- Douyin recently announced plans to help 100 new brands reach RMB 100 million ($15.7 million) in annual sales in the coming year.
- In 2022, the platform will focus on “interest-based e-commerce” that prioritizes high-quality content to motivate audience interest to shop based on specific interests.
- With China’s crackdown on content and celebrities showing no sign of stopping, a content-commerce strategy that Douyin seems to be adopting is hosting more long-form variety shows.
While its global counterpart TikTok gets much of the attention, the Chinese-language short video platform Douyin has become one of China’s most influential short video platforms since its launch in September 2016. The last two years have seen Douyin evolve far beyond its initial focus on seconds-long videos and venture into long-form films, e-commerce and social shopping, making the platform a key pathway to reach and sell to Chinese millennials and Gen Zers. (Offering, in the process, a sneak peek of what owner Bytedance could hope to do with TikTok in 2022 and 2023.)
One of Douyin’s defining attributes, which has powered continued growth since its launch, is a strong content-commerce strategy that offers lessons for any company eyeing the China market. Earlier this month, Douyin’s e-commerce department held a joint forum with the investment firm Source Code Capital — in which Bytedance founder and recently departed CEO, Zhang Yiming, is a Limited Partner — to discuss their new white paper on the growth of emerging brands on Douyin.
The white paper maps the growth trajectory of seven successful consumer brands on Douyin, detailing how they have benefited from Douyin’s promotion and sales channels, and pledges to assist 100 new brands to reach RMB 100 million ($15.7 million) in annual sales in the coming year. While the white paper has yet to be released online, the forum discussion clearly indicates that Douyin will rely more on content-commerce to boost its e-commerce segment. As Zhang Hao, service provider director of Douyin e-commerce, stated at the forum, Douyin will focus on “interest-based e-commerce (兴趣电商)” that prioritizes high-quality content to motivate audience interest to shop based on specific interests.
Compared to the traditional display- and advertisement-heavy e-commerce, interest-based e-commerce is aimed at catching potential consumers at “the upstream of traffic” and allowing brands to establish more substantial customer relationships. An example of interest-based e-commerce that became hugely influential over the past two years — yet has fizzed amidst the Chinese government’s crackdown on “overly entertaining” content like idol competition shows — is the integration of streetwear brands on shows like the fashion-focused Fourtry or beauty brands on last year’s smash hit Sisters Who Make Waves. In both cases, the featured brands may have started off unknown to young viewers yet gradually became familiar and the programs infused more paths to online purchase over the season.
With China’s crackdown on content and celebrities showing no sign of stopping, a content-commerce strategy that Douyin seems to be adopting is hosting more long-form variety shows, a strong contrast to the short- and user-generated video content that defined its early years. Over the course of this year, Douyin has aired multiple entertainment programs with long runtimes, among them talent shows such as Click “Like”! China’s Got Talent (点赞！达人秀) developed by Fremantle, SYCO, and Star Canxing Entertainment, and Praise the Program (为歌而赞), a music contest show co-developed by Douyin and Zhejiang Television. Both shows incorporate Douyin’s well-known “click ‘like’” feature to better involve at-home audiences (and, no doubt, get them accustomed to clicking on links to buy while watching shows). Douyin also exclusively aired the talk show Just Be Real (非常静距离) that explores the life stories of celebrities, and Girls’ Spectacular Journey (容我SA娇), a reality show starring Hong Kong idols Joey Yung, Gillian Chung, and Charlene Choi that focuses on the lives of modern women.
Douyin’s variety show initiative is certainly impressive, as it has transformed the platform from merely a sponsor of other variety shows on TV a few years ago to a notable creator of engaging programming in its own right. For brands, Douyin’s talent and talk shows are also notable for being relatively safe options while idol-based entertainment programs remain under strict scrutiny.
However, it is still too early to tell if Douyin’s variety shows can become the backbone of its broader content-commerce push, which hinges on producing interesting content that drives e-commerce sales (and attracts sponsors). A major challenge for Douyin is how it can integrate its bread-and-butter short video entertainment into longer programs. As demonstrated by the reportedly subpar performance of several Douyin-championed celebrities in the platform’s talent shows, what goes viral on Douyin might not necessarily become hits in front of a larger audience or support long runs on a formal talent show.
The big question that Douyin will have to answer in 2022 is whether it can create successful indigenous programs based on the platform’s vast amount of user-generated content and adeptly promote them to an audience that is accustomed to longer, themed entertainment programs. Otherwise, no matter how many shows Douyin exclusively airs, it will only be one of many short video and streaming platforms that airs similar, easily replicable programs.