China's Big Streaming Shift: Paying Instead Of Pirating

Not long ago China was an oasis for pirated music and videos. CDs and DVDs were easily copied and sold for cheap at roadside markets. If you had a computer and an Internet connection, top selling albums and Hollywood movies were widely available for free online.

That is changing. And as is the case with many tech trends in China, it is changing fast. New technologies and a long-running crackdown on pirated content mean members of the country’s growing, smartphone-wielding middle class are increasingly willing to pay to stream videos and music online, CNN reported.

“When you have to spend two-to-three hours digging up pirated content, users are willing to pay a [small] amount of money to get non-pirated content,” said Karen Chan, an analyst with research firm Jefferies.

Workers in China earn far less on average than their US counterparts. But for the better paid inhabitants of Chinese cities, streaming content is pretty affordable.

Across major Chinese video platforms, the monthly fee is about 20 yuan ($3); streaming music is even cheaper, ranging from 8 to 15 yuan ($1-$2) per month. Compare that with a basic monthly Netflix subscription in the US at $8, or a Spotify one at $10.

The rapid spread of digital payment platforms like Tencent’s WeChat Pay and Alibaba-affiliated Alipay has also played a role, according to Xue Yu, an analyst with research firm IDC.

The platforms created a market of young Chinese consumers comfortable with buying goods and services for a few yuan online, Xue said.

Like many other parts of China’s cloistered tech industry, domestic companies are reaping most of the profits from online content while foreign firms have faced difficulties.

The video market is dominated by Tencent Video and iQiyi, a subsidiary of Internet company Baidu. The country’s top ecommerce company, Alibaba, is also a big player with its video streaming platform Youku.

Tencent also has a near stranglehold on the streaming music industry through its QQ Music, KuGou and Kuwo platforms.

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