Global content providers eye China’s online drama boom

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 May, 2016, 5:13pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 May, 2016, 5:15pm

Content providers from Hong Kong and elsewhere are taking are vying for a share of China’s booming online video market, despite risks of censorship and policy restrictions.

Online dramas have been an extremely hot topic recently amid a surge in online video viewing.

In 2015, “The Lost Tomb”, telling the adventures of a young archaeologist as he explores ancient Chinese tombs and encounters ghosts and ghouls, received 3 billion hits, smashing the online video viewing record in China.

In another example, the 54-episode series “Lang Ya Bang” (Nirvana on Fire), based on a popular internet novel, received 5.8 billion hits over two months on video-streaming sites. The show tells a tale of revenge and political struggle among the royal families of an ancient Chinese kingdom.

Currently, the 42-episode “Ode to Joy”, which started airing online in April, had racked up a cumulative 7 billion views as of May 6. It is a Chinese version of “Sex and the City”, exploring the friendship of five single women in Shanghai.

Demand for online drama is expected to increase dramatically in China as younger mainlanders prefer to watch online content, rather than the content provided on state-run TV channels.

Several big players in China’s video-streaming market are gearing up their investments in the online entertainment industry.

China’s leading internet video company, iQiyi, which is backed by search engine giant Baidu, unveiled earlier this month new profit-sharing incentives with international content producers.

Content providers around the world are welcomed to showcase programmes through iQiyi’s platform under a profit sharing agreement based on the programme’s popularity, according to iQiyi’s chief executive Gong Yu.

Gong encouraged content producers to emulate popular American TV dramas and develop their content into 12 episodes per season with an average 45 minutes runtime per episode.

Content producers will be paid per view as long as the user watches a single episode continually for six minutes or longer, Gong said.

According to iQiyi’s profit-sharing incentives, these 12-episode online dramas would be divided into four levelsdepending on their investment and quality. Content providers will receive 0.4 yuan for each view.

iQiyi’s project could help spur investment in high-quality original content, said industry insiders.

“That’s really attractive for private content producers of our kind. It means we could earn several hundreds of millions of yuan if our product receives huge hits online.” Ma Qingyang, co-founder of Maning Haokan, a start-up focused on television production.

Ma, as well as three of his partners, quit their jobs at local television stations to establish the starr- up two months ago.

“It’s a booming market. And many senior producers and talents of my kind have turned to be independent content producers and have been looking for venture capital since last year” Ma said.

“Overseas investors and content providers, especially from Hong Kong, should see great opportunities. They could either join us or invest in us to get into the online content market.” he said.

Many popular online dramas produced in 2015, which racked up huge views, are related to serial killers, crime, homosexual behaviour, and supernatural phenomena which would never have been broadcast through state-controlled TV channels because of censorship.

But the country’s censors may soon tighten up on online dramas. In late February, Li Jingsheng, head of the television drama management division of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, said in a keynote speech that the watchdog would step up regulation of shows produced and broadcast on the internet. “What cannot be aired on television must not be shown on the internet,” Li was quoted as saying.

As of December, 504 million, or more than 73 per cent of China’s internet users, use personal computers or smartphones to watch online video, an increase of 6.5 per cent compared with the end of 2014.

About 200 online series with 800 episodes were produced by video platforms in 2013. This increased to 805 shows with a total of 12,000 episodes last year.