Chinese sites ride a British wave online

Updated: 2013-07-16 07:14

By Liu Wei (China Daily)

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Chinese sites ride a British wave online

British series is the new sexy for Chinese video websites in their eager search for a new ocean of content.

Major video websites in China, such as Youku Tudou Inc, Sohu and Tencent have released about 1,000 episodes of British dramas recently.

Youku Tudou, for example, offers all episodes of Downton Abbey, Sherlock and Black Mirror on its British Drama Channel, which opened in late April.

It will screen the fourth season of Downton Abbey in September, simultaneously with its UK release.

The website has inked multi-show deals with British studios such as BBC, Shine and Fremantle, according to Youku Tudou chief content officer Zhu Xiangyang.

The company is not the only one exploring the new market.

Tencent, for example, owns the screening rights for more than 500 episodes of British dramas, including smash hits such as Doctor Who, Skins and Merlin.

Sohu, a leading web portal in China, is running a British channel that includes not only TV dramas, but also British music and documentaries.

"We want to provide diversified products for the viewers," says Zhu Xiangyang.

"British dramas are shorter and more sophisticated compared to American shows. If American shows were Coca-Cola, British dramas seem more like a cup of coffee."

According to a report by Chinese research agency Entgroup released in late June, China's British drama lovers are mostly young and educated.

The report finds that on Douban and Mtime, two popular websites among young adults, 13.48 percent of the users pay close attention to British dramas, while only 1 percent discuss South Korean shows.

It also analyzes Chinese Internet viewers of three TV dramas respectively from the Chinese mainland, South Korea and Britain. It turns out that the number of people holding a master's degree among Merlin's audience are twice those of Love in the Spring, a Chinese show, and When Men Are in Love, a South Korean show.

The popularity of British dramas also creates a new term on the Chinese Internet called "the disdain chain". It means British drama viewers snub those watching American shows, who look down upon South Korean soap fans. Lovers of mainland TV shows are at the lowest end of the chain.

The most popular British drama so far on Youku Tudou is Downton Abbey's first season, viewed 5.1 million times by press time. Topping the screening list of Tencent's British Drama Channel is the first season of Skins, screened 6 million times so far.

"Although British dramas' audiences are limited compared to those of the American shows, they are more sophisticated and loyal, which the advertisers would love to see," says Internet analyst Ge Jia.

According to the Entgroup report, video watching has replaced searching to become the most popular behavior among Chinese Web users. And among the 440 million viewers for Internet videos in May 2012, more than 250 million went for TV dramas.

"Websites will not ignore the big cake," Ge adds. "It is business savvy to promote British dramas, since American and South Korean shows have been a relatively fully developed market."

All the three websites declined to comment on the price of the British dramas.

Ge's belief is that the price is lower than American shows at present, because they lack the well-established viewership of American TV shows and South Korean soaps, both introduced to China's TV screens and Internet much earlier.

But he is optimistic to see more viewers of the British dramas, praising their "solid story and dry humor". The report of Entgroup also finds the online buzz about British dramas keeps increasing as more episodes are released on the Internet.

(China Daily USA 07/16/2013 page8)