Life in Clips

ByChen Meiling July 30, 2020
A group of young women livestream a performance for a short video competition at Yichang's Yiling Square in Hubei Province. [For China Daily]


Short videos are not merely a trend but are transforming how Chinese people engage information, Chen Meiling reports.

Wei Bingbing says short videos are like "spiritual drugs" to her. Rappers, cute cats, handsome young men, spicy rice noodles, the latest movies, alluring sceneries in the Tibet Autonomous Region and the Maldives-"There are videos about almost anything you'd like to know about", the 25-year-old says.

The Beijing public relations worker has spent three to four hours a day on the short-video app Douyin, known as TikTok overseas, since 2018.

Most of the time, she watches Douyin during work breaks, before bed and on the 40-minute subway trips to and from work, a habit shared by many commuters, Wei says.

"You get addicted quickly. It's like eating sunflower seeds. You want to stop, but you can't," she says. "It has become part of my life. Without it, my life would be incomplete."

Market-research firm Sensor Tower reports that TikTok and Douyin were downloaded more than 626 million times globally during the first half of this year, ranking first in all popular apps worldwide.

Their revenue on the App Store and Google Play reached over $90.7 million in June, increasing more than eightfold year-on-year.

Short videos are also part of Wei's social life. She and her friends share the hottest topics they find on Douyin in a WeChat group and talk about them in person.

"How can I join the conversation if I don't know the latest buzzwords and jokes?" she says.

Watching fun short videos can ease work stress, and the targeted content can satisfy people's eagerness for information, she says, adding the only shortcoming is that she can lose track of time.

A host eats crawfish while livestreaming the scene at a night market in Shanghai. [For China Daily]


"But the advantages still outweigh the disadvantages."

Zhao Kunjie, a 25-year-old marketing worker in Beijing, says she opens video-sharing app Bilibili first thing in the morning and just before falling asleep.

She especially enjoys promos for soap operas and films, and food vloggers.

"It's good to relax and laugh at these videos after an exhausting day at work," she says.

"Besides, I don't have time to watch full episodes of blockbusters, TV dramas or variety shows. Watching these short videos helps me grasp the basic information quickly."

In addition to personal interests, she also watches videos about the latest entertainment trends.

She follows 65 vloggers on Bilibili, who post new videos about such topics as history, legends, science and healthcare once every day or two. Most have over 100,000 fans. Each video is roughly five to 15 minutes long.

"Douyin's videos are much shorter, with each lasting just several seconds. It's too fast for me. You barely know what it's really about before the next video."

She believes its prevalence demonstrates the "fast-food culture "that has made people "less patient, more restless, overlook details and give up deep thinking".

"Videos may be easier to comprehend, but books help you think," she says, adding she reads every evening.

Liang Xiao, a 28-year-old media worker in Beijing, mostly watches short videos for academic purposes. He doesn't care much for funny clips, he says.

He spends about half an hour a day browsing finance-related content, such as stock analyses, on the short-video sharing platform Kuaishou after dinner or in the morning.

"There are some professional graphics or interpretations that can be helpful for my work," he says.

A Hangzhou resident's smartphone screen shows video apps Douyin, Kuaishou and Huoshan. [For China Daily]


Liang once downloaded Douyin and the news portal Toutiao but soon deleted them because "they have too much useless, similar and low-grade content".

He'd rather expand his knowledge, he says.

He also plans to share short videos showing his interviews with financial experts.

"Videos convey information in a more vivid but less rigorous way than text," Liang says.

He points out many accounts just copy others' videos without regard for copyright.

Huang Yifu, a 26-year-old financial-technology researcher in Shanghai, says short videos are successful because they "stimulate the senses" by pushing content that catches attention after "customized big data analyses".

"But on second thought, you think, 'What's the point?'"

He says he deleted Douyin a week after downloading it when it first became popular two years ago.

"The advantage is that you can quickly access lifestyles that are far from yours and others' experiences that you want but have yet to try, such as traveling to Switzerland. Besides, people need entertainment," he says.

"The disadvantage is that too much time is wasted, and few videos leave any impression in your mind afterward."

He says he often watches videos about animation, games, talk shows and science on Bilibili while having dinner.

If he has questions to answer, he turns to the open courses and Q&A platform Zhihu.

"But it's still something to learn, not only from high-quality content but also from how these companies have succeeded."

Raymond Wang, partner of the global consultancy Roland Berger, says the tendency to receive fragmented information, to some extent, results in short-video apps' popularity. The advance of networks, mobile internet and artificial intelligence also contributes to the trend.

He says use determines if the influence is positive or negative.

"You can spend 'fragmented' time learning new information and improve personal expression through short videos," he says.

"But you should also avoid poor content and wasting too much time."

Daniel Zipser, senior partner at the consulting firm McKinsey &Company, says the rise of smartphones in recent decades provides consumers with an opportunity to watch content on-the-go, such as in subways, cars and trains. This creates a platform to watch content using minimal time.

He says that partly explains why short video apps are now part of everyday life in China.

"As with most innovations, there are positive and negative effects of short videos on the young generation," he says.

"For consumers to engage with digital content, per se, is something I think of in a positive way. Regulations have been and will continue to be tightened to contain some of the negative sides it has brought, particularly on the young generation."


(Source: China Daily)


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