Chinese platformization is different to the western style in various ways such as its close engagement with the government and strong infrastructure (de Kloet, 2019). One significant example that has manifested other possibilities is Bilibili. In the early days, Bilibili was a video website for ACG (animation, comic, game) content creation and sharing. After more than ten years of development, it has built an ecosystem of continuously producing high-quality content around users, creators and content. This essay will explore the background and successful business model of Bilibili, then examine some of the concerns around Bilibili.
Bilibili is a cultural community and video sharing social media platform with high concentration of young generations in China. The predecessor of Bilibili, “Mikufans.cn”, is created by Xu Yi, a member of AcFun, another popular video sharing site. It was founded in 2009 as a fan site of Hatsune Miku (The Economist, 2021). In January 2010, it was renamed Bilibili. In March 2018, Bilibili was listed on NASDAQ in the United States
As an interactive feature of video sharing sites, bullet chat was first introduced in December 2006 on Nico Nico Douga (NicoVideo.jp), the most popular video sharing site in Japan. As Nicovideo embodied a popular subculture, it is characterized by various collaborative creations by ACG fans (Yang, 2020). This subculture, which is widespread in East Asia, has led to the rapid spread of the bullet chat feature outside of Japan such as Acfun and Bilibili in China which were launched around 2009. Simply speaking, the bullet chat interface is a unique feature that allows online video viewers to enter live comments in a way that superimposes them directly on top of the video (Yang, 2020). Besides of that, Bilibili is famous for its re-creation of ACG culture. This kind of subculture carnival became the root cause of the initial popularity. Countless fans and users created on Bilibili and attracted related enthusiasts to come and watch. This result was recognised by Chen (2021) as the evidence of participatory culture and fans poaching the text from the authors as they wish. This fandom behaviour was well explained by Jenkins (2014) that fans are capable of actively participate into the re-creation rather passively perceive information, which has blurred the boundaries between senders and receivers.
The registration in Bilibili is free, but users must pass a quiz to get the membership and different privileges. Non-registered users can only watch videos, but in order to comment on videos, they must be registered. Bilibili has now covered more than 7,000 multicultural communities of interest circles.
Watch the video to help understand what is Bilibili.
Bilibili is successful not only because it gathers all the ACG fans in China, but it has also become more and more like Chinese version of Youtube. It has taken much effort to embrace the mainstream culture instead of single subculture. It invites newcomers to create content by offering generous incentives, and by hosting events in the community. In terms of traditional long videos, Bilibili has spent a lot of money purchasing the copyrights of many documentaries, TV dramas and movies from China and other countries. In recent years, several phenomenal animations were almost exclusive on Bilibili. Meanwhile, Bilibili independently launched several TV shows and New Year’s Eve parties, which received great praise and attention from mainstream media and society. The layout of the whole industrial chain of ACG in China has always been the focus of its investment. In the past six years, Bilibili has invested in 24 domestic animation companies and game companies.
One of the most appealing things about Bilibili is that its users are extremely young. According to Mei (2021), most of its user base is generation Z, the Chinese people born between 1990 and 2009. They typically are technologically savvy, receive quality education and have a strong need for cultural products, self-expression, and social interaction.
On August 19, 2021, Bilibili announced its unaudited financial results for the second quarter (Bilibili, 2021). According to the earnings report, its revenue reached 4.49 billion RMB in the second quarter, increased 72 percent compared to that in the last year. At present, the market value of Bilibili has exceeded 24 billion US dollars. At the same time, the daily active users of Bilibili have reached 65 million, making it the third largest long video platform in China, surpassing Youku and only second to IQiyi and Tencent Video.
