The head of Chinese media giant Tencent Holdings said the company is unlikely to begin charging for its WeChat messaging app, despite earlier comments from the Chinese authorities which indicated that fees may be on the cards.
A Xinhua report in April said that Miao Wei, the country’s Minister of Industry and Information Technology, had mooted that telecoms operators may be allowed to impose charges on the WeChat service, due to the increased load that they place on the network.
This has been coupled with users switching to over-the-top messaging apps from operator services, impacting revenue.
According to Bloomberg, Ma Huateng, chairman of Tencent, said in a conference this week that “in the past month, we worked with the operators and figured out a lot of preliminary solutions. I don’t think this is a big issue”.
However, the executive did not state what the outcome is likely to be.
The latest comments follow earlier statements from Liu Chiping, president of Tencent, who said that it was unlikely it would levy charges on users, who had already paid the operators for mobile internet access in order to access services.
The Tencent chairman did note that the company is looking at how to generate revenue from users, although this is likely to come from the promised introduction of “lifestyle and interactive entertainment services” rather than from its core messaging functionality.
According to a survey conducted by Avanti earlier this year, more than two thirds of WeChat users would stop using the service if it started to charge for its messaging features.
This is something of a challenge for OTT apps in general: while it is possible to build up large customer bases, there is little in the way of lock-in, especially as users are likely to have multiple messaging apps on their handsets anyway.
TechInAsia said that a social gaming platform is being developed to support WeChat. “Through this unified platform, we can create an excellent platform for our developers to bring the best games to our users”, Ma Xiaoyi, VP of the company’s game division, said.
WeChat has more than 300 million users.