Chinese video streaming website sees success with subtitle messaging service

Updated 2018-01-05 14:31:06

Screens with text messages

Bilibili, a leading Chinese video streaming website famous for its danmu ("bullet screens" in Chinese) service that lets viewers post or send each other text messages while watching a film or show, became one of the most popular text messaging platforms in China in 2017, with over 1 billion commentary subtitles.

Real-time commentary

Bullet screens, where viewers' comments and messages are projected publicly on a screen, were first introduced to Chinese online video platforms around 10 years ago. But they did not really catch on until recently, especially among users born after the 1990s.

The idea behind bullet screens originated in Japan, where they were first popularized by Japanese video portal Niconico. Bilibili is a video sharing website themed around the anime, manga, and game fandom, where users can submit, view and add commentary subtitles on videos. But the site's core feature is a real-time commentary subtitle system that displays user comments as streams of moving subtitles overlaid on the video playback screen.

In 2017, Bilibili users sent over 1 billion commentary subtitles. Among them, the Chinese characters for "Double Happiness" appeared 218,062 times. In Chinese, these characters often mean two people will get married, because it takes two single Xi to write the double XiXi.

Crossover parings

At first, this danmu was only used when some joyful content appeared, such as the leading male and female characters having a happy ending. However, users are no longer satisfied with the official pairings and have started to create their own parings, sending a double XiXi whenever their two favored characters appeared in the same scene.

Some creative video uploaders (known as "Ups" on Bilibili) also do some editing to the original video to make a crossover paring video. According to Li Ni, chief operation officer (COO) of Bilibili, double Xi shows user's desire for good and beauty.

Voldemort/Lin Daiyu was one of the most representative crossover videos on Bilibili in 2017. While Voldemort is the biggest bully and most evil wizard in Harry Potter films, Lin Daiyu is one of the principal characters of Cao Xueqin's classic Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber, and is described as an elegant, intelligent and witty woman.

One of the challenges to make such crossover video is to weave a new story using limited video clips of each character from the original video.

Youthful yearnings

Zheng Xiqing, a scholar from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, believes that the essence of crossover videos is not only about putting irrelevant figures together using unlimited imagination, but also about exploring the greater possibility of the development of the characters.

In this sense, Zheng believes the Bilibili's crossover videos can be a serious thinking game.

"As a sort of recreation based on relations of different characters the crossover video centers on the emotion, personality and interaction of characters," Zheng said. "The original crossover video is built on tiny clues buried in the original story, discovered and favored by the audience. In this sense, a good recreation equals unlimited imagination and creativity."

Last year's buzzwords from Bilibili not only highlighted the yearning of Chinese youth, but also reflected their extraordinary creativity and imagination. And it is this very power that drives the continuous growth of excellent contents and bullet screens among them.

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