China’s YouTube equivalent Bilibili is entering its next phase of content monetisation after taking initial steps last year.
On May 22, Bilibili users noticed some videos now marked as “exclusive” require a quick top-up of around 30 RMB (4.24 USD) to watch. By topping up their accounts, users unlock “shareholder” status, giving them access to a given creator’s content for the remainder of the month.
This move comes after the platform introduced its first pay-per-view video in July 2022 to widespread criticism. Compared to the platform’s first attempt at monetising content, the new “shareholder” status should mean less frequent payments for users. But if monthly payments are required across the board for a high proportion of popular channels, Bilibili is likely to mire itself deeper in controversy.
The new “top-up” requirement has also stirred debate on the Chinese internet in light of recent reports that content creators are “forcing” Bilibili to “accelerate monetisation”.
In the past two months, several prominent livestreamers have told fans they will be pausing regular uploads after struggling to make money on the platform. Since financial reports from last year indicated that the platform spent over 9 billion RMB (1.27 billion USD) on paying content creators last year, netizens were at a loss as to how their favourite creators are struggling to make a living.
The new monetisation feature has fanned the flames of this confusion, as users already feel there is a lack of transparency behind Bilibili’s approach to paying content creators. With paid content set to become a regular feature of the platform, users now feel as though the burden has been placed on them to solve the crisis over content creators’ earnings.
The microblog mecca Weibo gave an indication of the scale of the controversy, with the hashtag “How come 9 billion a year is not enough for Bilibili to support its streamers?” becoming a viral topic at 400 million views as of May 25. The exclusive videos with the new “top-up” barrier have not performed well so far on Bilibili, clocking up views well below comparable non-paid content.