The new period drama Joy of Life (庆余年) is a smash hit, scoring 8/10 among the notoriously rigorous reviewers of Douban. But as in past months, the question remains, will it allow its producers to draw profit?
Streaming services iQiyi and Tencent Video have both jacked up their advanced streaming features at the height of the Joy of Life craze. The VIP service, however, is not as luxurious as it may seem — in order to unlock the next 6 episodes early, subscribers have to shell out 50 yuan on top of baseline subscription fees, which total about $30 USD a year. And even after those fees, subscribers still have to endure ads throughout their dramas. It’s truly bone-chilling stuff.
These VIP price hikes are not new; back in August, Tencent Video asked subscribers to pay 6 yuan per episode in advance, and 30 yuan to view the finale of The Untamed (陈情令).
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The hashtag #JoyOfLifeAdvancedStreamingIs50Yuan made the rounds on Weibo, demonstrating netizens’ outrage at these so-called VIP services. Chinese video platforms have been losing money fast this year, and the price hikes are likely an effort to stay afloat in a highly competitive environment. In this year’s third quarter, iQiyi reported a net loss of 3.6 billion RMB, about 480 million RMB more than the same period last year.
All three of China’s core tech companies (Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent) are vying to take the lead in the online video industry, with each platform (iQiyi, Youku-Toudu, and Tencent Video, respectively) competing to keep their paid subscriber base and provide premium content. Compare this to Netflix, which managed to sustain subscriber growth amidst several price increases, all the while investing billions into quality in-house content.
In the face of extreme competition and perhaps an overly ambitious business model, China’s streaming giants are hoping that additional charges could turn their luck around. But judging by the pushback on social media, it may not be so easy.
Here’s to hoping that the next saga of this streaming war is a little more binge-friendly.
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