When marketers talk about Chinese video-sharing platforms, most of the oxygen is sucked up by those favouring short-form video, such as Douyin and Kuaishou. Bilibili is often overlooked in these conversations, yet it’s one of the fastest growing social platforms in China, and particularly among China’s Generation Z. For brands wondering what they’re missing, here’s a clue: Bilibili is more than just a place where young Chinese consumers watch anime.
Bilibili is more than just ACG
It’s not wrong to say that at its core, Bilibili is an ACG (anime, comics and games) platform. The bones of Bilibili’s homepage resemble any other video-sharing service, but the visuals are dominated by anime characters and screen grabs from video games. It’s this content that absorbs much of the 81 minutes Bilibili’s highly engaged Gen Z users spend per day on the platform, according to data from the first quarter of 2019.
But while ACG content is the primary draw for many of Bilibili’s young fans, marketers should keep an open mind about how their brands can leverage the platform. First, Bilibili’s audience is significant and growing. The company reported it had broken through the 100 million monthly active user mark in its first-quarter earnings report in May this year. According to one report, people born between 1990 and 2009 account for over 80 percent of Bilibili’s user base, and an overwhelming majority of users access the platform via mobile devices. Bilibili’s power to draw a large cross-section of China’s Generation Z should thrill brands who want to engage China’s emerging young consumers.
Bilibili is big with China’s Generation Z
Not only are there a lot of Bilibili users, but they’re also deeply engaged, both with the content itself and with fellow users. In May, the company reported a 132 percent increase in paying subscribers year on year, reaching a total of 5.7 million members. And those subscribers are staying—over a 12-month period, Bilibili has retained over 79 percent of its paying members.
Any marketer aspiring to leverage Bilibili for their brand should be clear on what inspires this degree of loyalty among the platform’s customers. Firstly, Bilibili stands out from rival platforms because it’s able to offer a wider range of content, including both mainstream and non-mainstream anime. This is partly because Bilibili is less invested in creating original anime than the likes of Youku and Tencent. In fact, around 70 percent of its content is generated by users of the platform. As a result, Bilibili is able to license a richer variety of anime than its competitors, which China’s Generation Z users love.
Bilibili users are drawn into the platform by a number of features that inspire a high degree of engagement and enjoyment among its users. The platform’s most celebrated feature allows users to post “bullet” messages in response to live videos. The chat posts scroll horizontally across the screen in real time, creating a compelling dynamic around the platform’s live video. Users can also get involved by posting their own Moments, commenting on and liking contributions by other users. Bilibili reported over 1.4 billion such engagements in the first quarter of 2019, which both helps with retaining user interest and gives rise to a feedback loop that promotes the platform’s further growth.
“Active interfaces among our community further engage our content creators to produce more content,” said Bilibili CFO Sam Fan, according to Yahoo Finance. Aspiring Bilibili members are required to pass a test before they are admitted to the club, answering 100 questions relating to the platform. This rite of passage encourages a sense of exclusivity among those who make the grade.
All of this is encouraging for brands with an interest in China’s Generation Z consumer, and even more so when considering the true spread of Bilibili’s content ecosystem. Away from the anime and gaming, Bilibili hosts sections devoted to beauty, fashion, entertainment, advertising and digital. Users live-stream their thoughts and tips on every subject imaginable, creating opportunities for brands to work with popular KOLs who are active on Bilibili. Whatever field a brand is in, there’s probably a route to engaging China’s Generation Z consumers by leveraging content on Bilibili.
How Bilibili makes money
Brands should also understand Bilibili’s various revenue streams as they explore opportunities to speak directly to the platform’s enthusiastic users. The company earns revenue from four main streams: in-game purchases, microtransactions during live broadcasts (users can buy gifts for live-streamers), advertising and e-commerce. Bilibili recorded first quarter revenues of RMB 1.37 billion this year, a 58 percent improvement on Q1 in 2018. Gaming and live-streaming (up 27 percent and 205 percent respectively) accounted for most of the growth, with gaming revenues alone representing over 50 percent of Bilibili’s total revenue for the quarter.
Advertising and e-commerce currently represent only a combined 15 percent of Bilibili’s revenue, but it’s worth noting that these are still emerging categories for the platform. And both of these revenue streams could offer enticing possibilities for brands to link up with KOLs. Brands can leverage Bilibili’s performance-based advertising to team up with influential users on campaigns. With in-program advertising, KOLs agree to have ads placed within their Bilibili pages, and the platform also runs traditional display ads. In terms of e-commerce, Bilibili introduced Taobao integration last December, allowing users to link directly to the e-commerce platform. This development has obvious appeal for brands and should lead to fruitful KOL collaborations.
Bilibili isn’t yet generating profit, but analysts are bullish about the Nasdaq-listed company, which went public with a March 2018 IPO. The platform is cash-rich thanks to its successful fundraising and recent successful sales of convertible notes and additional shares. It has received investment from giants like Alibaba and Tencent, which holds around 12 percent of Bilibili’s stock (Bilibili and Tencent also signed a deal to cooperate on anime and games). Senior executives are confident too, forecasting that revenues for the next quarter will hit around RMB 1.47 billion. Brands who get out in front with a strong Bilibili strategy could reap rich rewards from engaging the platform’s army of enthusiastic Gen Z users and members.