Tencent’s WeChat messaging app is so popular that it has more users than there are smartphones in China. It has 980 million active monthly users as of January 2018. (Some people have multiple accounts, and some users are outside the country.) That’s because the app is far more than just a social media platform. Users can hail a taxi, look up a restaurant review, make a reservation, and pay for dinner, without ever leaving WeChat.
Besides generating advertiser and service fee revenue, this huge user base plays another crucial role: Imagine if Apple bought Disney and Spotify, and you can begin to envision the content colossus that Tencent is building to complement WeChat. In November 2017, Tencent spun out its digital reading company, China Literature, which offers almost 200 million customers the chance to pay for sample chapters of 10 million books before committing to buying the entire work, in a $1 billion IPO. China Literature intends to mine its library to develop movies, TV series, and other media to be distributed through WeChat. Tencent, which owns the world’s largest video-game company, has had success driving traffic to its games and now is starting to create TV and movie franchises based on its titles, as well as other intellectual property. It turned the hit Honor of Kings mobile game into a celebrity game show called Kings Attack for its video-streaming service. Meanwhile, Tencent Music secured deals with the world’s major labels, and is now assisting Chinese musicians with copyright protection and promotion. Tencent CEO Pony Ma credits music and video subscriptions with helping to power the company’s 59% year-over-year revenue growth in the first half of 2017.