• Andrew Collins

China’s Online Video Series Revolution

In China, audiences are straying from traditional media and gravitating towards digital, spending their spare time on games, the internet, online media, and social media. This means that online video platforms such as Tencent Video and Youku Tudou can thrive, with their videos easily accessible online, especially on mobile devices during long commutes or downtime. Video sites in China such as Tudou started off offering streaming pirated movies and shows, but in recent years, have even joined forces to fight piracy. Much like how Netflix has expanded from hosting films to producing popular in-house series, China’s big players Tencent and Youku Tudou are looking at expanding original series as their next target.

Youku Tudou attracts over 500 million viewers on PC and mobile and has been producing original content since 2009. They have released creative shows such as micro-film “Old Boys”, which came out of a Youku-sponsored film competition. Youku also co-produced “Old Boys: The Way of the Dragon”, the feature-film version that came out this may. Lately, the company has been amping up investment towards in-house programming and plans to release more than 20 dramas and series in the latter half of 2014. It has already started releasing some of these shows, including reality show “Searching Divas”. Some of the focus comes from a desire to bring audiences shows more suitable for the Chinese market. Midnight Taxi was inspired by Shinya Shokudo, a popular Japanese 10-episode series focusing on the late-night customers of a small restaurant and their stories. Midnight Taxi is Youku’s own take and takes place in a taxi with original stories that are relatable to Chinese audiences.

Tencent Video also began producing in-house content last year. Recently, they debuted “Death Notify” which was co-produced with another media company. Within the first 12 hours of the release, Tencent’s show received over 2 million clicks. Tencent’s venture into original productions spans genres, as the mobile platform also launched a World Cup Channel this year for the tournament. Tencent not only showed original videos before the first kickoff but also continued to produce original footage with coverage teams in Brazil and had commentaries in different Chinese dialects. More importantly, Tencent’s concurrent coverage of the World Cup on Weibo and WeChat show how mobile technology can be dynamic.

In a country where the media is strictly controlled by the state, the internet was, in a way, a loophole for shows and films to be produced without needing to go through lengthy approvals and other prerequisites. Online video provides the industry in China with immediate feedback on what stories resonate with audiences best, and new crowdfunding for films can provide more chances for China to produce quality works that people have already shown interest in.

Letting original productions cross social media platforms is also a significant differentiating factor for online in-house content versus traditional media on television. Tencent and Youku Tudou are positioned perfectly for expanding their original content beyond the screen (whether it be on the computer or a mobile phone) and into Weibo, WeChat, and other Chinese social media to have interactive components to their creations. Tencent has struck deals to be the online partner for China’s Got Talent and The Voice of China, reality shows that will include apps and special features such as channels on Weibo and WeChat to allow viewers a full experience – not just watching a series, but sharing, commenting on, and being involved in it as well.

With mega-brands in China that are fluent in translating media over various platforms geared towards different audiences, video content in China is likely to only to keep growing, with more innovations in getting viewers involved via social media. The industry giants are heavily investing in the future of Chinese online videos, which will only lead to more breakthroughs and creativity in the years to come.

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