“Time to quit”: Chinese netizens react to Douyin’s trial of paid content

Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, has started testing pay-to-view content on its platform.

Journalists and netizens report that currently there are few videos that need payment, but playlists of paid content have already been compiled by content creators. There are both short- and long-form paid videos that cover a wide variety of topics. The pricing ranges from 1 Douyin coin (0.1 RMB or 0.014 USD) to 120 Douyin coins (12 RMB or 1.68 USD). However, paid-for content becomes unavailable again just 7 days after the video was uploaded (or for video series, 7 days after the final episode was uploaded).

The move was widely discussed on Chinese social media. On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging platform, the topic “#抖音测试付费短视频#” (“Douyin trials pay-to-view videos”) garnered 210 million views and 342,000 engagements, ranking number 4 at its peak on the Hot Search list. Many on Weibo comment that it seems ungrateful for a user-generated content (UGC) platform that depends on traffic to charge its users. Some joke that by charging for viewing, Douyin will help them quit short-form videos and fight their internet addiction. Others point out that this move is not so different from membership schemes on other platforms.

After the news went viral, Douyin clarified that content creators decide which pieces they want to put behind a paywall and the platform has no say in it. Uploaders share the income from paid content 70/30 with the platform. The trial is currently only available to individual content creators with more than 100,000 followers whose content is highly original and is not in violation of platform rules. This range will be broadened in the future.

However, both clarification topics “#抖音回应付费短视频#” (“Douyin responds about paid videos”) and “#抖音称短视频是否付费取决于作者#” (“Douyin says the author decides whether a video is paid”) got only around 7 million views on Weibo, lagging behind the sensational initial headline.

It’s not the first time Douyin tried to incorporate paid content. In 2021, Douyin charged viewers for livestreamed online concerts during the pandemic. In the same year, it also put several microdrama series behind the paywall. Some think that the new trial this year could be due to the microdrama boom this year.


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