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Surge in Online Dramas Marks Latest Shift in Mainland Viewing Habits

Bespoke dramas are now a key element in the programming initiatives of many mainland video streaming platforms.

Photo: Hello Aliens: iQiyi’s extra-terrestrial campus drama. (Xinhua News Agency)
Hello Aliens: iQiyi's extra-terrestrial campus drama.
Photo: Hello Aliens: iQiyi’s extra-terrestrial campus drama. (Xinhua News Agency)
Hello Aliens: iQiyi's extra-terrestrial campus drama.

Given the fragmented leisure time of contemporary audiences, the internet has become an important entertainment medium for many people. Thanks to the ubiquity of online access, online drama series are increasingly proving popular with mainland viewers.

According to research conducted by Guduo Media, a mainland-based media consultancy, a total of 166 web drama series were available online in the first six months of 2015. By comparison, the figure for the whole of 2014 was 205. In terms of the volume of available programming then, the first six-months of 2015 have already seen almost as many online dramas available as in the whole of 2014. In light of this, it is clear that such dramas are both a popular and growing phenomenon.

Already these online dramas have evolved from being mere novelties to becoming a significant creative genre in their own right. They are now essential viewing on many of the mainland video streaming websites, including iQiyi, Sohu and Youku, with all of them said to be increasing their investment in such productions.

Overall, web dramas are well on their way to becoming an essential element of the programming of streaming websites and a key means of staying ahead of the competition. Underlining this, many such dramas have now achieved cult status among viewers, with The Lost Tomb, Evil Minds, Diors Man and Unexpectedness all having a dedicated fan base.

As the popularity of web dramas has grown, so too has government regulatory oversight. Since 2012, a number of government bodies – led by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television – have issued new guidelines relating to the sector. These require that online video and audio programmers must avoid vulgarity, salaciousness, the advocacy of violence and images deemed to be pornographic. In other moves, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television has set up a dedicated web drama review committee. This has seen the establishment of an expert group with the power to veto the sexual and violent content of online programming, as well as to respond to any issues raised by the public.

In terms of future developments, the producers of web dramas have already turned to data analysis in order to determine how best to capitalise on the key online trends through their programme content. At the same time, streaming platforms are also looking at securing the rights for delivering an on-demand service for many mainstream movies.

In terms of extending their profit base, online content producers are also looking at licensed spin-off opportunities as well as an enhanced range of delivery options, particularly in terms of on-demand services.

Amber Cui, Beijing Office

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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