worlds by creating creative havens to accommodate the fast-growing market both in and outside China.

According to the latest stats covering TikTok and WeChat’s performance in IOS based platforms. It’s clear to see that WeChat and Tiktok both experienced a sudden surge of downloads on the IOS platform at the beginning of this year, with Tiktok’s downloads almost doubling that of WeChat’s.

In terms of revenue, Tiktok experienced a bumpy ride in January 2020 and peaked during the beginning of February. Eventually, it then rested at a relevantly stable revenue figure of $US 950,000 a day. Yet, WeChat experienced a rather low tide overall with a sudden surge of revenue towards the end of Feb which peaked at $USD15,000 a day and then rested to wavy growth patterns that ranged between $US5,000 to $US10,000 a day.

TikTok’s $USD 950,000 daily profit figures seem exorbitant when compared to Tencent’s $USD15,000, thanks to its market-tailored strategies. TikTok, also known as Douyin in mainland China, designates two different versions of the same app for its target audiences by implementing different content creation tactics. After buying off the lip-syncing app musically. Co, Tiktok has gained the favour of the youngsters with its algorithm-driven content. This has won itself a monthly figure of 500 million active users, among which 40% of them are located outside China.

Compared to TikTok, WeChat’s attempt to expand its empire outside China was bleaker than expected. With its epic failed expansion plans for telecommunication business in Brazil and India, the ubiquitous app has grown from its mistakes and plans to use the short video platform as the next springboard for its global expansion. However, success is not easily duplicated simply by hitting copy and paste.

Although it was developed in mainland China, TikTok barely reminds its users of the Orwellian-style content control that the Western world shuns so much. In the online information-sharing industry, a company’s data collection and privacy policy are the keys to building a trustworthy brand apart from easing the cultural and political hurdles along the way. For China-rooted TikTok, it all comes together due to the so-called “De-Sinicization

It’s not always rosy for TikTok to expand its overseas market. Western countries’ deep untrust on the Chinese app is reflected in every level of governmental decision making. After paying the American Federal Trade Commission $USD 5.7 million dollars for the violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), the information violation accusations have not stopped ever since.

Thwarted by the pressing information wars between the US and China, TikTok is heavily regulating its tech department to decouple its overseas team completely from its mainland Chinese team. This means that “the Chinese team no longer shares any authority to edit its non-Chinese counterpart’s code and data.” Especially after the dramatic episode of deleting a make-up tutorial that was seen as an alleged violation against the interests of the Chinese government.

Such an incident caused a huge PR crisis for the company and subsequently led to a wave of online discussions on TikTok’s self-censorship and its connection with the Chinese government. Four days after the initial takedown, the company issued an apology and restored the video in an open and honest manner. This move distinguished TikTok from the conventional “no comment” PR approach made by many other Chinese companies and it has proven that TikTok’s strategic plan is working in the battle to win the hearts of non-Chinese audiences.

There is no doubt that the monopolised messaging app WeChat has created an unwavering and seamless convenience for its users. However, when compared to TikTok, WeChat prefers to work hand-in-hand with the Chinese government to map out the “Social Credit System” which is largely criticized by its non-Chinese users.

Robin Li, the CEO of Baidu, a search engine that is akin to Google, once commented on privacy issues in a national technology forum. He said that Chinese citizens were willing to trade privacy for convenience under certain circumstances, which highlights Chinese telecommunication companies’ outlook on how to combat increasing information privacy concerns.

Although Chinese netizens make up one-fifth of online users worldwide, for Tencent, it will take a broader marketing strategy and more inclusive policies to grasp the hidden treasures its market reaching potential has yet to uncover.

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