The tech industry always loves a comeback story and Wang Xin could have a great one to tell as he waits for release from jail. Could one of the pioneers of online video sharing in China be set for a second act?
Born in Hunan, Wang was obsessed with science as a child. In college he started to experiment with computers and he found a passion for coding. In 2000, he moved to Shenzhen, where he worked at a little known tech firm as a programmer. Two years later he started his own software firm that pioneered music swapping. Alas, his commercial skills proved inferior to his coding, and the firm closed down because of mismanagement.
His first big break
Wang then found a job at the tech conglomerate Shanda, taking over as the manager in charge of product development. During his stint at Shanda, Wang headed the team that developed a set-top box. But it was ahead of its time: the technology was too expensive to produce and internet speeds were too slow to support it properly. Worse still, regulators weren’t sure what to make of it as a content distributor. They declared it illegal, an effective death sentence for the product.
In 2006 Wang left Shanda and founded Qvod, a company that initially offered a search engine, indexing content from other video sites. Qvod made its mark by developing Kuaibo, which became one of most widely used video-streaming platforms in China, although critics claimed it was allowing users to watch videos that were pirated.
Qvod also offered editing software for users to put together their own videos (this was before the age of the smartphone). In its heyday – around 2011 – Qvod had over 80% market share and more than 500 million users, says Sohu.However, other online video sites like Youku and LeTV were starting to change their business models. They got rid of illegal content and began paying for the rights to third-party content. In 2013, the major platforms joined forces with the Motion Picture Association of America to sue Qvod (and Baidu) for piracy and copyright violation. The lawsuits started to weigh on Wang.
How did he end up in prison?
Police started to investigate Qvod in late 2013 on allegations that it was spreading porn videos online. Wang fled overseas but was sent back to China by Interpol and charged in 2015. The police found that more than 70% of the videos on the company’s servers contained pornographic content and the court rejected Wang’s defence that his firm was providing a technical service and did not upload the obscene material itself.
Wang’s wife announced in a weibo post last month that he will soon be released. But industry observers are sceptical that he has a future in the tech industry. “Rumour has it that Wang was reading books on the latest internet developments from his prison cell in the past few years to keep himself up-to-date. But so much has changed since then… internet finance, unmanned retail stores, virtual reality and artificial intelligence with each trend bigger than the last. Let’s hope that he can still catch the fast train,” says China Entrepreneur.
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