Douyin Explores Online Livestream Programs for Medicine

At the beginning of this year, ByteDance’s short video app Douyin started to explore online livestream broadcasting as a method of promoting and facilitating drug sales. A pharmacy under Jointown Pharmaceutical Group said that it was among the first batch of stores to be invited onto the live video platform. This news drew public attention and was considered a hallmark for the beginning of social media medicine in Douyin.

Due to the specialized nature of pharmaceutical products, online drug promotion and sales are under strict regulatory governance. Livestream promotion and sales of e-commerce products is a vast and diverse marketplace. Combining livestream programs with the pharmaceutical industry will pose great difficulties that few companies may be ready to navigate.

Media outlet Chinese Entrepreneurs quoted a lawyer saying that, according to the requirements of the State Administration of Market Supervision, most drugs can be sold online, with the exception of those that are specifically managed by the government. As a form of online sales, a livestream platform for drugs is not inherently illegal. However, online platforms for drug sales face strict rules and oversight.

Previously, ByteDance has expanded its health business segment to include online medical science education, online doctor consultation, offline outpatient service, and other medical services through acquiring various startups in those fields.

Douyin showed that from October 31 to December 4, 2022, as long as medical and health multi-channel network (MCN) institutions incentivize enough qualified doctors to upload short videos in Douyin, they can generate high traffic on the platform and increase exposure to content creators.

Douyin’s efforts to sell drugs started three months ago. On December 7, 2022, Douyin launched its over-the-counter (OTC) drug product category. At that time, only merchants invited by the video platform could participate, with an initial deposit of 100,000 yuan ($14,673) and subject to a technical service fee of 3%.

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As one of the first invited shops, the pharmacy under Jointown Pharmaceutical Group mainly sells OTC medication for influenza and COVID-19, such as Ibuprofen and Lianhua Qingwen, a traditional Chinese medicine. A drug trading platform under Dingdang Health was also invited onto the platform. However, its livestream page mainly features masks and medical devices, instead of medicine.

According to a report from Yubo Info, a research institution in China, 92% of nonprescription drug sales occur offline, and only 8% occur online. Offline channels mainly include hospitals, retail pharmacies, and third-party stores, accounting for 21%, 54%, and 17% of offline sales, respectively. The online channel for OTC drug sales has huge potential for development, but not without many challenges.