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China’s short-video app Douyin accuses Tencent of being anti-competitive

Douyin, which is owned by ByteDance, has been involved in a running dispute with Tencent over the representation of its content and access to the latter’s various social media and video properties.

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 May, 2018, 2:46pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 May, 2018, 8:46am

China's short-video platform Douyin said on Wednesday it is considering legal action against internet giant Tencent Holdings, accusing the latter of using “its dominant market position to eliminate competition”.

Douyin, known as Tik Tok outside China, is owned by Beijing ByteDance Technology, which also operates the popular Toutiao news app. The company has been involved in a running dispute with Tencent over representation of its content and access to its various social media and video properties.

The latest instance was over the blocking of some Douyin video content by Tencent Video, which said “the cover images may contain inappropriate information”. Douyin said it didn’t understand why the content had been blocked and it received the same message even after changing the cover images.    

“We have a lot of respect for Tencent but we’re deeply concerned by its recent actions, which we believe are an attempt to use its dominant market position to eliminate competition,” said Douyin on Wednesday. “As we’ve been unsuccessful in our attempts to reach a constructive resolution with Tencent, we have no choice but to take appropriate legal action to protect millions of users who want to share content and communicate with each other.”

Tencent declined to comment on Douyin.

“Videos about how to have fun in Chinese museums as well as a collection of touching stories about people with disabilities have been blocked by Tencent Video... We apologise to Douyin users for failing to show this appealing content,” Douyin said on its official WeChat video account on Tuesday, before today’s statement on taking legal action was issued. 

ByteDance CEO Zhang Yiming earlier this month accused Tencent’s Weishi video platform of “plagiarising” Douyin. He wrote on his WeChat Moments account, “the progress of Douyin was unstoppable despite Tencent’s blocking and Weishi’s plagiarism.” The usually low profile Tencent CEO and founder Pony Ma Huateng weighed in with a short, sharp reply: “[Your comments] can be understood as slander.” 

Tencent’s Pony Ma, ByteDance’s Zhang Yiming in online spat over accusations of blocking and plagiarism

Tencent’s regulations for uploading video content are displayed on the official website of its Tencent Video unit. They say the company has the right to delete the videos without notification if any inappropriate information is found.

The issue of policing online content has become a hot topic recently amid a surge in popularity in China for short-form social video, with total users of all short-video platforms recently reaching 450 million. 

Douyin was the most downloaded iOS app worldwide in the first quarter of the year, with more than 45 million installs from Apple’s App Store, according to US research firm Sensor Tower Store Intelligence.

Douyin has over one billion monthly active users currently while Weishi, a similar video platform backed by Tencent, has seen a surge in subscribers from February to 5.12 million monthly active users in April, according to data from Beijing-based internet consultancy Analysys International. 

Chinese live-streaming app Kuaishou cracks down on teenage mum videos following state media criticism

Tencent has blocked videos from Weishi, Kuaishou, Douyin and Xigua, four apps singled out by regulators last month for distributing inappropriate content earlier this year. On May 18, the Shenzhen-based company said that it would restrict the posting of external video links from unauthorised media firms on WeChat’s Moments, which is similar to Facebook and where posts are viewable only by approved connections.

However, the company removed a reference to a “ban” on the sharing of external video links on WeChat Moments after a public outcry. 

In an announcement on Tuesday, Tencent said it would “further cooperate with developers” on content, without mentioning restrictions or limits. The change was made after “some feedback from developers”, the company said on its official Weixin Pai channel. 

Tencent has made big investments in the video content sector, pouring US$632 million and US$461.6 million respectively into rival Chinese game-streaming platforms Douyu and Huya on the same day in March. The following month it led an investment of 617 million yuan in Pear Video, an online short video platform, that counts the listed-unit of People’s Daily as a shareholder.
Alibaba Group, the parent of the South China Morning Post, operates the Youku Tudou video platform.