Brands worldwide are already well aware of China’s short video boom of the last few years, which has powered the growth of hugely popular platforms such as Bytedance’s Douyin (TikTok’s sibling for the Chinese market) and Xigua Video, Kuaishou, Bilibili, and many others. But the growth of these platforms — many of which, it must be pointed out, are branching into longer-form content and e-commerce to keep users engaged (and spending) — has been accompanied by rising demand for knowledge-based content rather than simply entertainment.
While brands invest more in brand-funded reality shows, documentaries, short films, and even feature-length movies, a growing number of academic institutions, teachers, and even students themselves are finding short video and livestreaming content to be an ideal educational avenue. Bilibili in particular saw its fortunes soar last year as the “cloud living” trend took over in China and Bilibili’s core Gen Z audience (along with older viewers interested in learning a new skill or subject) tuned into educational content on their smartphones.
As CCI previously noted, there are three content pillars where Bilibili shines: ACG (Anime, Comics and Games) lifestyle, and education — all of which lend themselves well to longer-form content that can retain viewer attention for hours at a time. After schools were closed last year in China due to the coronavirus outbreak, Bilibili became an official course provider in Shanghai as schools reopened in virtual mode in March 2020. The platform also started streaming courses from Tsinghua and Peking University, China’s most prestigious institutions of higher education.
In addition to courses, livestreamed “study sessions” also became popular during this period, with more than 20 million Bilibili users joining to watch virtual companions engaged in course work while they studied alongside them, often using the hashtag #StudyWithMe.
This phenomenon is not limited to the Chinese market, of course. Educational content is one of the reasons why YouTube boasts such high retention, with viewers using the platform to learn about pretty much everything, from languages to cooking to how to start a business.
Looking to get in on the growth of educational content in China, last week Netease announced a new knowledge-based short video platform called Netease Knowledge Highway (网易知识公路), with the company planning to plans to expand video on other NetEase properties such as Netease News, Netease Cloud Music, fanfic platform Lofter, and online education subsidiary Netease Youdao.
Netease Media VP Tian Hua said last week that knowledge-based online content “is a hedge against information overload, content surplus, and spam,” adding that, in the future, “short knowledge-based videos will be standard on every platform.”
Meanwhile, Q&A platform Zhihu is also boosting its video presence, and has already built an audience of 2.5 million paying subscribers for premium content from academics and business leaders. While Zhihu is often compared to Quora, the platform offers far more opportunities for brands to market themselves through official accounts that allow them to be part of a broader knowledge-hungry community.
Generally, this kind of news is fairly run-of-the-mill — major tech companies adding new features popularized by other platforms. But where it becomes interesting is in how much money is involved in the race to attract the creation of high-quality content.
To encourage creators to use the platform, NetEase plans to provide RMB 1 billion ($150 million) in subsidies, along with traffic support and additional funding for influencers and MCN (multi-channel networks) with significant followings. The company also announced that it will use AI technology to assist creators in developing more effective or attractive content while allowing them to retain full rights to the content they post on the platform.
Zhihu, meanwhile, says it will spend unspecified “billions” on paid knowledge-sharing services and video content. “Content contributors deserve more,” said Zhou Yuan, the company’s founder and CEO. “The company plans to build a new ecosystem to support them with this investment.”
This move shows that these up-and-comers are about competing with the likes of Bilibili and Douyin for a piece of the long-form, educational content that no one — from schools to brands — can afford to ignore in China in 2021. Will it work? That will most likely depend on how many creators choose to jump ship and move to these new ventures, and how much the competition is willing to shell out to keep them on board.