From Industry Transformation to Cultural Innovation, Tencent's Edward Cheng Decodes the Role of Digital Technologies Amid COVID-19 at Oxford TMCD Conference

SHENZHEN, China, Jan. 29, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- The COVID-19 pandemic has presented an unprecedented challenge to public health, business models, human activities and culture exchange worldwide. It has also led to a rethinking of the power of digital technologies in responding to crisis. Edward Cheng, vice president of the leading Chinese technology company Tencent (Tencent Holdings Ltd, 0700.HK), shared his insights during an online conference on how technology can be leveraged to strengthen resilience and promote innovation in a challenging environment.

On January 28th, Cheng, in front of a panel of renowned experts and speakers from the University of Oxford, World Bank, UN Tech Bank and UN DESA, said, "The pandemic is still breaking physical connections between people. However, with Internet technologies, those connections were fixed and rebuilt, creating a new world where the digital world is closely integrated with real life, and laying the foundation for economic and social recovery."

Cheng made the remarks at an online conference organized by the Technology and Management Centre for Development (TMCD) at the University of Oxford. He was the only keynote speaker representing a Chinese company to discuss the development, challenges and prospects for new technologies and platforms in developing countries amid the pandemic.

Oxford University's Pro-Vice-Chancellor David Gann said at the same conference: "Companies like Tencent have been working and investing heavily in research and development in making technology that allows us to connect and work together for many years, and now thankfully we are reaping the benefit of that." He also called for the scientific community to work closely in collaboration with the policy community, as well as with businesses to put ideas into practice to make the world a better place.

Professor Xiaolan Fu from Oxford University pointed out: "There is increasing recognition that science, technology and innovation can play important roles in achieving sustainable development goals. And the rise of digital technology, in particular, can play a very important role in building an inclusive society."

According to Tencent's Cheng, there are more than 80 million small and micro businesses in China, employing approximately 80 percent of workforce. Facing the pandemic, many of these businesses took the initiative to move their work online using WeChat, a popular Chinese social networking platform. They set up chat groups to showcase goods, interact with customers and complete transactions via online payment. In just four months, the number of such "small shops" connected to WeChat Pay services tripled, and the volume of transactions soared by 5.1 times, allowing for the ongoing sustainable operation of small businesses. Local governments have also used WeChat to distribute vouchers to subsidize consumers without the need for physical contact.

Cheng outlined the digital transformation of Chinese businesses and society that has been widely seen in various sectors including online education, remote working, online healthcare, and digital culture due to the pandemic. Tencent Education Platform, for example, has served more than 100 million students and millions of teachers in China during the pandemic. The number of users for Tencent Meeting exceeded 100 million just eight months after its launch.

Compared to sectors that have a strong dependence on offline operations, Cheng explained how some industries have been more proactive in embracing the trend of digital transformation, "The cultural industry, which has gone through over 10 years of digitalization, released tremendous energy during the epidemic and brought people a wealth of spiritual enjoyment."

Cheng cited a hit TV drama series Joy of Life, which entertained many Chinese families when people were forced to stay at home. Being streamed over 16 billion times, it represents a success of Tencent's Neo-Culture Creativity strategy that placed IP development at the core of cultural product creation. The IP was created from an online fiction on the China Literature platform, and was later adapted to a costume drama with modern influences to resonate with today's audience.

Cheng also mentioned some other cases in which digital technologies were utilized to ease the impact of the pandemic. Last February, Tencent collaborated with the Dunhuang Research Academy to develop a mini-program called "The Mogao Caves Cloud Museum" as the Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang were temporarily closed. It brought the world-famous murals of the Mogao Grottoes online, and added digital features such as e-calendars and a voice acting program, giving users a digital interactive experience and allowing them to take their own virtual tours of the landmark.

"Looking back on our digital approaches to fighting against the pandemic in the past year, we find that continuous innovations are what drive products that can influence the industry and create value for users," Cheng said. Digital technologies have helped society rise to the challenge posed by the epidemic, while also providing long-term momentum for sustainable economic and social recovery.

As a technology company committed to the mission of "Value for Users, Tech for Good," Tencent has initiated research in co-operation with Oxford University to jointly promote research on scientific and technological innovation, according to Cheng.