Challenge accepted

By Liao Danlin Source:Global Times Published: 2015-1-13 19:23:01

Reality TV continues to adapt in 2015

Actor Chen Xuedong (center) and his first grade class film a segment for reality show Grade One on December 19. Photo: CFP

Friday night has become the most anticipated time of the week for many Chinese TV viewers who enjoy spending some family time sitting together on the couch and watching TV. Reality shows Running Man, I am a Singer and Super Brain have dominated the past two Friday nights for many households since 2015 began.

Reality shows reached an all new level in 2014 in terms of generating buzz online. The three leading players -- Hunan, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang TV - invested huge amounts of money and human resources into the production of their representative shows and buying the most popular formats from abroad as well as producing original programs. At the same time, other satellite TV stations also found a smart way to differentiate themselves from their competitors in order to target a more specific audience. 

"2014 was a blowout year for reality shows and 2015 will be more so," said Yuan Zhiqiang, the chief editor at Shijiazhuang TV, in an e-mail to the Global Times.

Celebrity led shows

Over the past year, a lot of celebrities have experienced how hard it is to "survive" during an era in which reality shows have reached an all new level of "torturing" their stars. Such shows have celebrities taking on missions ranging from physical challenges to role-playing games.

The Chinese version of US reality show The Amazing Race, co-produced by Shenzhen TV and streaming video site is a good example of this. Instead of filming ordinary people taking part in the race like the US version, the Chinese show featured an all-celebrity cast consisting of a number of TV, fashion and sports stars including actor Wallace Chung, gymnast Li Xiaopeng and singer Pax Congo.

Yi Hua, the executive producer of The Amazing Race China, explained why so many stars have been willing to accept the difficult tasks set for them by reality shows in an interview with Beijing Evening News. In her experience, she found that more and more celebrities have begun repositioning themselves. "An increasing number of celebrities have noticed a change in their public image. As their careers progress, they have realized that simply being a star or an idol is not enough. They need a well-rounded image," said Yi.     

Some industry insiders also see regulation issued by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television restricting the broadcast of TV series to two satellite TV stations at a time as one of the reasons why celebrities are more willing to appear on reality TV.

Television producers are helping keep this reality TV trend alive in 2015. On one hand, keeping an eye on great creative ideas from all over the world and on the other hand, coming up with original ideas that have a more Chinese feel. For instance, according to a report on, Hunan TV will broadcast a new show that has five celebrities taking on challenges at a zoo, while Dragon TV has a show where celebrities undergo astronaut training.

Creating a conversation

It's worth pointing out that after years of struggling, reality show producers have finally escaped the boundaries of traditional singing and dancing competitions by coming up with a variety of shows.

Shenzhen TV has bought the rights to the BBC reality show Don't tell the Bride and plans on having its version reach living rooms later this year, while shows featuring people from different professions such as security guards and doctors are also set to become a trend in 2015.   

Han Haoyue, a culture critic, told the Global Times that after years of learning from their overseas counterparts, producers of reality shows in China have finally improved their story telling skills. For instance, Han finds that Grade One, which films two celebrities teaching a class of first graders, follows the general plot structure of a film - you have the male and female lead who know nothing about education, but are put into a situation where they have to take responsibility of a group of students.

"The possible conflicts brought about by the situation and the tasks given to both the kids and the two celebrities create opportunities for a story full of moments of joy and tears to come together," said Han, who added that it's easy for shows such as these to become the topic of discussion online.

The popularity of Grade One comes at a time when more people born in the 1980s (mostly from one-child families) are becoming parents themselves. This is also why other shows about parenting, such as Where Are We Going, Dad? and Dad Came Back, have had little difficulty in finding an audience.

As Han sees things, it's actually not so much the shows themselves that have attracted such a large audience, but rather the values and related subjects behind the shows that are their real selling points. "What made dating show If You Are the One so popular was the online conversations about the values presented on the show," Han said, giving the example of the much debated quote from a contestant: "I'd rather cry in a BMW, instead of laugh on a bicycle." 

Changing the game

It's been a decade since Super Girl became a runaway hit in 2005 by having millions of audience members vote for their favorite idol. The main reason behind Hunan TV's success with the show has been mainly attributed to its use of a democratic selection process.

However as video sites began creating more original shows, and with these sites' advantages when it comes to audience interaction and data collection, the game began to change for TV producers.

"Netizens say that the most consistently seen performances on I am a Singer came from the audience members themselves. You barely saw any close-ups of the audience in Super Girl, but for I am a Singer the audiences' instant reaction was a key part of the show," said Han. 

The increasing popularity of new media has also dramatically changed business models. Yuan told the Global Times that commercials are no longer the main source of financing for traditional platforms now that mass data collection has become so rampant. 

Yuan explained that it has now become much more convenient for sponsors to target consumers directly. "Insert commercials are out of date since audiences can fast-forward and rewind as they like on the Internet… The industry is currently exploring models that combine both online and offline activities," Yuan said.

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