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Chinese Video Streaming Platforms Turn to the TV Show “Friends” Amidst Fierce Competition

Chinese video streaming platforms have been having a difficult time competing against short video-sharing apps. 

In an effort to attract and retain users, the Chinese video streaming platforms, iQiyi, Tencent Video, Youku, and Bilibili, have decided to give the viewers what they want. They will finally air the TV show “Friends” in China, which is one of the most famous and successful television shows of all time in the world.

Viewers can already start watching the TV show “Friends” on Chinese video streaming platforms. Every week, one season will be released, so viewers will surely have something to look forward to by the time the weekend comes.

Short video-sharing apps have been gaining more and more users because the videos shown on these apps only last a few seconds or minutes. This is very attractive to netizens nowadays because of their short attention span. Viewers want something funny, informational, or anything of the like without spending too much time on one thing. Popular short video-sharing apps in China include ByteDance’s Douyin and Kuaishou Technology. In March of last year, the average daily time spent by users on these short-video sharing apps was 125 minutes.

This is a huge threat to Chinese video streaming platforms, which together make up a multibillion-dollar industry. In June 2021, 944 million users were subscribed to these platforms. However, the average daily time spent by users was just 98 minutes. This is 27 minutes shorter than that for short video-sharing apps. 

iQiyi Already Had to Decrease the Number of their Employees

Jobs and entire businesses are at stake with the competition that Chinese video streaming platforms are up against. iQiyi already had to lay off employees last December. 

The company laid off the largest number of employees at that time, ever since its establishment years ago. But, it won’t just end there. Many more employees will lose their jobs even after the Spring Festival, which will be held in the days to come.

iQIYI, one of the top Chinese video streaming platforms, had to reduce the number of their employees in an effort to cut down on costs. The company had been facing financial constraints due to the regulatory policies in Beijing, the COVID-19 pandemic, and a shift in the preferences of users.

Some departments were affected more than others, with the marketing, delivery, and channel cooperation departments being the most affected. Around 30% to 50% of the employees in those departments were laid off since they cost the company too much money. 

It was even worse in the iQiyi Research Institute and iQIyi Game Center. Nearly all of the employees with positions in those departments were affected by the round of layoffs.

Other employees in the ranks of middle-to-senior-level management and those with high salaries also lost their jobs. The layoffs were done in an effort to redirect the budget that the company has to other efforts that will increase their ability to earn. They plan to pay more attention to the aspects of content and technology.

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t been beneficial for the video streaming platform. It has led to a decrease in the number of traditional TV dramas being produced because of the limitations brought about by the efforts to curb the spread of the virus. As a result, iQiyi has had trouble giving viewers enough high-quality content to consume.

Millions of subscribers have been leaving iQiyi over the past months. In June 2021, it had 106.2 million subscribers. This went down to 103.6 million subscribers by the time September of the same year came.

Short Video-Sharing Apps Earn from Copyright Infringement

The Chinese video streaming platforms, iQiyi, Youku, and Tencent Video, expressed their dissent against how short video-sharing apps were doing their business. Many of the videos uploaded by users on these apps go against copyright laws. Users would take short clips from TV shows and movies that can be found on Chinese video streaming platforms and create their own content from them. 

As such, the short video-sharing apps and their users earned money off of shows and movies that Chinese video streaming platforms spent money on. They are financially benefiting from copyright infringement.

Why Did Chinese Video Streaming Platforms Choose the TV Show “Friends”?

“Friends” is a television sitcom created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman. It was officially aired on September 22, 1994 and ran until May 6, 2004. In those 10 years, 236 episodes and 10 seasons were tuned in by millions of viewers. Its finale was even named the “fifth most watched series finale in television history” and “the most watched television episode of the 2000s.”

Chinese video streaming platforms will now air "Friends"
(L-R) In the series finale, Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc), Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow), Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston), Ross Geller (David Schwimmer), Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry), and Monica Geller (Courtney Cox) bid farewell to Unit No. 20, the apartment where the characters lived and faced the challenges of young adulthood together.

But, it’s popularity did not end when the show did. Many viewers kept on rewatching the series and, at the same time, more viewers jumped in on the continued hype of the show.

It tells the story of six young adults living in New York City. They navigate life and all its ups and downs together. Many people found comfort in the laughter and tears that each episode brought. Even though many years have passed since it was aired, viewers can still relate to what the characters went through. It tells stories of friendship, romantic relationships, personal lives, and professional careers in a lighthearted and heartwarming manner.

The TV show “Friends” was introduced in China in the 1990s, which happened at the same time that the country was opening up more to the world. Government officials decided to ease restrictions on matters related to Western countries. In line with this, the television sitcom was used to teach Chinese citizens the English language. It was also an effective way to make them accustomed to Western culture. Viewers could study the expressions, everyday language, and what life is like on the other side of the globe in an entertaining manner.

Its popularity has persisted and grown in China since then. Many young people living in the major cities of the country have been watching “Friends” through unauthorized streaming sites.   

On May 27, 2021, the actors and producers of the TV show came together again on screen for a special episode entitled “Friends: The Reunion.” The Chinese video streaming platforms, iQiyi, Tencent Video, and Youku, saw this as a good opportunity to remain relevant in current times. They were all able to obtain licenses so that they could share this much-awaited episode with their viewers. However, some scenes that included Lady Gaga, BTS, and Justine Bieber were removed from the episode due to censorship regulations in the country. 

It wasn’t just the Chinese video streaming platforms that took hold of this opportunity. Many users of the Bilibili platform quickly posted the special episode on the site, even if they were not allowed to do so.  

Top Chinese Video Streaming Platforms

  1. Tencent Video

Tencent Video was established in April 2011. It is an on-demand streaming platform that has TV series, entertainment, movies, and anime. 

Over the years, it has continued to expand both what it offers and its reach among citizens. There are 900 million active users every month on its mobile platform, and 89 million VIP subscribers in 2019. It even went beyond the local market by launching “WeTV,” which is suited for an international audience. 

Every day, 120.7 billion users are on Tencent Video, making it one of the most used online video platforms in the country.

  1. iQiyi

iQiyi is an on-demand video streaming platform that offers hundreds of TV shows, movies, variety shows, and anime available in local languages. There are subtitles so that users can choose any show that they want without worrying about the language. Users can also watch videos in 4K/1080p quality with Dolby Surround Sound, which will give them a cinema-like experience even as they stay at home. They also provide users with the option to download shows so that they can access them wherever and whenever. 

This Chinese video streaming platform has 174 million unique visitors each month. It is also referred to as the Chinese counterpart of Netflix in the country because of the partnership that the two platforms had in 2016.

  1. Youku

Youku was founded in 2003. They offer TV series, variety shows, movies, cartoons, and many more. It has 144 million unique visitors, which has encouraged other businesses to partner up with them. In 2018, it even obtained the broadcasting rights for the FIFA World Cup. It is also sometimes called the “YouTube of China.” 

  1. Bilibili

Bilibili was launched in June 2009. They cater to young audiences in the country, offering them access to high quality content about anything and everything under the sun. Viewers belonging to Generation Z will find Bilibili suitable for them.

The community that Bilibili has created is engaging, passionate, and diverse. Individuals from different backgrounds come together and are united by their shared interests. 170 million users actively use the video streaming platform every month. 

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