2017 was a great year for short video apps in China. Domestic competition was fierce, and it quickly became a Red Ocean for investors in China. As the Chinese market quickly became too saturated, companies gradually turned to overseas markets (especially emerging markets).

The seaweed dance, a recent Internet dance craze, is not only all the rage in China, but has gained popularity among young people in other countries as well.

As written in previous article, Southeast Asian countries have both geographical and cultural similarities with China and a huge potential user base. All of this make them the natural test market for Chinese companies going abroad. Moreover, thanks to the experiences gained by launching Chinese apps abroad, video apps have much to build on top of when it comes to expanding to overseas market.

Do you know? In the latest list of the top 12 video apps in Indonesia, half are Chinese.Six of TOP 12 Indonesia’s video app are made in China. (Source: Similar Web)

Tik Tok and Kwai Go in China and abroad

The competition between Tik Tok and Kwai Go, two of the most popular short video platforms in China, are now being fought abroad. As Kwai Go failed to attract users in first and second tier cities in China, it is hoping to attract more users abroad. Kwai Go entered other markets at the end of 2016, while Tik Tok (an app under Toutiao) started their overseas operations last May. The two differs in their globalization strategies in that Kwai Go prefers to develop the apps themselves while Tik Tok uses the combination of developing their own apps and acquiring others through their parent Toutiao.

In the past year, Toutiao has purchased three short video companies to pave way for globalization. Last February, Toutiao bought Flipgram, a U.S. short video platform. In November, Toutiao acquired Musical.ly, a Chinese social video app, and in Feebruary this year, Toutiao spent another $300 million to purchase Faceu, a Chinese AR selfie app. These acquisitions strengthened product advantages of Toutiao and increased their distribution channels as well.

Data shows that although Kwai Go ventured abroad earlier than Tik Tok, it is the latter that leads in Southeast Asia, topping the charts in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Cambodia. Kwai Go only outperforms Tik Tok in Vietnam and the Philippines.

(Source: Google Trends)

Google Trends also show that Tik Tok’s rapid rise in popularity started at the end of last year, and most of their key words are associated to the local key opinion leaders (KOLs). Kwai Go and Tik Tok both have their own official Indonesian YouTube channel, but Tik Tok has more collaboration videos with local KOLs that have garnered over millions of views. It shows that Tik Tok has done a great job in the marketing and localization of their product, and knows how things must be done differently in different regions.

Kwai Go v.s. Tik Tok

In addition to Tik Tok, the global version of the Chinese short video app Douyin, Toutiao has the global edition of another one of their popular Chinese app Huoshan, or literally “fire mountain”, going into the Southeast Asian market this year. They chose the name “Vigo Video”, and it has already entered Indonesia and Thailand earlier this year. Now Vigo Video is among the top five apps in video category in Indonesia. The move by Toutiao to have two apps concurring the international market at the same time demonstrate their ambition for an overseas expansion.

Chinese companies work hard overseas

In the global video app industry, there are two more Chinese veterans worth mentioning that are used for video editing: VivaVideo and VideoShow  Although the two apps are not well-known in China, their performance overseas cannot be underestimated.

VivaVideo and VideoShow are some of the earlier apps to venture abroad. They have been exploring the global market for over three years now, and their users are mostly based in Latin America and Southeast Asia. VivaVideo currently ranks in the top five spots for popular video apps in many regions, while VideoShow ranks around the 10th place. European and the US companies prefer perfecting one function of the APP, but young users in the emerging market like all-in-one products. Therefore, Viva Video and Video Show attract a large number of users as they integrate many functions such as video editing, beauty cameras, and data-saving sharing for videos.

At the beginning of this year, VivaVideo announced in China their transition from a tool-focused app to to a community-focused one. Judging from existing content in the VivaVideo community, it has better quality than both Tik Tok and Kwai Go, though less in quantity and interactions. Instead of using the strategy of seizing the masses in the countryside first and then attract urban users, VivaVideo first grasped the small group of high quality users and cultivate user habit. This method will help establish their ecosystem, and then allow them to gradually expand to other user groups.

The challenges and trends of going global

• Long way to go in generating a profit

Presently, the business model of video products (overseas) is the same as in China. It is about attracting users through content and marketing, enhancing user loyalty through communities, drawing a large amount of traffic and then generating a profit. The main ways for video apps to generate revenue are the following: advertising, e-commerce and taking a portion of the money users pay to live streamers.

However, to accurately match the video content creators with advertisers is still an unresolved problem in China. This problem is made more difficult in the overseas market where the market space limited, with fierce competition coming from Facebook, YouTube and other big companies. Generating any profit for the apps, is still a far fetched idea for now.

• Improve local operations

Generally, companies in the Internet space expand in overseas market in the following steps: first, test the market remotely. If a product attracts a certain number of users, the company then will establish local offices in the region. For products based on content, a stronger localized operation is necessary. It might be easier to tackle only the Indonesian market, but things get different when you’re trying to promote products in multiple regions, where there exists different languages, key opinion leaders (KOLs), content and advertising ecosystems. In order to achieve success, the content platform must pay attention to operations. It must integrate with the local offline ecosystems, and fully understand the political, cultural and economic conditions of the target area.

• Complementarity and integration among different functions

User retention will become the core issue for these short videos apps after they become popular.

The complementarity and integration between short videos and live broadcasting may help the answer to the user retention and the profit problems. Short videos and live broadcast both target young users. The content of short video is more consumable, while live broadcasts have stronger user loyalty and profitability. Short video apps could connect to live broadcasts, and convert the traffic from short videos to live broadcast. Also, the app could achieve in-depth interactions with the users via live broadcast, and thus take a portion of the money users give to the live broadcasting hosts on the platform. Adding on another social function, the apps could build an entire ecosystem within the platform.


This analysis was originally published by Momentum Works in WeChat; translation into English by Pandaily.

Thanks for reading The Low Down, insight and inside knowledge from the team at Momentum Works. If you’d like to get in touch with us about any issues discussed in our blog, please drop us an email at [email protected] and let us know how we can help.

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  1. Agree on the point of long way to go to make a profit… do you think these video apps are competitor against live streaming app such as Twitch or not?

    • Thank you Sean for your comments! I don’t think they are directly competing with each other as they have different target users. Tho they are both targeting young groups, Twitch is a live streaming platform for gamers, while short videos have a much wider target audience group. But as mentioned in the article, the integration between short videos and live streaming may help to solve the profit problems. 🙂

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