In its early stages, Bilibili, one of the dominant ACG (Animation, Comics, Gaming) platforms, was a utopia for Japanese animation lovers. The website required users to take an entry test to get an official membership and access to all the functions of the website (such as giving likes, shares and sending ‘danmaku’, a special type of comment that runs across the screen) and have a grading system that grade members from level 1 to 6 (6 being the highest) based on their level of loyalty and seniority. In recent years, with the introduction of various youth subcultures, Bilibili has grown into a streaming powerhouse with over 170 million monthly active users and more than a million content creators. It is currently the closest Chinese equivalent to YouTube.
On August 28 2020, Bilibili released its financial statement, showing a steep upwards trend in daily and monthly active users, both with over 50% growth comparing to the same period of last year, which demonstrates a large number of new users are swarming into the platform.
Earlier this year, Bilibili launched three brand videos as part of their 11th-anniversary celebration campaign. The last episode of Bilibili brand video trilogy “Jolly Meeting” went live with a line that stirred up controversy “as we all know, Bilibili is a platform to learn new things”. The video tells the story of an old gentleman learning to make videos, featuring over 20 vloggers from different fields, showing the diversity and inclusiveness of Bilibili’s community. Different from the previous 2 videos “The Younger Generation” and “Jump In”, which are both targeting the younger generation, “Jolly Meeting” is more an “official announcement of popularization” of Bilibili, targeting the mass audience. The platform seems to have moved away from being a “Utopia” for ACG culture as it was back in the days, to become a diversified content platform for users across different age groups. It is shifting from “a happy habitat of niche netizens” to an almost mainstream video platform. The growing recognition of Bilibili has intensified the contradiction between its new and old user base and the disclaimer made by Bilibili’s CEO Chen Rui “We’d rather bankrupt than becoming a mainstream platform” has become a laughing stock.
To reveal deeper insights on the controversy between old and new users of Bilibili, we held rounds of Q&A with both parties, a level 6 loyal old fan (O) and a newbie (N) who just passed the entry test, aimed to find out which direction Bilibili is heading and whether this shift is the right move.
Round 1: What's your opinion about the fact that Bilibili is gradually moving away from ACG content?
O: Bilibili was originally named "MikuFans". It can be said that ACG is the reason for the birth of Bilibili. My friends and I usually talk about the videos forwarded by various vloggers. We have even created many MMD (MikuMikuDance) and MAD (Music Animation Video) about Hatsune Miku. It is really a pleasure to watch our favorite contents with the community. However, there is many content now we are less interested shown on the homepage. It seems ACG is no longer the core content of the site.
N: I heard that Bilibili was a website about ACG, and was not really attracted. When a friend recommended a makeup vlogger to me, I found so many interesting content on Bilibili: makeup, lifestyle, science and technology, news insights, and even legal knowledge contributed by famous lawyers. I just could not stop watching them! ACG content has indeed been diluted, but I am very happy to see the more abundant video content.
Round 2: What do you think about the increasing number of mainstream KOLs and celebrities becoming vloggers on Bilibili?
O: Personally, it just looks like a way to attract more users. However, as a UGC-based website, Bilibili is putting the cart before the horse to bring in the stars and celebrities, and I am afraid it will become the next Weibo, which now has been flooded with celebrities and OGC (Occupationally-generated Content). Bilibili even intentionally pushes slightly popular vloggers‘ content into feeds more often, hoping to turn the promising ones into online sensations. The massive invasion of fandom culture branded KOL collaboration videos and even reality shows make me feel that Bilibili has become a stranger to me.
N: I don’t really support the idea of intensively promoting mainstream KOLs and celebrities either, as it feels too aggressive. However, some celebrities do make high-quality videos, and I do like watching those vlogs as they capture a more human and genuine side of these celebrities as opposed to the flawless moments captured under the spotlights.
Round 3: How do you see the community environment of Bilibili evolving?
O: Years ago, to become an official member of Bilibili, you needed to pass a 100-question test about ACG culture in 60 minutes to get access, which is quite a mountain to climb for non-ACG users. However, the test has become easier, and the questions have been reduced from 100 to 50. The lowered threshold has led to a gradual change in the Bilibili member persona and eventually had an impact on the danmaku environment built and maintained by old Bilibili users.
Danmaku has changed from communication amongst ACG fans to random comments by video viewers. As a die-hard danmaku-dependent user, I feel that the original community is no longer existing on the site.
N: I didn't know much about the previous Bilibili, so I'm not sure about this question. But I'm sure I wouldn’t have passed the test and become a member if Bilibili stuck to its 100-question test. Although I didn’t grow up as an ACG fan, I find a lot of ACG content intriguing and I am becoming a fan of their culture. As for those annoying Danmaku, I would turn on filtering feature or just turn the function off to stay focused on the video.
The last question: Do you think the core of the brand has changed?
O: For old users like us, it definitely has changed. Recently, Bilibili changed “2233” the signature anime girls on the default opening screen to a newly adopted slogan “Your favorite videos are all on Bilibili", which set off a heated discussion stating the originality of Bilibili is gone. As I commented on the first question, it is a fact that the ACG content is decreasing. I have witnessed the growth of Bilibili, including a series of controversial changes until it was listed on NASDAQ in 2018. I understand that capitalization is the only way for its growth, and I will continue to support the brand in the future. After all, it is and will still be my daily go-to app. I really hope that Bilibili could remember that there is a niche group of people that grew up with the site and truly enjoyed the site when it was only a tiny exclusive ACG platform with a limited number of members, but with a pure ACG heart.
N: As a newbie of Bilibili, the change doesn’t bother me. Although it started with ACG niche culture, its expansion is inevitable to some extent as it needs diverse high-quality contents to grow. This is a very strange period of time for the brand but it’s not hard for me to understand all the shifts and controversy.
At the moment, a suitable operation strategy and community management mode are the most crucial things to the brand. For example, to establish a comprehensive membership system to filter out malicious users and allow qualified users who really understand the culture and respect the community policies to join the community. In terms of content, the key competency of Bilibili should always be "high-quality original video content".
To encourage more high-quality original content, Bilibili can set higher acceptance criteria for content, and establish a reporting system to reduce low-quality or click-baiting content.
From the above Q&As, we can tell that Bilibili has been through changes and yet still a huge hit on social media.
In the 11th anniversary speech of Bilibili, Chen Rui said that Bilibili will not give up ACG – either at present or in the future. ACG will always be the focus of Bilibili. With the growth of the website, its investment in ACG is also constantly increasing. More than 1,680 overseas animations have been added to the platform in the last 2 years, which makes Bilibili the platform with the biggest amount of animation copyrights in the world. In addition, Bilibili is also committed to creating high-quality Chinese-made animation and has become the largest Chinese animation production platform. It is better to say that Bilibili is growing rather than changing. It has grown out of the little ACG only platform and now become a strong diverse content platform which not only holds the habitat for ACG niche culture group but also functions as an incubator for diverse content generated by different cultural groups.
For the platform with 172 million monthly active users, growth can't be simply defined as a good or bad thing, but the website with up to 82% of users under the age of 28, is growing with substantial improvement and progress that we all can see.
Some might surely miss the original Bilibili, but all see the potential of the new Bilbili. Staying in the comfort zone of niche culture is a safe option, but Bilibili is not the one that plays the safe card. We aim to witness that Bilibili will find a balance between rapid expansion and staying true to its roots. Keeping the high-quality content coming, putting into action what the brand’s beliefs are and truly live them.