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Douyin (抖音) formerly A.me is a mobile short video platform launched in China by Chinese tech giant ByteDance in September 26, 2016.[1] It has recently emerged as one of the most popular short-video platforms in the country. At a curator conference hosted by Douyin in August 2019, the platform's general manager, Zhang Yiming, stated that the app's development was "beyond expectation," citing Douyin's daily active users of 320 million. Government support is required for Chinese internet companies to succeed, and Chinese information and communication technologies (ICTs) are frequently shaped by techno-nationalist policies.[1]

It allows users to create and browse quick-fire video clips ranging from 15 seconds to one minute in length, allowing them to share funny and even nonsense videos widely online, similar to how Vine was used. Douyin (TikTok) has been the most downloaded non-game app on the iOS App Store globally since the first quarter of 2018, with over 500 million global monthly active users [1] and over 250 million daily active users in China. Douyin's influence has even spread offline, with many users identifying as "Douyiners" and socializing in real life using jargons. Many songs have gained popularity as a result of their use as background music in videos by Douyin content creators. [1]

Douyin has undoubtedly caused major shockwaves in the Chinese digital world and has become the top success story, particularly in the short video space. In June 2018, the app had 150 million daily active users and had established itself as the world's fastest growing app, with the world's largest music video community.[2]

Though not as closely associated with the Chinese government as Baidu, Alibaba, or Tencent (collectively ‘BAT’), ByteDance still reflects the logics of other major Chinese media companies who walk a fine line between achieving commercial goals and fulfilling political goals of the Chinese State.[1]

Background

There are numerous online platforms and communities that facilitate video sharing. YouTube is the most popular online platform for sharing video content. It has no topic or time constraints and hosts billions of publicly accessible archived videos. Vine was a public short video sharing platform operated by Twitter that closed down in 2017. Videos had a 6-second time limit. Instagram started as a photo-sharing platform but has recently begun to support videos of 3 to 15 seconds in length.[1]

While all of these platforms are popular, Douyin has some unique features, such as emphasizing on background music and special visual effects, and the aforementioned platforms are currently not available to Chinese users. We chose to focus on Douyin to understand the specific uses and gratifications of short video sharing platforms, and to investigate the affordances of such platforms in the unique social media landscapes and social contexts of China.[1]

Douyin, like Vine, has several unique design features and different demographics of users, and it should be an important part of the research agenda for understanding video interaction. Douyin also supports in-app live streaming functionality with gamification elements, allowing viewers to send virtual gifts to their favorite content providers, and we will compare our findings to previous work on video game live streaming, information behavior on social live streaming services, mobile live streaming [20], live streaming in China, and gamification. [1]

Categories of Content

  • Positive Energy (正能量) - Short videos depicting positive emotions or prosocial behaviors, such as showing kindness to homeless people or strangers in need, donating money to those in need, demonstrating the efforts of soldiers while training, and so on.
  • Knowledge Sharing - All of the interviewees mentioned some content from the content providers that was intended for knowledge sharing. Such knowledge was frequently shared in a comprehensive manner, with each short video covering only one or two key points of specific knowledge. Content providers typically used animation or slide-style presentations, with their narrations aligned with video closed captions. The knowledge shared via short creative videos on Douyin covered a wide range of topics, with the most frequently mentioned being:
  • Popular science - Popular natural science (physics, chemistry, biology, and so on), popular social science (history, geography, and so on), health, safety, and the law, and so on.
  • Education - K-12 education, undergraduate education (e.g., Spoken English, Learning Tips, and so on), graduate education (e.g., how to prepare for the Chinese Graduate School Entrance Exam), and so on. Such content is more appealing to students.
  • Arts and skills - Singing, calligraphy, dancing, handicraft, painting, photography, and other activities Our interviewees appreciated the high production value and creative stories that highlighted the arts and skills in a comprehensive and appealing manner. Some interviewees also mentioned how certain videos piqued their interest in the arts and encouraged them to practice or learn more about specific skills. Some arts and crafts videos were actually about China's intangible cultural heritage, such as Chinese calligraphy, Peking Opera, Shadow Play, Dough Figurines, and so on, and were primarily used to promote traditional cultural practices by these cultural practitioners. Apart from short creative videos, these content providers used livestreams to engage more viewers with cultural practices.
  • Profession related - Self improvement, professional skills, social skills, investment etc.

Short Videos

This section includes anything from short videos of Douyin.

