What is Bilibili? A look into one of China’s largest online video platforms

Thomas Graziani New WeChat features

China’s online video market seems to be dominated by 3 companies: Youku (owned by Alibaba), iQiyi (owned by Baidu) and QQ Video (owned by Tencent).

A third contender is however worth a look, from users and marketers alike: the hype and versatile platform Bilibili.

What is Bilibili?

Bilibili started out in 2009 as a website specialized in sharing anime’s picture and videos.

Over the course of 10 years, the company expanded into a lot of new categories including advertising, mobile gaming, and e-commerce.

Bilibili also launched a premium membership enabling access to special shows, e-commerce deals, and HQ video streaming.

Anime content and user-generated content

Unlike other major video platforms like iQiyi and Tencent video, Bilibili has a unique content positioning focusing on ACG (anime, comic, and games). In particular Japanese anime, manga and video games. In Chinese, this type of content is referred to as 2nd-dimensional space (二次元). 

Bilibili homepage

Judging by the most watched shows on Bilibili, anime is clearly the most popular genre. Even among the non-anime shows, the top-ranked show of the month is a children show.

This says a lot about the user demographics of Bilibili. Most users are students or young graduates. According to the investor presentation of Bilibili for Q1 2019, the focus is on the Gen Z (people born from 1990 to 2009).

However, the company shifted its positioning to target a wider audience by including more popular TV shows since its IPO in March 2018.

Here are the top 5 videos ranked by the amount of “danmus” (“Danmu” or 弹幕 refers to comments that float on the screen at a specific time during a show – they are one of the signature features of Bilibili):

Content other than anime also got traction on Bilibili

According to Bibilibi’s Q1 2019 investor presentation, the category ranking by view count in March 2019 was:

  1. Entertainment
  2. Lifestyle
  3. Gaming
  4. Anime
  5. Technology

A social-focused video platform

Bilibili is known for its video commenting feature, Danmu (弹幕, directly translated to bullet screen comment). Users can make a quick comment at a particular moment during the video. The comments will shoot from the side of the screen, covering the video content like bullets.

A popular video could receive thousands of Danmus. Imagine watching a movie while thousands of people are all commenting on the video at the same time. It could get hectic for some users.

Many of the comments can seem very repetitive as if users are seeking for more social confirmation. But sometimes Danmu can be interesting when users post good sarcastic comments.

Since Danmus are spontaneous, it’s a place viewers can socialize with other viewers. A good comment could even become popular Internet slang.

Bilibili’s growth

Bilibili has seen a strong growth of its revenue over the past year, from 0.8 to 1.4 billion RMB (a 58% YOY growth rate)

Although the company isn’t profitable, it has managed to reduce its net loss over the 2 last quarters to 195.6 million RMB.

Monthly Active Users (MAUs) are also growing at a steady pace of 31% YOY, reaching more than 100 million as of Q1 2019.

But the strongest metric for Bilibili is their growth of paying users. The number of paying users grew from 2.5 to 5.7 million between Q1 2018 and Q1 2019: a 132% increase YOY.

The cost of content for Bilibili was RMB 175.8 million in Q1 2019, making up 15% of the cost of revenue. This is the cost of purchasing licensed content from copyright owners and content distributors (and doesn’t include revenue sharing for user-generated content, which we will discuss later in this article). 

For iQiyi, a mainstream video platform operated by Baidu, the cost of content was RMB 5.3 billion: 73% of the total cost of revenue. The reason is mostly that iQiyi, just like Netflix, is constantly investing in creating original shows. It has launched hit shows including Produce 101, Story of Yanxi Palace, Daomu Biji, U can u bibi.

Revenue sharing structure to encourage user-generated content

Bilibili is very different in terms of content focus. Unlike iQiyi which focuses on purchasing licenses and creating original content, Bilibili has a strong revenue sharing program to encourage users to upload their own content.

This makes Bilibili one of the highest paying platform for content creators in China. Revenue sharing costs Bilibili RMB 551.7 million in 2019 Q1, making up for 40% of revenue and 47% of the cost of revenue. 

According to a blogger KatandSid, who published content on Bilibili, Toutiao, WeChat, Youtube, Weibo, and iQiyi. Based on the data of the last 3 years, here is the earning sharing on each platform for each 10k view-count:

  • Youtube: ~ 280 RMB
  • Bilibili: ~ 40 RMB
  • Toutiao: ~ 25 RMB
  • Weibo: 0 (does not have a revenue-sharing plan)

Although Bilibili provides strong incentive to content creators, it can hardly compare to Youtube. Platforms like Weibo do not even provide revenue sharing program. That’s why content creators have to rely on ads to generate revenue. This could ultimately affect quality of content and user experience.

How does Bilibili make money?

Bilibili makes money mostly from games it published and promotes through its platform. Mobile games make up for almost two thirds (64%) of Bilibili’s revenues.

There was however a clear shift in the revenue sources of Bilibili: e-commerce went up from 2% to 7% of revenue within one year, while mobile games went down from 79% to 64% of their revenues.

Risk

Like any other content platform, tightening content regulation could make it hard and harder for Bilibili’s content to be approved for distribution in China. This is especially true for content purchased from Japan.

In fact, the anime industry has been consolidating over the past 2 years. Bilibili’s largest competitor Acfun was acquired by Kuaishou for a valuation of RMB 1.04 billion ($162 million) in June 2018. It was valued at RMB1.85 billion at the end of 2016, almost double the amount of the final acquisition price.

Bilibili is trying to make up the content shortage by encouraging Chinese anime content. But as of today, the quality gap is still too large to attract significant viewership.

As content on Bilibili is becoming more mainstream, the platform is also facing direct competition from Tencent Video and iQiyi. But both competitors have a strong original content production capability that Bilibili still lacks.

Short-video platforms such as Douyin and Kuaishou are also eating up the market for user-generated content.

Conclusion

Bilibili stands out from the rest of video platforms due to it’s unique anime-focused content positioning and strong revenue sharing program.

It’s unlikely Bilibili could compete against Tencent, Baidu or Alibaba in the mainstream video content space. The BAT companies are dominating the online video space through QQ Video, iQiyi and Youku.

In order to maintain its competitiveness, Bilibili will have to innovate and put more focus on content generation, instead of relying on imported content from Japan. Its versatile positioning at the intersection of gaming, anime and e-commerce might help Bilibili stand out from the crowd.

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