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A new report from the China Internet Audiovisual Content and Service Association delineates the changes that have taken space in the Chinese online streaming and short video spaces during the past pandemic year.

It defined users engaging with online streaming, short video, online audiobook or radio, or live streaming services collectively as “internet audiovisual users.”

As of December 2020, 95% of all people online in China (944 million people) are using such online audiovisual services. That’s up from December 2018, when 88% of the country’s total internet users (732 million people) used them.

The internet audiovisual industry as a whole grew 32% year-on-year in 2020 to reach a valuation of $92.8 billion (RMB600 billion). The fastest growing and now largest sector was short video, which grew 58% year-on-year to reach a valuation of $31.7 billion (RMB205 billion). The second largest sector was video streaming, rising 16% year-on-year to hit $18.4 billion (RMB119 billion) in 2020. Live-streaming was the third largest sector but the second fastest growing. It rose 35% year-on-year to a market value of $17.5 billion (RMB113 billion).

Short-Form Video

Short-form video has seen an explosion. By the end of 2020, more than 88% of all people using online audiovisual services used short video.

In the second half of the year, 49.2 million people became new internet users in China. More than 20% of new internet users said they had connected in order to watch short video content.

Overall, users are spending a growing amount of their days on watching short videos, with the average amount of time spent on such platforms per day now rising to an average of 2 hours and 5 minutes — almost 50 minutes more than users spent at the end of 2017.

In general, users are shifting increasingly from passively consuming short video content to shooting and uploading their own. Currently, more than 46% of users have uploaded short videos in the past six months. This proportion has grown 29% year-on-year.

The country’s top two short video apps — rivals Douyin (or TikTok) and Kuaishou — have together cornered nearly 55% of the market.

Online Streaming

The number of users watching long-form online video content rose to its highest point since 2017 in the first three months of 2020, at the height of pandemic lockdown measures. Streaming users hit 726 million by last March, accounting for 80% of all audiovisual content users. By the end of last year, that figure had slipped back down to levels similar to pre-pandemic times, with 71% of users (704 million people) engaged in watching online streams.

Data shows that users are increasingly accustomed and willing to pay for online content. Around 46% of users paid for streaming services in the past half year, and nearly 60% of those born after 1990 are paying users. Generally speaking, users most commonly maintain ongoing monthly subscriptions, but more than 20% have now purchased in additional on-demand services.

In a quirk perhaps unique to Asia, more than 28% of streaming viewers chose not to watch content at its original speed — particularly those under the age of 20. In that age group, a full 40% chose to watch content at double-speed. Male users most commonly reported doing so to be able to consume content more efficiently, while female users did so in order to move more quickly through digressive plots made unnecessarily long by producers hoping to boost ad revenue.

Around a third of all users watching online video content in China watch them with bullet comments — rapid-fire, real-time comments from other viewers that stream over the top of videos.

The report found that online dramas and variety shows geared towards women were increasingly popular last year. Women were more likely to interact with content by sharing, commenting or scoring it, and were also more likely to search after viewing content for other plot details or related information, like reviews, featured cosmetics or clothing, or the original source material.

The business landscape for online streaming is becoming increasingly consolidated. Currently, the five top streamers in the country — iQiyi, Tencent Video, Youku, Mango TV and Bilibili —account for more than 88% of market share.

Growing consolidation is also the case in the live-streaming market, where leading platforms Douyu, Huya and YY are now cornering more than 51% of its total tally.