Metadata

Douyin assigns each video a unique 19-digit decimal ID. Each video contains the following meta-data: video ID, the time it was released, bitrate, which is the play bitrate of each video, video length, which is the play duration of each video, video file size, which is one of the key metrics for caching, and so on. The type of verification that indicates whether the user who uploaded the video has passed the official certification of Douyin, number of views and number of likes, number of comments and number of shares.

Characteristics

Length

The length of a Douyin video is one of the most noticeable differences between it and traditional videos, which typically last 0.5-2.5 hours (e.g., YouTube). Douyin primarily provides short musical videos, with 95 percent of the video length in our entire datasets falling within the 15-second limit imposed by Douyin on regular user uploads. We do find videos that exceed this limit, however, because Douyin officially allows a small group of authorized users to upload videos that are longer than 15 seconds.[1]

Bitrate

A video's bitrate is an indicator of its playback quality. Low bitrate degrades user QoE, causing Douyin's popularity to dwindle over time. We find that the Weibull distribution fits the skewed bitrate curve of Douyin videos. This knowledge can be applied to the development of an adaptive bitrate caching system.[1]

File Size

For Douyin videos, video file size information is not available. However, the video file size can be calculated using the video length (duration) and bitrate.[1]

Users

Douyin was the 6th most downloaded app in the world in the first quarter of 2018, combining iOS and Android app downloads. It was also the most downloaded non-game iOS app in the world, beating such big names as YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp in download charts.[3]

Considering that Android users in China have to download the app from third-party stores (as Google Play is banned), Douyin has successfully established a strong international presence, especially in Asian countries like Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. Douyin users are also remarkably young: often below 24 years old. The predominantly young and upscale audience makes Douyin an interesting platform for brands who are curious to tap into China’s Gen Z shopper set.[3]

The predominantly female audience of Douyin is another appeal of the App for advertisers, eager to reach out to young and affluant female users. During its first few months of existence, Douyin was perceived as mostly targeting very young users in Tier 1 cities. Data is however showing that this trend is shifting.[3]

Douyin growth in China appears to be unstoppable. The app, which is still the most downloaded in China, recently passed the 828 million monthly active user milestone (According to eMarketer) and has over 600 million daily active users. This is regarded as one of the most engaging platforms, with millions of pieces of content uploaded by passionate users.[4]

While people are becoming more accustomed to being fed machine-recommended videos, many users still have the desire and need to actively search. Douyin recognized this and added a search function in mid-2018.> After more than two years, the feature had 550 million monthly active users. Douyin's search feature still has room to grow, as the app last reported 600 million daily users in September, implying that its monthly user base should be higher.[3]

Differences

  • If one is a non-chinese resident, they will be using the ‘international version,’ meaning that it will have access to (international-specific) content that a user registered with a Chinese telephone number will not be able to see.[5]
  • Depending on what app store is used to find both apps, Users will either be able to download Douyin or TikTok. Users of Chinese app stores can only find Douyin (as China bans TikTok), whereas users of the overseas Apple store or Google Play will only find TikTok available for download.
    • The apps are actually separate systems becomes clear when running the same search words in both apps.
  • Douyin also has an older user base than TikTok, as it “now contains micro-vlogs, life-style content, business advice, and videos from local police.” Some rural city governments “have begun advertising their regions’ produce and tourist attractions on the app.”[6]
  • Matthew Brennan, a social media consultant in China, showed how Douyin now has in-video search. It lets users search for videos of their face and buy them directly.[6][7]
  • Users of the video platform Douyin previously had the ability to buy virtual gifts through the country’s two most prevalent third-party mobile payment channels.[8][9]
    • ByteDance, which is owned by Zhang Yiming, acquired a payments firm in September. The company then allowed its other services to operate with the acquired company's platform.[8][10]
  • In addition to the usual 60 seconds limit, Douyin also allowed content that can be up to 15 minutes long.[5]
    • Douyin also has significantly more PUGC (professional user generated content) than TikTok.[5]
  • There are a number of ways to monetize on Chinese TikTok. One of these is through selling goods on Taobao and Jingdong.[9]
  • Douyin has a feature called "wallet", which lets users complete transactions using an QR Code. The feature allows users to send and receive money, as well as buy and sell items.[11]
    • The overseas version also does not have the same Wallet functions the Chinese version has.
  • While the video platform found massive success, it has also expanded into other areas. Some of these include e-commerce, messaging, and live video streaming.[5]
  • We also noted that the company's shared services platform allows for quick re-use of existing technology and business building blocks.[5]
  • Douyin's rapid expansion has been largely due to its lack of interoperability with other top platforms like WeChat. This is also why it has become more focused on local services.[5]
    • Some of the features that make up the in-app community are designed to create a sense of belonging and purpose, while other tactics are used to motivate users.[5]
  • Due to the evolution of the ecosystem, Douyin's users are more inclined to accept features and design choices that are better suited to their needs. This is mostly due to its robust monetization model.[5]

