Bilibili Breaks Out of Otaku Niche For Long Term Growth

Aron Chen

posted on June 11, 2020 11:33 am

Bilibili, the top Chinese video sharing website once positioned as a playground for anime, comics and games (ACG) fan, has successfully broken out of its niche and approached the mainstream as users increase age and content diversifies, covering lifestyle, fashion, culture, and technology, etc.

The Nasdaq-listed Chinese company has been steadily making its way into the mainstream over the past two years. Most recently, it significantly raised its recognition among various age groups after a four-minutes long youth-themed video on China’s national Youth Day went viral.

The four-minute run youth-themed video, dubbed "Next Wave" in English, consist of inspirational music and clips of affluent young people enjoying the best of their lives. Featuring 52-year-old actor He Bing, the video delivered an effusive message from older generations as He recited a poem to praise the creativity, knowledge, and diversified views of China’s younger generation.

"Those who complain each generation isn’t as good as the next generation should really look at younger people the way I look at you. I look at China’s young people today full of admiration. You now have the rights and choice that we fought for," He said in the video, explaining that China's Gen Z should be proud of the country’s development and ignore detractors and doubters.

The video has been viewed more than 70 million times and sparked fierce discussions on social media, and was even reposted by the stated propaganda mouthpieces such as CCTV and People's Daily.

Additionally, Bilibili has expanded into premium licensed content via collaborations with prestige brands and publishers such as the Discovery Channel, BBC, and National Geographic within the past few years. Under a deal with National Geographic, Bilibili brought in 85 documentaries including episodes, including popular wildlife series "The Hidden Kingdoms of China". 

These deals enable Bilibili to approach a broader target audience in older age groups and increase its presence in the highly competitive video streaming market.

Founder and CEO Chen Rui said that "Our website has become not only for the younger generation but for mass-market users as well. While users previously favored Bilibili for a major focus on funny anime memes, they can now can search for more regular contents like cooking tutorials or workout videos."

"From our point of view, Bilibili’s ability to reach large number of Gen Z is not too valuable to brands and retailers," market research company Fung Business Intelligence commented, adding that the longer term goal of Bilibili is to approach wider user base and thus prove its abilities to diversify profits, monetize contents and improve commercial value for brands.

"Fans initially joined Bilibili's platform for ACG content. Then some of them move on to consume other video content including user-generated and licensed video across diverse categories." Yuan Jie, a senior analyst at iMedia, told PingWest, "However as diversification goes, Bilibili would need to strike a balance between embracing a wider audience, and retaining its existing fans."

Loyal Bilibili users have long criticized the site for letting in too much non-ACG content, including state propaganda and other controversial content, diluting its core user base and resulting in low-quality comments flooding the platform. In fact, Communist Youth League, affiliated with China's ruling Communist Party, has become the top content creator on the platform, churning out nationalistic content that garner enormous views.

With a growing user base and wider contents offering, Bilibili has also expanded its monetization capabilities across multiple fields including e-commerce, mobile games, live streaming, and other value-added services.

The site now lets user tip content creators, whom can also sell products directly or add affiliated links in their videos and live streams. Bilibili also developed its e-commerce mini program to sell cosmetic products from well-known brands directly to users. Prior to its own mini program, the company also partnered with Alibaba's Taobao, offering on-click purchasing capability to users. Alibaba owns about 8% stake in Bilibili, making it the second largest outside shareholder, after Tencent with 13%.

Bilibili's popularity among younger generations attracted more prestigious brands such as Louis Viotton, Fendi, Dior.

Despite pivoting heavily into other fields, the company's main revenue generator is still is video game content, representing half of its profits in Q1 this year. 

Bilibili recorded a 70% year-over-year growth in monthly active users as well as a strong revenue growth in the first quarter that came at a cost. The company's net loss widened by 175% to 538.6 million RMB in the first quarter, a result of high marketing costs which increased by 234% to 595 million RMB.