Online series spark frenzy

Updated: 2016-01-14 08:03

By Deng Zhangyu(China Daily USA)

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They are low-budget productions, have no stars and are typically adapted from online novels. Yet they are massively popular with the youth. Deng Zhangyu reports.

Go Princess Go, a small-budget online series without a star cast, has become a hit among young Chinese since it was broadcast on a streaming website in December, with daily "views" crossing more than 10 million.

The ongoing original series made by LeTV, one of China's biggest online video companies or China's version of Netflix, had been watched some 1.5 billion times as of Tuesday, ushering a new era for original programming by online video companies.

Adapted from an online novel, the 35-episode series is a comedy about how a modern playboy accidentally time-travels to a fictional dynasty and unexpectedly turns into a crown princess and then an Empress Dowager.

The series, which broadcasts one episode a day, has yet to conclude. The final episode will be released online on Saturday.

The series has been described as "addictive" by netizens because once viewers see an episode - about 20 to 30 minutes in length - they invariably start following the series.

The settings, props and costumes are so different from TV costume dramas that they have become hot topics for discussion on social media.

Data on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, shows that as of Tuesday, discussions on the series had attracted more than 2 billion clicks.

"It's very funny and light-hearted. All the actors are handsome. Many of my friends and classmates are fans. I will pay to watch it," says Feng Shanshan, 21, a student in Beijing.

Feng says her enjoyment also comes from sending out messages while watching it online. She feels that she can share comments with viewers across the country about the funny bits.

The series is so popular that many of its viewers, who are college students, complain online that it distracts them from their studies.

The rating of Go Princess Go on the film-review website Douban is much higher than another popular series, Legend of Miyue, which features well-known directors and popular stars.

But despite its huge popularity online, Jin Bo, a commentator, says on his WeChat account that it is a "lousy drama series because of its weak plot".

He says that the series is trying its best to cater to the "low-brow tastes" of its young audience, a common phenomenon in film and TV circles.

He says that high-quality films and TV dramas in China get little attention and earn poorly, as compared with such offerings which often earn big bucks.

The costumes for the series that have sparked discussions online are usually designed by the director based on Western collections launched in capitals of world fashion.

The brands include KTZ, Graig Green, Valentino, Jean Paul Gaultier and John Galliano.

"It's a series targeting those born in the 1990s and later. We did a lot of research and wove fresh and fashionable elements into it to appeal to the youth," says Gan Wei, executive producer of Go Princess Go. The actors and actresses are also young. The lead actor is 24, and the actress is 26.

Gan says that the huge popularity of the show among teenagers, college students and even office workers is beyond her expectation.

For a series where all the cast, from the director to the lead actors and actresses, are new faces, it is really hard to believe that it has won so many fans in such a short span of time.

Gan says the total investment in the series is about 20 million yuan ($3 million). It isn't a big budget when compared with its rivals.

The budget for one episode of the Lost Tomb, a popular series made by streaming website iQiyi, could be 6 million yuan, says Li Li, vice-president of

Li says: "The popularity of Go Princess Go makes it a good time for original series made by streaming media. Next year, there will be more of this."

Li says that four years ago, LeTV started producing original programs. And last year, it provided different original series for daily and weekly broadcasts - about 500 episodes in total. This year, with the success of Go Princess Go, LeTV will allocate a larger portion of its funds to original programing.

Before Go Princess Go, major streaming media in China were already investing a lot in original series. And among those that achieved success were Diors Man (a comedy about a "loser's" daily life) and Lost Tomb (a tale about tomb raiders). The latter, which starred young actors, got about 2.8 billion clicks after it went online in July.

The number of new LeTV subscribers has increased since Go Princess Go went online, says Li.

Li says that the popularity of original series made by streaming companies did not happen overnight. Instead, it's a trend with roots in the growing years of the Internet as evident from the fan base of such programs. The majority of such fans were born in the Internet era and are used to doing everything online.

"For them, the line between reality and virtual life is blurred. They love to chat online and share views with others, also online," says Li, explaining why fans of Go Princess Go love it so much.

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Online series spark frenzy

 Online series spark frenzy

Scenes from Go Princess Go feature actor Sheng Yilun and actress Zhang Tian'ai in leading roles. The online series is a big hit among youth with more than 1.5 billion views as of Tuesday. Photos Provided To China Daily

(China Daily USA 01/14/2016 page 7)