Inside Look into the WeChat Catfight between Tencent and Toutiao CEOs

Ma Huateng, the CEO of the Chinese Internet giant Tencent Holdings, was in the news recently for the screen shot of his altercation with Bytedance CEO on the latter’s WeChat Moment.

Ma Huateng replied to Zhang’s WeChat Moment by posting a comment saying that “this can be understood as defamation.”

Zhang Yiming quickly explained that he just couldn’t resist complaining and was not looking to start a verbal dispute. “The former topic about blocking Douyin links on WeChat is not suitable for discussion, but Weishi’s plagiarization of Douyin can be notarized.” He then stated that the necessary materials could be sent to Ma.

Ma replied sharply, “Too much of what you do needs to be notarized.”, an online Chinese media, confirmed with Tencent that the screenshot was not photoshopped. While ByteDance only confirmed that their CEO Zhang Yiming did publish the WeChat Moment, but did not confirm the comments made under this moment by Ma and Zhang.

The screenshoot of Zhang Yiming's WeChat Moment
The screenshoot of Zhang Yiming’s WeChat Moment

Is Weishi a plagiarization of Douyin?

In the new era where short video being the fastest-growing industry in China, Tencent failed to launch a competitive product in time. In 2017, it invested $350 million in Kuaishou, a popular short video platform, and then relaunched its former short video product “Weishi”. These can be seen as defensive measures taken towards Douyin against their future attempts at creating a short-video platform with social functions. It is rumored that Tencent plans to spend 3 billion yuan ($27.4 million) as subsidies to support premium original content.

“We welcome any rational discussions, criticism and guidance, but we cannot accept any defamation!” On the afternoon of May 8, Li Hang, the general manager of the Marketing and Public Relations Department of Tencent Group, said that Weishi has always encouraged and protected original content. If there is any content involving infringement, Tencent welcomes reports at any time and will resolutely crack down on it. Meanwhile, he states that copy right protection of original content is a problem faced by all content platforms, encouraging more rational discussions and constructive feedbacks.

In response, Yang Jibin, senior director at ByteDance, said that the company’s Legal Affairs department had already mass-notarized part of the situation regarding Weishi’s plagiarization of Douyin. He said that ByteDance will communicate with Tencent later but they cannot disclose any details at the moment, and that ByteDance would like to jointly promote the healthy development of the short-video industry with Tencent.

WeChat blocking Douyin?

Starting from March of this year, Tencent‘s WeChat and Sina Weibo have blocked links from Douyin. Users cannot directly open Douyin’s videos from WeChat, instead one needs to copy and paste the link into a browser.

WeChat once responded that WeChat has set up anti-spam mechanisms to avoid bad user experiences on WeChat Moment as caused by the overwhelming amount of links. There is a daily quota for shared links, and once that number has bee reached, anti-spam mechanisms will come to play and everything will return to normal the next day.

Sina Weibo expressed that due to Toutiao’s illegally capturing of the content and stealing the user information from Weibo, Weibo has suspended all links and cooperations with Toutiao in August 2017, and is defending their rights through legal means. There will be no further updates from Weibo before the case is settled in court.

Regarding Zhang Yiming’s statement that WeChat tried to block Douyin, Li Hang replied that it was not true. During the period of short video rectification, for example, WeChat suspended actions from all apps, from Weishi, to Kuaishou and Douyin.

What did Ma Huateng notarize?

Regarding Ma Huateng’s comment of “Too much of what you (Bytedance) do needs to be notarized.” Li Hang said that the main problem lies in Toutiao’s content infringement.

Record shows that on 29 June 2017, the People’s Court of Haidian District in Beijing issued a verdict on Tencent’s 287 infringement cases again Bytedance’s Toutiao. In the verdict, Toutiao shall take the responsibility for all 287 cases for infringing the information network transmission right of Tencent‘s websites, and it has to pay more than 270,000 yuan ($42,362) to Tencent as compensation.

On the same day, However, Toutiao also took Tencent to the court for the same reason, claiming that has infringed upon the rights of Toutiao many times for long time. It further required that Tencent immediately stop the infringement, apologize to Toutiao and pay a total of 500,000 yuan ($78,418), 10,000 yuan ($1,568) for each work whose copy right was infringed as compensation for their economical loss. The People’s Court of Haidian District accepted the case.

Tencent under pressure?

Behind the verbal dispute, business insiders believe that it is the rise of Toutiao and the popularity of Douyin that exerted certain amount of pressure on both the social network and the content platforms of Tencent.

Douyin currently has as many as 120 million monthly active users in China. While its overseas edition Tik Tok and the acquired, together cover more than 150 countries in the world and have more than 100 million monthly active users.

ByteDance Technology is already a small giant outside of the BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent) network. There are repeated rumors that all three BAT companies are fighting to invest in the company. Zhang Yiming, the founder and CEO of ByteDance, once said that he does not want to simply join the BAT. For both the BAT and TMD (Toutiao, Meituan-Dianping, or Didi Chuxing), major changes will be taking place in the next two or three years.

This article originally appeared in the paper and was translated by Pandaily.