Youtube is the most popular online video site in the world, and it’s certainly big here in Japan too. But Japan also has a very unique video sharing site called Niconico Douga that’s wildly popular among netizens . The site enables users to comment on top of the video they’re viewing, resulting in the feeling that everyone is together in one big room enjoying (or not enjoying) the same video. Comments are displayed at the time in the video corresponding with when they were posted, and the random marquee-style text transforms the video into an entirely new form of entertainment. Here’s a screenshot of how it looks, with the actual video included below.
Niconico Douga quietly first emerged back in December of 2006, pushing out a beta version a month later. Since then, the site has offered many unique features to its users, successfully accumulating over 30 million users as of 2012. That averages out to a whopping 440,000 new users per month. The user demographic is mostly male (with 67% men and 33% women) and most of the active users are in the 20-29 age range (about 42%). There have been over 8.7 million videos uploaded to the site in total.
In general, the site is sort of perceived as a place for otaku who typically prefer anonymous communication. However since the launch of live streaming videos, people in the mainstream have also joined the site, including but not limited to politicians, idol groups, and music bands. Currently there are almost 100 official channels that live stream content on the site. What’s interesting is that Niconico Douga allows users to sign up using Facebook credentials, and that of course requires your real name. This may have been influenced by Ustream, which uses Twitter and Facebook for sign-in.
The company behind Niconico Douga is niwango, a subsidiary of dwango which runs a music and ringtone downloading business. Niwango’s sales for first quarter of 2013 was 3.8 billion yen (or more than $41 million). Of that, one fourth comes from their premium registry that allows users to upload videos of a larger size, as well as the capability to live stream videos, create communities, and more. So far 1.8 million users have joined this premium service.
Niconico Douga is definitely a unique domestic service with no strict equivalent outside of Japan, although the site does have a multi-language interface and has been supporting English comments since October of 2011. There are services like this other different genres such as bookmarking, curation, etc, and in the future I plan to introduce you to more of these Japan-optimized sites.
Japanese people often refer to the site as NicoDou. ↩