BEIJING, October 4 (TMTPOST)— Three leading online movie and video streaming website in China—Tencent Video, Baidu’s subsidiary iQiyi and Alibaba-owned Youku announced to shut down the paid early access to episodes on the respective platforms from Monday, without disclosing the cause. Tencent Video said it would also stop updates for existing early access and promised to keep offering better services as it always attaches high importance to VIP subscribers’ user experience. Both iQiyi and YouKu stressed the quality user experience they wish to offer.
The move came after Chinese authorities and the public raised more and more questions on a membership service that allows users to pay an extra fee to watch upcoming episodes ahead of schedule. Tencent Video and iQiyi was sued last year for their early accesses to Joy of Life, one of the highest-rated Chinese dramas in 2019. The two platforms offered their VIP members an option to pay RMB3.00 (about US$0.5) to watch a single episode of the drama in advance, alternatively, to always stay six episodes head at a cost of RMB50.00 (US$7.8). A court later that year found the practice is to explore the business model and doesn’t violate the law.
China’s watchdogs have responded to consumers’ claims earlier this year. In a statement on August 30, the Shanghai Consumer Protection Committee warned Tencent Video of deliberate indifference to the consumer’s right to choose and accused its paid early access to the drama Crime Crackdown of allegedly illegal tied selling, as paid subscribers claimed they had to pay extra for the access, and the most enraging part is a new policy of “unlocking in sequence”, which requires the subscriber who just want to watch a single episode ahead may have to pay for access to dozens of episodes.
The China Consumers Association in September commented that video platforms’ early access shall abide by laws and regulations and the service charge shall be reasonable for its quality. It said video platforms shall allow subscribers to pay the service at will, remove restrictions of sequential unlocking, and charge fairly for the auto renewal.