Once ignored, Chinese netizens are discovering vlogs. Although abroad vloggers enjoy a profitable success, in China, will vlogs represent the next long-lasting trend or are they just a fading fad?
Lately, China had the merit of having exported most of the latest internet trends. Short video apps like Douyin – TikTok abroad – have contributed to spreading the short video mania worldwide. But recently, a new internet trend is striving to take hold in the PRC. It is the vlog, which found a long-lasting success abroad but that Chinese discovered only one year ago.
Data from Baidu Index, a tool that tracks keyword search volume on the Baidu search engine, shows that the frequency of searches by Chinese internet users for the word “vlog” started rising in September 2018. By March 2019, the average daily search volume had increased 324%. A trend that is also confirmed on other platforms.
But what is a vlog? And how did it manage to land in the People’s Republic?
© Weibo. If one year ago there were just a few vlogging pioneers in China, today, it is common to see vloggers using professional devices for video content on Chinese streets.
Vlog – which stands for “video blog” – is a word that indicates a record of thoughts, opinions or experiences that are published online as video content. In short, a vlog is a video story, a real multimedia diary. The most used source so far for the spread of this type of content is YouTube and for vloggers, the goal is to create a community of users who subscribe to their channel and follow the content uploaded on the platform.
In overseas countries, the vlog industry is a real thing, so much so that some of the vloggers now earn billions of dollars a year. However, in China, the vlog phenomenon is still at its early stages and the first bold full-time vloggers do not even come close to earn that amount of money.
What happened then? First, technologies have changed. A few years ago, the main social platforms of the PRC, namely Tencent with WeChat and Sina with Weibo, did not allow uploading videos and therefore their original functions were far from those offered by Google’s video platform YouTube.
However, since 2017, with the progressive emergence of live-streaming platforms, there has been a greater interest in this form of communication. It is therefore not wrong to assume that the recent interest in vlogs is the result of the enormous success of the short video apps.
As many young Chinese are studying abroad, they have started to become familiar with this form of communication so much so that some of them imported this new communication formula based on videos of everyday life at home.
One of the most popular Chinese vloggers, Wang Xiaoguang, has openly stated that he was initially inspired by Casey Neistat, a well-known American vlogger. At first, Wang has studied the editing of the images and even the music list of his videos and then launched his first vlog in June 2016. And it makes the 38-year-old vlogger a pioneer in the sector.
However, it was only in September 2017 that Sina Weibo organized an online event encouraging users to upload vlogs to the platform. Users who posted more than four vlogs in 30 days could be verified as official vloggers by Weibo to gain more exposure on the platform, according to Weibo Vlog, an official account that promotes such activity on the social media site.
Later in 2018, Bilibili, a video-streaming site popular among young netizens, launched a “30-day vlog challenge” to encourage people to share their life stories using the new format. Bilibili announced afterward that of the 22,016 people who took part, 8,729 completed the challenge.
© Jiangbing/Zhu Yi. The 28-year-old comedian, Zhu Yi, has recently quit his job as a television editor and author to become a full-time vlogger.
Since Weibo and Bilibili launched these online events, the number of vloggers in China increased exponentially. According to the 25-year-old vlogger, Yin Bei, when she posted her very first vlog in February 2018, searching for “vlog” on the Chinese internet would return a few results. But just one year later, it is now common to see people filming their online diaries on the Chinese streets or in coffee shops.
But if YouTube leads the market abroad, which are the most popular platforms for Chinese vloggers? Weibo is certainly one of the most favorite channels, also thanks to its ease of use. However, even the well-known video site Bilibili, or “B Station”, now competes with Sina as one of the vloggers’ top choices.
Recently, Bilibili even launched the “B a Vlogger” and “30-day vlog challenge” campaigns where it invited users to record and share their lives with the public. According to the data provided by the video streaming app, the platform has had a surge in subscribers, also thanks to the economic advantage. In fact, Bilibili would pay every vlogger around 2,000 yuan ($ 300) for every million views.
Many Chinese video platforms now compete to attract a major number of vloggers. Once again, the Dragon’s web ecosystem is more various than ever.
Even iQiyi has entered the game, while Tencent, who already owns QQ and WeChat, recently purchased Maobing, another app for vlogging. Another player to consider is VUE, a popular video editing and recording site. The platform has also announced that it will soon build its own online vlogger community by adding social sharing features.
For what concerns the content, instead, there is no rule about the topics covered. Currently, the most common type of vlog is the daily journal with the hashtag #adaywithme. A recent survey carried out by China Youth Daily revealed that many Chinese like to look for vlogs that relate to travel, cooking, study, and shopping. However, the true and only key to success is to tell an engaging story.
“I can learn new things about other people’s lives through their vlogs, I can understand the way they think and their lifestyle. It broadens my horizons and brings joy into my boring life,” said Shen Xiaoyan, an accountant from Jinan in Shandong province, to the China Youth Daily.
However, the lives of most people are too repetitive to produce interesting vlogs regularly. Which is why there is a risk that the wave of vloggers that recently crowded the web will soon retire as they might not receive the expected return of audience.
© Unsplash. The multiple video functions on Chinese platforms represent an asset as the video social networking is considered to be the next leading model of social media products.
Vlogs have great potential for development in a market like China, a country where video marketing is achieving great results in terms of engagement, as shown by the growth of Douyin. But the weakness of the vlog trend is the lack of creativity of many Chinese vloggers that make the audience and the investors turn to more entertaining short video platforms.
Hoping to seize the initiative, websites such as Bilibili and Sina Weibo have begun rolling out incentive schemes to provide vloggers with additional exposure, advertising commissions, or even cash subsidies. However, the capital markets in China are still on the fence, with little or no investment happening to date.
Indeed, the investors’ hesitation is mostly caused by the awareness that the vlog is unlikely to exceed the popularity of short video apps such as TikTok or Kuaishou. Short videos are definitely more popular, both in terms of audience and content. A recent report by iiMedia Research showed that the number of users of short videos reached 501 million in 2018.
Chen Fei, a well-known media and digital expert blogger, has stated that the vlog is still a niche in China, but he does not believe it can become popular in the Middle Kingdom because it lacks differentiated content and a clear monetization. To date, it is soon to be said whether vlogging “Made in China” will be a just a fad but it is certainly a trend to watch out for.
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