Features

Content

Unlike TikTok, the video length on Douyin has been increased to 15 minutes. Douyin's content can now be up to 15 minutes long. To put it another way, many of the more popular Douyin accounts are from teams of professionals who use professional equipment. Brands are also more willing to sponsor mobile video content in China, which can be explained by lower production costs.[5]

Another effect is a significantly increased number of horizontal videos on Douyin. A 60 second time limit on TikTok makes it ideal for memes, but Douyin's time limit allows for a variety of different types of videos, such as movie synopses or full scenes.[5]

Live-streaming

While advertising remains Douyin's primary source of revenue, live-streaming is becoming increasingly important.[12] By late 2020, approximately 85 percent of Douyin users were watching live-streams.[13] The presence of advanced live-streaming functions is another significant distinction between Douyin and TikTok.[14] Unlike in the West, live-streaming has become a popular pastime in China, with over 500 million views as of 2020. Live-streams are broadly classified into three types: entertainment, gaming, and e-commerce.[15]

The fundamental monetization is the same. Entertainment typically consists of a streamer displaying a talent, such as singing, dancing, or telling jokes, whereas gaming is similar to Twitch. Live-streamers in the entertainment and gaming industries make money by collecting tips from their viewers in the form of virtual goods.[16]

One Douyin coin, for example, costs 10 RMB, or about one and a half cents USD.[5][17] Livestreamers can expect to take home roughly half of their tips on average. The remainder is divided between Douyin, which receives the lion's share, and the MCN (multi-channel network).[18] if the livestreamer is a member of one. MCNs function as talent agencies, assisting livestreamers with training, soliciting sponsorships, negotiating promotional traffic, and a variety of other tasks. These are features that are widely available in TikTok.[18][5]

Better live-streaming awareness and in-product entry points. Unlike in TikTok, however, which currently only shows live-streams if the user happen to chance upon a creator with an active stream, Douyin has that as well as multiple other entry points for live-streaming.[5] For example, if the user clicks into its “Follow” feed, ongoing live-streams are displayed at the top. Even if the user decide not to view them and swipe up, a permanent floating number and arrow indicating the number of ongoing live-streams will remain on the screen.[5]

In addition, at the top left, there is a “Livestream” icon that will take you to livestreams regardless of what the user follows. When you click on “More Livestreams,” a dual-panel screen on the right appears, allowing you to browse streams by category, including pure audio rooms, which do not exist in TikTok. Some streams may display a red packet icon indicating whether or not the stream contains cash equivalent giveaways, which are popular promotional methods for gaining viewers. A search function is also available, and you can start your own livestream from this screen. When livestreaming on TikTok becomes more popular, it will became available on Douyin.

E-commerce features that are robust. Douyin, in particular, has expanded its capabilities in e-commerce streaming over the last two years.[19] To increase sales, e-commerce live-streams can highlight the product in a "picture-in-picture" mode.[20] A shopping cart icon displays all of the items that are for sale.[15] Even when not live-streaming, creator profiles can now include mini shops with goods that can be purchased directly in-app.[15] These storefronts may sell items that are unique to the creator or merchandise that is linked from other shops and brands.[15] Short video creations that feature a specific item can also include that item as a shoppable link, allowing the creator to be credited for the sale. Following the purchase of an item, the entire process of tracking, reviewing, and returning it is available within Douyin.[21]

Use advertising tools to increase virality. Douyin has another tool for creators that has yet to be fully launched in TikTok, though it is being beta tested in Thailand, Indonesia, and Japan. Douyin is an internal advertising system in which users can pay to have their videos promoted on an impression-by-impression basis.[5] They can also select the target audience's demographics. Dou+ does not apply to advertising content.[22] Users can spend money to promote someone else's video as well as their own. In general, the system will not be able to make their video go viral, but it will give its content a steady boost.

