Caixin
Dec 29, 2016 01:38 PM
BUSINESS & TECH

WeChat Wraps Up 2016 With Over Billion Hours of Use Daily

Young participants of an Peking Opera contest take a selfie on the sidelines of the event in Nantong, Jiangsu province, on Dec. 10. Many people in China share their photos on social media platform WeChat. Photo: Visual China
Young participants of an Peking Opera contest take a selfie on the sidelines of the event in Nantong, Jiangsu province, on Dec. 10. Many people in China share their photos on social media platform WeChat. Photo: Visual China

(Guangzhou) — Users of the WeChat mobile messaging platform are spending more than 1 billion hours online each day for activities as diverse as chatting and paying for goods, as owner Tencent Holdings Ltd. spends heavily on promotions with the hope of eventually earning big profits.

A staggering 768 million people on average accessed their WeChat accounts each day in September — a figure more than double the population of the U.S. and more than half of all people in China, according to a report released by Tencent at a WeChat conference on Wednesday. About half of those users were on the service for 90 minutes or more each day, the report said.

The report contained a slew of other facts and figures about WeChat’s rising popularity, showing an ongoing boom not only for its original text messaging service but also for its newer video calling.

WeChat competes with other internet-based messaging services like Facebook’s WhatsApp and Japan’s Line, but also includes a wide array of social networking functions like photo sharing. One of Tencent’s biggest challenges has been monetizing WeChat since nearly all of the platform’s basic services are free.

The company previously butted heads with China Mobile Ltd., the nation’s largest wireless carrier, which accused WeChat’s internet-based services of stealing its lucrative traditional text messaging business. Despite pressure to charge money, Tencent has insisted that basic WeChat services will remain free indefinitely.

One area where the company sees big potential is in fees when subscribers use the platform for transactions like making e-commerce payments, buying train and movie tickets, and making purchases in brick-and-mortar stores. To boost that part of the business, WeChat this year has provided more than 300 million yuan ($43.1 million) in assistance to more than 2,000 third-party companies offering products and services on the platform.

The company aims to help those providers make their offerings as “idiot-proof” as possible, said Huang Li, a senior executive in WeChat’s payments division. She added that WeChat is working with a growing number of banks to facilitate payments by a wider range of customers and service providers, in an open challenge to state-owned electronic payments giant UnionPay and private-sector rival Alipay.

“One day, we were rivals with the banks and other financial institutions, and the next we are working together with them,” she said. “It’s a competing relationship.”

At the event, Tencent also unveiled a new mini-app service that it hopes will popularize more “idiot-proof” functions on the platform. Such mini-apps don’t require any downloads from an app store or separate installation, and don’t take up digital storage space. Instead they are activated by scanning a QR code, and then are cleared from the user’s smartphone once their intended function is complete.

“A good piece of software, a good tool, should let the user just walk away once they’re finished,” said Allen Zhang, known as the father of WeChat. “WeChat’s goal is to use the most efficient means to let users do whatever they want.”

The mini-app program will officially debut on Jan. 9.

Contact reporter Yang Ge (geyang@caixin.com)

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