The mechanism is a value-added service and has been controversial since its beginning. Members need to pay an extra 3 yuan ($0.5) per episode in order to unlock the yet-to-be-broadcast content in advance. This service is only available on an episode by episode basis which means the costs can add up if a full series is to be released all at once.
This regulation has caused users to complain about the service. On August 30th, the Shanghai Consumer Protection Committee issued a document saying that consumers have the right to choose which episodes they want to watch and that the so-called “unlocking in sequence” is an unfair sales tactic. Tencent quickly responded that it would adjust the unlocking rules as soon as possible.
On September 9th, the China Consumers Association expressed its view that VIP services on video platforms should be in compliance with laws and regulations. From the perspective of consumers, these extra charges have been under scrutiny. During the Spring Festival, Tencent‘s video platform unilaterally modified the update cycle of hit dramas, launching their pay-in-advance on-demand, which is seen as unfair to the rights and interests of user who have already paid membership fees.
Third, the platform proclaimed that members’s view streams would be free of advertisements when, in fact, only the advertisements at the beginning of a video were removed. Finally, memberships automatically renew without prior consent or any additional warning given that their expiry date is approaching.
The ability for members to fast track the ordering of episodes and advertising are important ways for the video industry to explore diversified profit models, and often prove to be important sources of revenue. According to a report released by the Supervision Center of the State Administration of Radio and Television, from January to August 2020, nearly 60% of TV dramas and nearly 30% of popular online dramas provided the fast tracking ordering services.