Major Chinese video streaming platforms including Tencent and iQiyi are facing criticism from state media and government organs. The platforms’ practice of charging fees for advance viewing privileges ahead of series’ debuts have drawn the ire of users as well.
Visual media platforms like iQiyi and Tencent Video offer VIP memberships that command higher monthly rates from subscribers. One key benefit is access to serial dramas and reality shows before they are available to other members and the general public. This typically involves a surcharge of RMB 3, or USD 0.44, per episode.
Chinese consumers believe that “VIP” status—and the higher fees associated with their accounts—should grant them full access to all content hosted on these platforms without any additional payments. The matter is contentious enough to have made it into courtrooms.
In June 2020, a judge ruled in favor of an iQiyi user who sued the platform for charging fees related to advance viewing. The user claimed the practice violated his consumer rights. iQiyi was ordered to pay the plaintiff RMB 1,500 (USD 230) as compensation. The judge stated that demanding additional fees damaged the integrity of VIP memberships.
After the verdict was issued, platforms like iQiyi did not make any adjustments to their business models.
With the August release of a hugely popular drama series, Crime Crackdown, the surcharges to view its 28 episodes were a source of displeasure for iQiyi’s users. The Shanghai Consumer Protection Committee posted an article on its WeChat account last week questioning the legitimacy of the fees after it observed consumers airing their grievances.
The committee specifically pointed to the practice of charging viewers without providing the option of selecting episodes for viewing, even if this does not follow the episodes’ natural order, as a violation of consumers’ rights.
On Friday, Tencent had already responded to the committee’s criticisms by implementing changes to Tencent Video’s business practices. iQiyi said it would amend its membership features by mid-September.
The newspaper affiliated with China’s highest procuratorial organ published an article on Friday, saying that video platforms are disregarding the rights of their users and must balance commercial interests with consumer protection.