Apr 06, 2016

    iQiyi whips up pay-to-watch wave in China

    IN CHINA, pay-to-watch is becoming popular online. Audiences are learning to pay for a variety of membership packages offered by, Youku Tudou, Tencent Holdings and LeEco Holdings.

    "The two barriers to paid online viewing - rampant piracy and lack of payment systems - no longer exist," said Yang Xianghua, senior vice-president of iQiyi.

    In June last year, it had five million paying users. By December, the number had doubled. "So, we've made a large investment in technology and content. For example, we purchased a great number of high-quality films and TV dramas," he added.

    According to a report by iResearch Consulting Group, the number of paying viewers last year soared 264 per cent to 28.84 million. It is expected to reach 54.41 million this year.

    Revenues could reach 18.79 billion yuan (S$3.9 billion) in 2018.

    The quality and popularity of TV dramas, including foreign shows, has improved, bringing about a sharp rise in paying viewers.

    For instance, Descendants Of The Sun, a South Korean TV drama, is a huge hit.

    The 16-episode love drama is now airing on iQiyi at 9pm every Wednesday and Thursday, the same time as South Korea's KBS.

    iQiyi claims there have been more than 1.2 billion views of the series up until March 25.

    Its VIP members get to enjoy two episodes ahead of free users, and without ads.

    It is priced at 19.80 yuan per month, 58 yuan per quarter and 198 yuan per year.

    Last year, the series Grave Robbers' Chronicles, based on a best-selling series of novels, also triggered a paid viewing craze.

    It was viewed 160 million times and attracted 2.6 million new VIP members within a short time after it premiered on July 3. According to iQiyi, its server crashed, unable to cope with heavy online traffic.

    Till last October, iQiyi had the largest 56.4 per cent share of the market, followed by Youku Tudou and Tencent Video.

    iQiyi remains the market leader, according to a report by the China Netcasting Services Association and China Internet Network Information Centre.

    In February, iQiyi formed a strategic cooperation agreement with international record company Universal Music.

    Its members can now watch top concerts and MTV shows from the United States, Europe and other countries. They can also enjoy documentaries from BBC and Discovery Channel.

    However, the market in China is still nascent. Its scale is relatively small compared with overseas video-streaming websites such as Netflix of the US, which boasts 74 million subscribers in 190 countries.

    "Thankfully, the habit of paying for what they watch is now forming," said Feng Jun, a senior analyst at EntGroup.

    "We expect online content to be wide-ranging to satisfy different audience groups. There will be personalised, elaborate value-added services as well."