The popularity of web crime shows reflects the growing productivity of China’s leading video-streaming sites in providing high-quality original content.
The philosophy that “content is king” attracts plenty of ardent supporters in China’s video streaming industry. Producing quality content is a strategic focus of the country’s top video sites.
Dai Ying explained to NewsChina that back in 2011, iQiyi’s production capabilities were quite limited – it had only produced several short-length sitcoms. The company established its own drama production center in 2013, and saw a huge market for original online dramas after its two original drama series, Soul Ferryman and Loser Brothers, became hits in 2014.
iQiyi’s 2015 production, The Lost Tomb, proved to be a huge success. It received 3 billion views, smashing the online video viewing record in China. The show was adapted from the bestselling novels of the same title written by popular novelist Xu Lei, also known in English as the Grave Robbers Chronicles. Starring Li Yifeng and Yang Yang, who are extremely popular among teens and young adults, the show centers on a group of tomb raiders’ adventures treasure hunting and killing zombies in ancient tombs.
To serialize the show in 2015, iQiyi became the first in the industry to adopt a subscription model and it gained 2.5 million paid subscribers the day the first episode of The Lost Tomb was broadcast. By the end of 2016, the total number of subscribers to iQiyi and other video streaming sites was estimated to have reached 75 million.
The Mystic Nine, the spin-off of The Lost Tomb, produced by iQiyi in 2016, gained even wider popularity and was the first original online drama to receive over 10 billion hits and was rated the most popular online series of the year.
iQiyi not only produces its own content but also strives to promote its hit dramas to overseas markets. The Mystic Nine, Ghost Blows Out the Light and Tientsin Mystic have all been sold to overseas markets. Its latest production Burning Ice has been acquired by streaming video platforms in Japan, South Korea, North America and Europe.
Other big players in China’s video-streaming market are also gearing up their investments and resources in the online entertainment industry.
Youku Tudou, which enjoys a partnership with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, has poured 2 billion yuan (US$300 million) into its original content production, which includes reality shows, web dramas, animation and short films.
At the Chinese Web Film and Drama Summit held in Hangzhou on December 19, 2016, the senior director of the Youku Tudou Drama Production Center, Yuan Yumei, put forward the “Super Web Drama” concept, claiming that online series have undergone an upgrade from grassroots to large-scale production, evolving from plotless, low-budget mini-series to coarsely made, poorly acted sitcoms, and now to high-budget, exquisitely produced “super web dramas.”
As many industry players point out, today the quality of web dramas is on par with regular TV dramas, in terms of production, casting and visual effects.
Yuan shows confidence in the future of web dramas. “The status of online drama is rising across the entire industry. I have witnessed its development and transformation from a grassroots level.”
Yuan told NewsChina that the recent craze for Day and Night reflects viewers’ acute desire for good quality shows: “No one can foresee if a show can be popular or not. But quality talks. In our nature there’s an endless want for good stories.”