Gamification

Douyin's livestreaming is far more advanced and gamified than TikTok's, where the only interaction currently available is basic tipping.[5]

Fandom as a Service, There is, for example, a leveling up mechanism based on how much money is spent within the app.[5] In chat, a user's level number and other special status designations are always displayed prominently in front of their name.[5] Higher levels unlock a "splashier" entrance: instead of being buried in the chat feed, their name flies in from the right and stays on top of the chat for a few seconds.[5]

Leaderboard

Top fans have their own leaderboards. Douyin uses multiple leaderboards in addition to status and effects to encourage more transactions. There are Top 100 leaderboards, for example, for both entertainment and shopping livestreams, both sitewide and by location. Streamers who are currently ranked will have their ranking displayed beneath their name. When a user clicks on the leaderboard, they are shown how many virtual coins the streamer needs to appear on the leaderboard or overtake the spot directly ahead of them.

It is a method of encouraging users to help their streamer. The top three viewers by contribution in the session are also shown, along with how many virtual coins they have spent so far in real time. By clicking through, the viewer can also see the rest of the gifters and their position in the session, as well as a nudge of the number of coins they would need to gift to overtake the person ahead of them.

Gifts

The streamer can also request specific combinations of gifts from viewers during the livestream. Viewers who assist the streamers in achieving their objectives are displayed in the screen. Each streamer also has their own "fan community" that the user can join to gain fan-specific status and level up within the community for even more unique digital badges and items. Everything is based on a competitive spirit and climbing the various ranking ladders to advance and achieve status.

Missions

Creators' missions Third, Douyin has created a gamified system to improve creator monetization. TikTok, like Douyin, has a Creator Marketplace for brands to connect with influencers in sponsored campaigns, but it lacks Douyin's in-app mission-based system for creators. Creators can choose to create sponsored content based on specific criteria in the app's Creator Mission Center for a cash or traffic reward. Top submissions and their associated rewards are frequently included in the posting in a leaderboard format to inspire others.

Furthermore, Douyin has an overarching incentive program in which live-streamers are rewarded for streaming a certain amount of time per day for a certain number of days in a row or within a certain time frame. Completion earns the streamer bonuses, which are typically cash equivalents.

Search

Search differs greatly between platforms as well. TikTok's search features take you to an empty search bar, where you can enter a term to see all related content to specific TikTok content, such as individual TikToks, users, videos, sounds, and hashtags. You can also filter the results by time, relevance, and most liked.

Leaderboards

Douyin, on the other hand, displays multiple leaderboards of top trending topics below the search box in a format similar to Weibo, China's equivalent of Twitter. When it comes to hot topics, you won't just see one video, but a curated collection of videos that you can swipe through. This mechanism also appears if you are recommended a “hot topic” short video in your Recommended feed and click on the topic.

In addition to the top trending topics, there are four other leaderboards: most popular celebrities, livestreamers, trending music that is being used in all content, and the most engaged with brands. Finally, Douyin's search allowsUsers to connect the offline and online worlds through its QR code feature.

Mini Missions

Fans who want to help their idols reach the top of the celebrity leaderboard can complete daily missions such as watching and liking videos, commenting and forwarding, creating videos with the celebrity as a hashtag, and even paying to boost views for the celebrity's videos.

Again, as you might have expected, fan activity is ranked in a leaderboard for all to see. The reason to spend on a celebrity is purely out of altruistic fandom. The list, which is updated weekly, gives bragging rights to the celebrity of course, and additional exposure in the form of free DOU+ traffic.

Local Services

Points-of-Interest

Again, as you might expect, fan activity is ranked and displayed in a leaderboard for all to see. Spending money on a celebrity is motivated solely by altruistic fandom. The list, which is updated weekly, provides the celebrity with bragging rights as well as additional exposure in the form of free DOU+ traffic.

Local

Additionally, certain cities now display groupons for restaurants under the “Local” feed, which is currently missing in TikTok. Given that food is one of Douyin's most popular categories and that short videos are ideal for showcasing a dining experience, it is only natural that Douyin try to integrate further with the restaurants to which their creators are already driving a lot of offline traffic.

Users

Douyin growth in China appears to be unstoppable. The app, which is still the most downloaded in China, recently passed the 828 million monthly active user milestone (eMarketer) and has over 600 million daily active users. This is regarded as one of the most engaging platforms, with millions of pieces of content uploaded by passionate users.

