Bilibili – The Interactive Video Sharing Website
by Yaolin Jiang
Video sharing websites have grown exponentially in recent years. What differentiating Bilibili from the others is its real-time commentary subtitle on screen, which provides users a playback interactive experience. Bilibili is a video sharing website based in China centering on ACG, an abbreviation for anime, comic (manga) and games. Unlike Youtube or other sharing websites, which mainly displays user-generated and corporate media videos, Bilibili is to have members to submit videos that are hosted by third-party sources. In other words, it does not store videos on its site but to uses videos from other video sharing sites.
Bilibili is inspired by its former similar video sharing website, Niconico, a Japanese site also featuring the real-time comments. In order to have a better understanding of Bilibili, we have to gain some knowledge of ACG. Since 2000, ACG has become an inseparable part of most Chinese youth. 90% of ACG products are imported and Japan is the largest importer because of its artistic skills on drawing, sophisticated storytelling and the mature franchising system (Kobayashi). However, China’s TV censorship prohibits the most popular Japanese anime from showing on TV because of the protection policy on domestic-made animations. Fans start to watch anime through online streaming or pirate download. In addition, many adults believe that animations are for children only, and they are not educational and waste of time. On the contrary, some popular Japanese anime raises questions on moral grounds with its creative narratives. Parents also think there are too much violence and sexual content in Japanese manga and anime. For these reasons, ACG remains a subculture in China. The emergence of Bilibili in 2010 quenched the thirst for an ACG fandom community of millions.
The core feature of Bilibili is “danmu”, literally means the bullet curtain. It is a real-time commentary subtitle system. What it does is to have comments overlaid directly onto the video itself, and the comments are synced to a specific playback time so that the comments respond directly to what happening in the video. When other viewers watch the video and see the comments, they are building a connection through these comments, and thus it creates a sense of sharing watching experience. The comments usually stay on screen for less than five seconds, and when a screen is filled with comments, it looks like a great amount of bullets flying through. It is where the name “danmu” comes from. “Danmu” enables all the videos on Bilibili to become interactive and social platforms for viewers, especially for those ACG fans who can rarely find their confidants in mainstream culture. For example, in a new anime series, “danmu” may talk about the voice actors, the story behind the scene on screen and popular references, and fans find resonance in reading these comments. More and more young people choose to watch video front of their computers alone; “danmu” creates a virtual experience of shared viewing as well.
Lynn Hershman argues in her article that being passively receiving messages of media makes individual “powerless to affect what was being imposed, other than simply turning off their sets and becoming even more alienated” (646). “Danmu” unites people with same interests to express their thoughts on same subject. Instead of being passive, users are actively reading and posting their comments by using “danmu” system. Not only do users interact with the video, but they also interact with other viewers by reading and referring their simultaneously broadcast comments. Moreover, “danmu” somehow forms a chat onto video itself to entertain viewers, while viewers themselves are the ones who contribute to the build of “danmu” as an anonymous collective. The interactive and social component of “danmu” makes Bilibili a sticky website, because users continue to visit the site to check back and to see how others embroider their favorite videos (Rita).
Although all the users can watch videos and see the “danmu” on Bilibili, as for now, it is still considered as a membership-based site for only members can post “danmu”. Due to its ACG nature, one has to answer 60 out of 100 questions correctly about Japanese anime and manga within an hour to be qualified as a member. This “entrance exam” automatically differentiates true ACG fans from others. The sense of superiority Bilibili gives to its ACG fans is an acknowledgement of such subculture, and it further builds the connection among members. Members have various “danmu” controls, such as style, color, placement, and movement. The advanced “danmu” even has special effect with careful arrangement. Bilibili has grown to be the 46th most-visited website in China and the 291st in global rank. It begins to have videos uploaded other than ACG, and “danmu” has more functions than before. For instance, in a foreign-language video without official subtitles, people post translation “danmu” for others who don’t understand. In many documentaries or science-related videos, “danmu” often provides background and explanatory information. Bilibili users post such “danmu” out of altruism for the sense of sharing and interaction.
Many people have criticized that “danmu” interrupts and distracts the viewing experience, especially when hundreds of comments flying across the screen completely blocking the images. But users have the option to turn off “danmu” or change the transparency of it if they don’t want “danmu” too visible. I believe that the creative use of “danmu” enables Bilibili to provide a unique interactive and social experience to ACG fans and even general video viewers.
Hershman, Lynn. “The Fantacy Beyond Control.”
Liao, Rita. “Danmu So Popular On China’s Online Video Sites That It Enters The Cinema.” Tech Node. 7 Aug. 2014. http://technode.com/2014/08/07/others-theater-can-see-comments-screen-real-time/
Sayuri, Kobayashi. ““Anime” and ‘Manga’ Take Root in China.” Nippon.com. 30 Nov. 2012. http://www.nippon.com/en/views/b00109/?pnum=2