Getting bored watching videos? Perhaps it is the time to read some of the comments of the videos. Browsing through the comment section brings many viewers joy and new ideas. Yet it is rather unfortunate that in many occasions, comments and video contents are often separated, forcing users to make a tradeoff between the two key elements of video indulgence.
A Japanese Cartoon site NicoNico developed a rather unique feature: The bullet comment. In addition to viewing users’ comments on another section, users may choose to integrate comment writing/reading with video watching experience. Comments will fly across the screen while videos are playing. In the occasion that the number of comments is too high, comments will cover the entire screen, making ‘bullet comments’ into ‘bullet screens’. Of course, if you do not enjoy the bullet screen or seeing any comments at all while watching the video, you may always turn it off in just one click.
Bullet comments not only received success in Japan, but also in China. Internet Users in China enjoyed the virtual community created by bullet comments and the enjoyment of being a part of the bullet screen.
Sites are Winning Big on this
NicoNico, the inventor of bullet comments, may not be the biggest winner of their innovations. Two Chinese streaming sites: AcFun and Bilibili, are the two video websites that flourished with the bullet comments function. With the help of this engaging community style comment function, the two sites combined attracted more than 100 million users in China. With 75% of the users under the age of 24, bullet comments seem to be winning the future generation.
Bilibili users are strongly attracted by the site’s advertisement-free mode and engaging community. The bullet screen culture is a sign of respect and paying tribute to the high-quality videos the fellow users uploaded or created. Bullet comments become the inseparable part from the video: Videos are funnier and more enjoyable with the bullet comments flying pass the screen.
The advantages of bullet comments are evident: Like ordinary comments, they have a relatively low barrier of entry. The instantaneous nature of the bullet comments requires them to be short and concise, making it even easier to produce, duplicate, and share. Bullet comments and bullet screens can also better engage viewers and create a direct link among viewers, making their opinions and responses more visible than the average comments in the comment section. These features had a tremendously positive effect on the number of users, video clicks, and usage duration in China. The success of Bilibili shows the path of success of bullet comments. With other video platforms in China subsequently copying this key feature to their own programs, bullet comments have certainly earned the reputation here in China.
It was reported that some innovative theaters in China adopted the concept to let movie-goers send in real-time comments via text messages and these comments will be displayed in a separate screen installed in the theater, while the audiences are watching the movie.
Major American Video Sites Not Making a Move
Despite the popularity of bullet comments in China, major video websites in the United States did not make any significant moves to change their video-viewing cultures. Neither Facebook nor Youtube adapted the bullet comment feature to their website.
Language barriers may be an obvious obstacle. Although Youtube and Facebook services are offered in different languages, the bullet comments are hard to distinguish and put apart. Unlike Bilibili and AcFun, whose users are predominantly Chinese, Youtube and Facebook users may see their comments in various languages, making the potential bullet comments hard to understand and separate.
The potentially high cost the bullet comment may have to existing users may also be a key factor. Users who are used to having a clean screen displaying the video may find bullet comments to be unwelcomed and disturbing. In addition, comments that might be hateful and disrespectful will be enlarged and displayed to more significant positions than they were, causing potential discomfort to the vast viewers from the video.
That being said, bullet comments may do a better job in attracting younger users. However, the underage users on Youtube and Facebook are not merely potential revenue-generating users, but also potential plaintiffs for potential lawsuits. Comparing with China, American laws are tougher and more comprehensive in underage children protections. Youtube and Facebook will need to act extra carefully in weighing on the potential benefits and costs that bullet comments can bring.
Social Networking vs. Content Appreciation
Still, the feature may be attractive to smaller video sites to attract more loyal users. Websites with more focused and interest-sharing contents may benefit from bullet comments in enhancing a better-engaged community. Anime sites, game video sites, and pet video sites may all benefit from bullet comments to attract more users and make them stay.
It all comes down to a trade-off between establishing social networks among users and appreciating the video contents. There are occasions that make it worthwhile to disturb video viewers by colorful lines of comments.
Yet not all contents are appropriate for such interference: For Pornhub users who are focusing on the explicit scenes performed by professional actors, a flying comment will totally ruin their day.