While people are becoming more accustomed to being fed machine-recommended videos, many users still have the desire and need to actively search. Douyin recognized this and added a seaarch function in mid-2018.> After more than two years, the feature had 550 million monthly active users. Douyin's search feature still has room to grow, as the app last reported 600 million daily users in September, implying that its monthly user base should be higher.

Kelly Zhang, the young product manager credited with Douyin's rise, revealed Douyin's search user figure for the first time on her microblogging account this week.[14] In China, Baidu has long dominated the search market.[14] As of December, Baidu's flagship app had 544 million monthly active users, implying that just as many people search on Douyin as on Baidu.[14]

Its popularity has also influenced and aided the growth of urban cultural tourism.[23] During the Spring Festival holiday in 2018, Xi'an received over 12.69 million visitors, a 67 percent increase year on year – much of the growth attributed to popular Xi'an videos on Douyin.[23] Tourism revenue surpassed $10 billion, a 137 percent increase year on year. During the Dragon Boat Festival holiday in 2018, Chongqing Hongyadong received over 170,000 visitors, a 143 percent increase over the same period last year, with Douyin accounting for a large portion of the increase.[23]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Zhuang Chen & Qian He & Zhifei Mao & Hwei-Ming Chung & Sabita Maharjan "A Study on the Characteristics of Douyin Short Videos and Implications for Edge Caching" - Researchgate.net (March 2019) Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "researchgate" defined multiple times with different content
  2. https://sampi.co/douyin-success-story/
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Thomas Graziani, "How Douyin became China’s top short-video App in 500 days" - Walk the Chat (July 30, 2018)
  4. https://techcrunch.com/2021/02/17/short-video-search-douyin-tiktok/
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 5.12 5.13 5.14 5.15 5.16 5.17 5.18 Rui Ma & Patricia Mou, [https://www.thechinaspec.com/douyin "Douyin: Much More than Just China's TikTok"] - thechinaspec.com
  6. 6.0 6.1 Lucas Niewenhuis, [https://supchina.com/2019/09/25/the-difference-between-tiktok-and-douyin/ "The difference between TikTok and Douyin
  7. https://twitter.com/mbrennanchina/status/1176160937549582336
  8. 8.0 8.1 "TikTok owner ByteDance launches Douyin Pay, mobile payment service for China" - Reuters.com (January 19, 2021)
  9. 9.0 9.1 Jane Li, "Douyin vs TikTok – Spot the Difference Between Tiktok and Chinese TikTok" - Flexiclasses.com (July 10, 2020)
  10. Rita Liao, "TikTok’s Chinese version Douyin launches an e-wallet" - Techcrunch (January 19, 2021)
  11. Ajaay, "How to get Chinese TikTok on iOS and Android" - nerdschalk.com (August 19, 2020)
  12. https://uplabasia.com/livestreaming-on-douyin/
  13. "Distribution of Chinese video-sharing platform Douyin (TikTok) users' online purchase power in China as of February 2020, by user type" - statista.com
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named eggsist
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 Michelle Greenwald, "Live Streaming E-Commerce Is The Rage In China. Is The U.S. Next?" - Forbes (December 10, 2020)
  16. Zhicong Lu & Jinglan Lin, "The Rise and Proliferation of Live-Streaming in China: Insights and Lessons" - Researchgate.net (May 2017)
  17. "What are the ways to make money on Douyin? Summary of Douyin monetization methods!" - programmersought.com
  18. 18.0 18.1 Baiyu Huang, "The Reasons for Douyin's Success from the Perspective of Business Model, Algorithm and Functions" - atlantis-press.com
  19. Julienna Law, "Could Douyin give Tmall, JD a run for their money?" - campaignasia.com (June 26, 2021)
  20. Feifei Liu, "Livestream Ecommerce: What We Can Learn from China" - nngroup.com (February 28, 2021)
  21. Andrew Hutchinson, "TikTok's Testing a New, Shoppable Live-stream Experience, The Next Step in its eCommerce Push" - socialmediatoday.com (December 17, 2020)
  22. Wiktoria Marszałek, "A Thorough Guide to Influencing on Douyin - For Individuals and Businesses (2020)" - ninjingmarketinggroup.com (March 29, 2020)
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Mark Tanner, "Infographic: Fascinating Douyin Facts" - chinaskinny.com (September 14, 2018)

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