In terms of business classification, the latest quarterly report shows that the total revenue of 4.49 billion RMB is divided into advertising business, game business and value-added service business. The advertising business had made 1.05 billion RMB, increased 201% from last year, and the game business revenue is 1.23 billion RMB, dropped 1.7% year from last year, and the value-added service has made 1.63 billion RMB, which has growth of 98% from last year. The advertising business growth is the fastest. Moreover, Bilibili achieved 237 million monthly active users, with growth of 38%. The monthly mobile phone activity users rose to 220 million, with growth of 44%. In terms of paying users, Bilibili now has 21 million paid users per month, increased 62% from last year.
There are two main concerns around Bilibili. First, the collision and contradiction between different cultural circles in the process of expanding, as well as the corresponding method and intensity of platform management and regulation. Second, profitability.
Bilibili was originally a utopia in cyberspace where to get away from consumer society, authority control and censorship, and hegemonic heterosexuality (Chen, 2021). People can be viewers and content creators simultaneously. However, some issues occurred may impact negatively. For example, the copyright issues. 91% of the views of Bilibili comes from PUGV (professional user generated video) created by content creators, and many of their works come from film, television, and music clips, which is a potential danger of Bilibili under its rapid development. Its rival iQiyi, for instance, has won Bilibili in the court and won damages before. At the same time, how to regulate the atmosphere of the community is also a major problem. The fans of popular content creators are likely out of control. Young users are easily impulsive, brainwashed and used to release various hateful speech. Meanwhile, with the large increase of users, the collision of different values is very easy to cause quarrels.
Another vital problem for Bilibili is the profitability. According to the report (Bilibili, 2021), it suffered loss of 1.12 billion RMB in the second quarter, doubled the net loss of the same period in last year. It can be said that with the increase of users, Bilibili has been suffering great losses. While administration, marketing and research costs have increased, the profitability of Bilibili has been criticized. Long video websites usually spend money to buy traffic, but the users of Bilibili are generally young and have limited consumption capability. At the same time, because Bilibili insists on not putting any compulsory advertisement in the video, the advertising revenue is also limited. Its gaming business, which once accounted for 80 percent of its revenue, has fallen to less than 30 percent due to government supervision on internet games (Li, 2021). The is the evidence of Bilibili becoming more diversified, but the revenue has not grown significantly.
As the closest website to YouTube in China, Bilibili not only has a good community atmosphere, but also has strong user loyalty. It is predicable that these two issues, how to become profitable and how to keep the community healthy, will be major challenges for Bilibili as it expands.
Bilibili. (2021). Q2 2021 Bilibili Inc. Earnings Release. Retrieved 17 October 2021, https://ir.bilibili.com/financial-information/quarterly-results/
Chen, Z. T. (2021). Poetic prosumption of animation, comic, game and novel in a post-socialist China: A case of a popular video-sharing social media Bilibili as heterotopia. Journal of Consumer Culture, 21(2), 257–277. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469540518787574.
Mei, F.X. (2021). Bullet chats in China: Bilibili, language, and interaction. Transformative Works and Cultures, 36. https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2021.1939.
de Kloet, J., Poell, T., Guohua, Z., & Yiu Fai, C. (2019). The platformization of Chinese Society: Infrastructure, governance, and practice. Chinese Journal of Communication: The Platformization of Chinese Society, 12(3), 249–256.
Jenkins, H. (2014). Fandom studies as I see it. Journal of Fandom Studies, 2(2), 89–109. https://doi.org/10.1386/jfs.2.2.89_1.
Li, J.X. (2021). Bilibili’s Q2 revenue increases, but path to profit remains unclear. Retrieved 17 October 2021, from https://kr-asia.com/bilibilis-q2-revenue-increases-but-path-to-profit-remains-unclear
The Economist. (2021). “Bilibili, China’s YouTube, wants to be its Netflix.” Retrieved 17 October 2021, https://www.economist.com/business/2021/03/25/bilibili-chinas-youtube-wants-to-be-its-netflix
Yang, Y. (2020). The danmaku interface on Bilibili and the recontextualised translation practice: a semiotic technology perspective. Social Semiotics, 30(2), 254–273. https://doi.org/10.1080/10350330.2019.1630962