Tencent aims to take on ByteDance’s TikTok with WeChat short-video trial
Tencent Holdings Ltd. is planning a major update to its WeChat messaging app to stave off up-and-comer ByteDance Inc. and counter the startup's growing dominance of short-form video.
WeChat, used by more than a billion people for everything from messaging to booking meals and movies, will soon add a feature to let users publish video clips and photos to their followers via a feed -- not unlike Twitter's. That's a departure from the current format that focuses on articles (with accompanying visuals). While it's unclear what the final product will look like, Tencent wants users to be able to share video and content directly with one another. It began on Monday inviting select individuals and organizations that run public accounts to test the feature.
A Tencent representative said the service will launch soon, without elaborating.
The foray into short-video publishing marks Tencent's latest endeavor to recover lost ground from ByteDance, which created social media phenom TikTok and its Chinese twin Douyin. The latter, which now serves 400 million daily active users in China, has hurt Tencent's bottom line by luring teens and advertisers away from WeChat.
ByteDance, the world's most valuable startup, is increasingly challenging Tencent's lead in Chinese social media thanks to its Toutiao news service and TikTok-Douyin. The two are sparring in a number of fields revolving around online content. ByteDance has quietly built up a 1,000-strong gaming division to spearhead a serious foray into hardcore or non-casual games, tackling Tencent on its home turf, Bloomberg News has reported.
"While Tencent's strategy to retain users and content makes sense, the company needs to tread carefully, because unrestricted short-video publishing may lead to content that is trashy and low-brow, and often also repetitive and non-differentiated," said Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Vey-Sern Ling.
WeChat's new feature was first hinted at by founder Allen Zhang this month at a developer conference in Guangzhou. In a prerecorded video, the leader confessed he made a mistake by focusing too much on text articles in its current public feed, rather than short-form visual content. "We lack a vehicle for everyone to create," Zhang said.
Tencent is trying to win back younger users addicted to lip-syncing music and dance videos on Douyin, while also seeking to unlock a new channel for clients to place ads. Jefferies analysts including Thomas Chong expect Tencent's social ad business to grow 30% this year, citing diverse offerings orbiting the WeChat universe. "Social ad is a unique asset and maintains solid momentum in 2020," they wrote in a Jan. 20 report.
This isn't Tencent's first crack at short videos. In December 2018, WeChat introduced a Snapchat-like video feature to its semi-public Moments feed, but it barely gained traction. The company has also created several standalone mini-video apps to rival ByteDance's offerings.