The Chinese short video app is one of the largest digital phenomenons of 2020. WeChat, a communications-focused SNS platform, appears to be broadening its horizons with a new feature intended to mark its entry into the short video scene. Some users may have noticed a new feature in their WeChat “Discover” tab labelled “Channels”. With WeChat Channels, users can explore media accounts, videos from stars and bloggers, all from users that are not in their contact list.
If you were as curious as I was after finding the feature, you might also have spent too much time trying to figure out how to post a video. So why can some accounts post to Channels while other can not?
What are WeChat Channels?
At the beginning of the year, WeChat founder Allen Zhang Xiaolong reviewed the way WeChat official accounts had developed over the years. Zhang said his one big regret was how Public Account’s ended up being dominated by long-form content like articles.
Zhang Xiaolong believes: “We can’t expect everyone to write articles every day. In terms of official accounts, we lack a vehicle for everyone to create.”
WeChat Channels gives users a feature to create sub-one-minute videos or photos with a short blurb and distribute to the public. Channels will open WeChat up to become a completely open platform to discover and follow other users. Users will be able to discover, like, comment, and follow other users Channels.
At present, videos can only be played in-feed – you can’t click through to view the video on a dedicated page. The platform also does not yet support pause or scrub functions. However, you can share the content you see in WeChat Channels with friends via your Moments and chat.
So why do some people see this feature, while others don’t? Well, the feature is still in beta testing. Users in some regions will see the WeChat Channels feature listed under “Discover” after updating to WeChat 7.0.10 for iOS or Android. If you can’t access the feature yet, you’ll have to sit tight and wait for the next phase of rollouts.
How can I register for WeChat Channels?
Because WeChat Channels is currently undergoing internal testing, publishing privileges have only been extended to KOLs. But if you are really keen on creating a Channel, you can apply to participate in beta testing by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The email subject line should read “Channels internal test + name or subject name” (视频号内测+姓名或主体名). In the email, provide information to identify yourself (such as your WeChat account, along with a personal introduction or an introduction to your institution) as well as proof of your influence. You can submit original videos and screenshots for each of your social accounts displaying your account name, follower count, and interaction counts, or any other materials that demonstrate your influence. WeChat will confirm whether or not applicants have been approved for internal testing privileges based on an evaluation of the applicant’s creative ability.
At present, both individuals and businesses can apply. However, interested users should note that only one Channel can be activated for each WeChat account. Additionally, it’s not possible to change a Channel once it has been tethered to a WeChat account.
After the application is approved, you can create a channel by going to “My Channel” on the “Channels” personal page.
What’s the point of WeChat Channels?
According to third-party research, the Chinese short video app industry valuation was RMB 46.71 billion in 2018, with a growth rate of 744.7%. It is expected that the Chinese short video app industry reached RMB 100.65 billion in 2019 and will grow to RMB 200 billion by 2021. The Chinese short video app is undoubtedly a shiny new toy capturing the public’s imagination.
As mentioned above, Zhang Xiaolong believes that WeChat lacks a creative vehicle that everyone can participate in, and that WeChat, which is currently centred on text-based posts, must make up for its current blind spot.
When it comes to the Chinese short video app industry, the first names that come to mind are Douyin and Kuaishou. Compared to other video platforms, WeChat’s core advantage must be its prowess in the realm of “messaging”. As the largest messaging app in China, WeChat’s reached 1.15 billion monthly active users in 2019. Therefore, it’s likely that WeChat Channels will achieve high initial traffic. But user retention will be the real question.
At present, WeChat is trying to deliver content to users through a variety of methods such as users voluntarily following accounts, users selecting categories they are interested in, and automatic recommendations.
The truth is WeChat has been experimenting with the short video media form in recent years. In December 2018, Moments video was launched with WeChat version 7.0. When users open their Moments feed, they will receive their friends’ latest updates and can click to play their friends’ Moments videos. When chatting with a friend, users can also click on the circle next to the other person’s name to see Moments videos. In June 2019, WeChat and Weishi launched the 30-second Moments function. In August, WeChat teamed up with Kuaishou to launch Kanyikan. And in August, WeChat started internally testing a video creation function for public accounts. Throughout this process, WeChat has been trying and encouraging users to create short videos and to better present short video content.
This time the WeChat Channels feature seems more radical. Being able to access video content directly inside the “Discover” section, right below Moments, attracts more attention and gives the impression of having a short video app embedded in WeChat. Of course, it remains to be seen whether WeChat can successfully combat short video platforms such as Douyin and Kuaishou.
Although it is called “Channels”, the presentation of content is not limited to video. The aim is focused more on short-form content in general, including short news, short articles, and other easy to consume content formats. In this sense, it’s quite different from other dedicated short video platforms. Regardless, this is obviously a new opportunity for creators.
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