China’s top streaming service hides video view counts after click farms inflated numbers

China’s top streaming service iQiyi is turning off view counts on all of its videos. Instead, videos will be evaluated for popularity based on a new system to “underline the company’s commitment to the highest quality content.”

iQiyi is mostly known for its polished productions like the new historical drama Story of Yanxi Palace about back-stabbing concubines and hip-hop dancing reality show Hot-Blood Dance Crew. But the streaming service, which has been likened to Netflix and Hulu, sets itself apart from those platforms by allowing users to upload their own content and grow their own audiences. It’s also owned by Baidu, China’s largest search engine, and it has a lot of investment in AI tools. Despite its commercial successes, the company still isn’t profitable as it spends heavily to add original content to its library.

Now, instead of showing users how many views they’ve racked up, iQiyi’s new system will assign a “Heat Value” to videos based on how much they’ve been shared, liked, and commented on. As is typical with iQiyi, the company will use its user data and sorting algorithms to assess each video’s popularity, which will provide a “more comprehensive measure of content popularity,” according to iQiyi’s chief content officer Wang Xiaohui.

In a statement to The Verge, iQiyi says, “The desire to maximize viewer numbers has led to both a willingness in some areas of the industry to overlook work of truly high quality in favor of ‘clickbait’ content.” The platform’s new move will combat fake views generated by paying third parties to click on the videos. Top videos with 10 billion views in 2017 were the subject of ridicule on the internet, as netizens mocked Chinese platforms for having fake views that exceeded the total human population. The aforementioned drama Story of Yanxi Palace somehow hit 13 billion views as of last month.

Still, while the move is meant to combat click farming, it could potentially hurt individual creators who post videos onto iQiyi, even though there are plenty of video platforms to choose from, including Bilibili, Youku, and Ying Ke. In reality, few people appeared angry about the change in comments on Weibo. Many praised iQiyi for moving away from clickbait content or used the chance to complain about the platform’s freemium subscription model where ads are prevalent.

As one user writes on Weibo, the general consensus appears to be: “Heat value? That’s changing the soup without changing the medicine,” using a common Chinese proverb that means nothing has really changed.