Short videos are taking on text messages, audio calls and even virtual red envelopes to become the new darling of Chinese wanting to craft their own New Year greetings.
It was no surprise to see people glued to apps like Douyin and Kuaishou on the subway or at dinner during the Spring Festival holiday that ended on Sunday. Even the timid would produce and star in their own shows, using beautifying filters and music embedded in the software to spice up their work.
Beijing Bytedance Technology, the world's highest valued tech startup and the operator of Douyin (known as TikTok outside of China), said some 3.37 million users have signed up for a video shooting contest using the theme of "Another Happy New Year".
The videos, including users' dancing, singing or magic performances, were played 24.7 billion times from Jan 20 to the early hours of Feb 5, the first day of the Year of the Pig, according to company statistics. Some 20 million users added interactive emojis and selfie stickers with Spring Festival elements to their artwork.
Financial incentives also are at play. Users who encourage friends to register on the app and complete designated tasks stand to split cash rewards totaling 500 million yuan ($73.6 million). The Kuaishou app uses similar incentives. Users are encouraged to watch live shows, upload short videos and invite newcomers to the app. Rewards include red envelopes that each contain up to 10,000 yuan in cash.
"The red envelope is just for starters. The most important thing is that you get blessings and have fun thanks to the advancement of technology," said Yang Lu, a 31-year-old high-school teacher in Shanghai, who spent two hours a day watching short videos and reaped 56 yuan in cash during the holiday.
The video clips, typically 10 to 20 seconds long, now consume roughly 9 percent of Chinese people's time online, a jump of 5.2 percentage points from 2017, according to app analytics company QuestMobile.
The growing popularity of short videos is attributed to higher internet penetration rates, faster internet connections and cheaper data plans, said Neil Wang, president of consultancy Frost & Sullivan in China. "Spring Festival is perhaps the best time for tech companies to build brand awareness and increase the number of users on their apps, especially in rural areas," he said.
Social media stalwarts such as Tencent and its billion-user behemoth WeChat messaging app, whose built-in video functions are yet to be widely acknowledged, are feeling the heat from the likes of Douyin spearheading the short video sector. Looking to catch the video wave, WeChat rolled out a beta function that pushes video update notifications to users' contacts.
While the company did not disclose any video-related data, WeChat's burgeoning numbers in other areas were clear. Tencent said the number of WeChat messages exchanged from Feb 4 to Feb 9 surged 64.2 percent year-on-year as users rushed to send Chinese New Year greetings.
About 823 million people sent and received digital red envelopes during the period, up 7.12 percent year-on-year. Some 26,000 companies used customized WeChat red envelopes for their employees.