A big-sum game 大额游戏

2020年9月

China’s streaming wars may end with a duopolistic peace
中国的流媒体大战或将以双头垄断和平收尾
 

A big-sum game 大额游戏

Mr Gong summons his troops LAUNCHED IN 2010, iQiyi has grown used to the foreign press calling it “the Netflix of China”. Not the worst nickname, given the videostreaming pioneer’s success. But Gong Yu, iQiyi’s founder and boss, insists that his firm is more accurately described as “Netflix plus”. A bold claim for a loss-making business worth one-fifteenth as much as America’s (cash-generating) entertainment powerhouse with a market value of $214bn. Still, Mr Gong has a point.

创立于2010年的视频网站爱奇艺已经习惯了外媒叫它“中国版奈飞(Netflix)”。鉴于视频流媒体先驱奈飞取得的成功,这个别名也不算太差。但爱奇艺的创始人兼CEO龚宇坚称对他的公司更准确的称法应为“奈飞+”(Netflix plus)。这样的宣称很大胆,因为还在亏损的爱奇艺的市值仅为美国这家(已经实现正向现金流的)娱乐业巨头2140亿美元市值的十五分之一。不过,龚宇这么说也有其道理。
Like Netflix, iQiyi offers customers a deep catalogue of licensed and original content. Unlike Netflix, which relies almost entirely on subscription fees, iQiyi has multiple revenue streams. “Membership fees”, which start from 19.8 yuan ($2.87) a month, accounted for just over half of iQiyi’s 7.4bn yuan in revenues in the second quarter. The rest came mainly from an online store (which sells “entertainment-related merchandise”), a nascent mobile-gaming arm, an e-book business and advertisements; iQiyi operates a “freemium” model which allows stingier users to stream some content free of charge provided they agree to watch ads.
和奈飞一样,爱奇艺也为用户提供非常丰富的授权和原创内容。但和奈飞几乎完全依赖订阅费不同,爱奇艺有多种收入来源。每月低至19.8元的“会员费”在爱奇艺第二季度74亿元的营收中占比刚刚过半。其余收入主要来自爱奇艺商城(销售“娱乐相关商品”)、新增手游部门、电子书业务和广告;爱奇艺实行“免费增值”运营模式,允许不想付费的用户免费收看部分内容,只要他们同意观看广告。
Conveniently for iQiyi, which does little business outside its home market, Netflix is blocked in China, under laws that ban a lot of foreign content. But that is not to say that China is free from the streaming wars of the sort that pits Netflix against rivals like Disney, HBO (owned by AT&T) and NBCUniversal (belonging to Comcast). Far from it. Mr Gong is battling Tencent Video, part of the eponymous technology conglomerate. It overtook iQiyi at the end of June with 114m video subscribers to iQiyi’s 105m (see chart). Mr Gong’s firm shed 14m subscribers in the most recent quarter while Tencent Video, which also runs a freemium model and charges subscribers 20 yuan a month, added 2m.
对于爱奇艺(海外业务寥寥)来说幸运的是,由于中国的法规禁止了大量外国内容在国内播放,奈飞被中国拒之门外。但这并不是说中国就此免于一场流媒体大战——类似于奈飞和迪士尼、HBO(AT&T旗下)和NBC环球(属于康卡斯特)等竞争对手之间的那种厮杀。事实远非如此。龚宇正在与科技企业集团腾讯旗下的腾讯视频较量。6月末,腾讯视频的付费用户数达到1.14亿,超过了爱奇艺的1.05亿(见图表)。爱奇艺在最近一个季度流失了1400万名会员,而同样运行“免费增值”模式、会员费每月20元的腾讯视频增加了200万名。 
IQiyi insists the setback was down to one-off factors, such as virus-induced disruption to film production, which temporarily emptied the content pipeline. Perhaps. But Tencent Video offers a richer selection of English-language content, including hit television series like “Chernobyl” and “Silicon Valley”. More important, the rivalry between Tencent Video and iQiyi is a proxy war between mighty Tencent and fading Baidu, a search firm that is iQiyi’s majority owner. Indeed, iQiyi seemed to concede as much in its latest annual report, writing that “competitors include well-capitalised companies that are capable of offering compensation packages more attractive to talents.”
爱奇艺坚持认为这次挫折源于一次性因素,比如疫情导致电影制作中断,内容一时供应不上。也许如此。但腾讯视频提供了更丰富的英语内容,包括《切尔诺贝利》和《硅谷》等热门剧集。更重要的是,腾讯视频和爱奇艺之间的竞争是实力强劲的腾讯和日渐式微的百度(这家搜索公司拥有爱奇艺的多数股份)之间的代理人战争。实际上,爱奇艺在最近的年报中似乎也承认了这一点,称“竞争对手包括资本雄厚的公司,它们有能力提供更能吸引到人才的薪酬福利”。
Still, as Westerners who pay for a few video subscriptions can attest, streaming is not a zero-sum game. Gigi Zhou of BOCOM International, a broker, reckons the Chinese market will soon be big enough to sustain both iQiyi and Tencent Video, which also has yet to make money. Ms Zhou expects 400m Chinese to subscribe to video-streaming platforms by 2023, up from some 300m in 2019. So long as no new rival emerges, each firm could capture around 150m, helping them spread costs over more subscribers and so turn a profit.
不过,流媒体并非零和游戏,同时付费订阅多个视频服务的西方人可以证明这一点。券商交银国际(BOCOM International)的周喆估计,中国市场很快就会大到足以同时容下爱奇艺和同样尚未盈利的腾讯视频两者。周喆预计,到2023年将有四亿中国人订阅视频流媒体平台,高于2019年的三亿左右。只要没有新的竞争对手出现,每家公司都能吸引到约1.5亿订户,帮助它们把成本分摊给更多订户,从而实现盈利。
Before streaming peace can break out, iQiyi faces another fight. On August 13th it said it was under investigation by America’s Securities and Exchange Commission after a short-seller accused it of inflating sales data, a charge it denies. If found guilty, it may have to delist from New York’s Nasdaq exchange. The firm’s stable share price implies investors’ faith in battle-hardened Mr Gong is unshaken.
在和平降临于流媒体世界之前,爱奇艺还面临另一场战斗。8月13日,它表示由于做空者指控其夸大销售数据,公司正在接受美国证券交易委员会(SEC)的调查。爱奇艺否认这一指控。如果被定罪,它可能要从纽约纳斯达克交易所退市。目前,这家公司稳定的股价表明,投资者对久经沙场的龚宇信心没有动摇。