by Xinhua writers Yin Xiaosheng, Xie Hao and Shao Meiqi
HANGZHOU, Aug. 24 (Xinhua) -- As the record-breaking web series "The Longest Day in Chang'an" released its final episode last week, Pan Damo rushed to renew her monthly video VIP account, so she could be among the first to see the ending.
"I hate spoilers, and 200-second ads for each episode (for non-VIP users) kills me," said Pan, 34, a white collar worker in east China's Hangzhou City.
VIP of three online video platforms, several music and Q&A apps, Pan spends around 1,000 yuan (141 U.S. dollars) a year for web content. This is something she would never have done 10 years ago.
"We used to binge on free web series and music," the employee of an Internet company said. "Easy to access and free of charge, that's why the Internet gained popularity."
But admitting that is no longer the order of the day, Pan has joined an increasing number of Chinese who have shifted from free, pirated intellectual property (IP) products to paid online content from music to courses to films and dramas.
According to the Internet Society of China, the number of people who paid for online videos saw an annual growth rate of more than 20 percent in the past five years. A report issued by the National Copyright Administration (NCAC) said China's online copyright industry reached 742.3 billion yuan (104.7 billion U.S. dollars) in 2018, more than three times that of 2013. The user payment scale was close to 368.6 billion yuan, up 145.7 billion yuan from 2016.
Qi Qige, 28, testifies to the changing consumption habit and mentality among Chinese netizens. The bank clerk in Beijing spends 600 yuan annually for VIP services on two video-streaming websites.
"It (600 yuan) is the price of a dress, but I'm willing to pay for what makes me happy," said Qi. "Paid content is also much better than free alternatives. Since upgrading my accounts to VIP, I can't stand the low quality of free web dramas anymore."
Online content providers are the main beneficiaries of the change. In its second-quarter revenue report, China's trendy online video platform iQiyi reported a 38-percent year-on-year growth in its membership revenue and a 50-percent increase in the number of subscribers, which has surpassed 100 million.
"Young users are the core of the Internet, and they are more willing to pay for premium content," said Dai Ying, vice president of iQiyi, adding that the highest proportion of iQiyi's paid members are aged 24 and below.
"The trend for the video industry is to create more high-quality, innovative dramas," Dai told Xinhua.
Apart from introducing the latest TV series and films from around the world, China's video websites are also ramping up investments in original web dramas and variety shows, which in turn made the companies move active in the protection of IPs, analysts said.
The digital music industry saw a similar trend. Web music application NetEase Cloud Music said digital album sales rose by more than 150 percent on the platform in 2018. Among its paid members, those born between 1990 and 2000 make up over 70 percent, and half of them come from China's first-tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai.
"Many factors also help the situation, including administrative measures, industry self-discipline and easy access of mobile payment," a source from NetEase Cloud Music said.
Persistent government efforts are also making it harder to access free pirated content. China has been implementing an intellectual property strategy since 2008 to aid IP production and protection, and officials have said the awareness of IP protection has continued to grow in China.
In 2018, copyright authorities at all levels of government removed 1.85 million infringement and piracy links, confiscated 1.23 million pirated products, and investigated 544 cases of web content infringement and piracy, according to the NCAC.
"We used to buy goods online to cheer ourselves up," Pan said, referring to China's online shopping fervor. "And now we buy content and services for the same purpose. It's a fair trade for me."
(Wang Xuetao and Liu Fangqiang also contributed to the story.)