A look at the major online trends for China in 2015

By Xiong Yuqing Source:Global Times Published: 2015-12-24 20:33:01

Promotional material for The Lost Tomb Photo: CFP 

Promotional material for The Journey of Flower Photo: CFP

Since Chinese Premier Li Keqiang presented the "Internet Plus" concept in March, this term has become one of the hottest buzzwords of the year. Since then, it seems like every industry is trying to connect to the Internet.

Here we examine some of the biggest trends seen on the Chinese Internet in 2015. No longer just a platform where the entertainment industry uploads content, the Internet has evolved to become a major player in the entertainment industry in its own right.

Streaming exclusives

In a report by Guduo Media, a company that collects data on online series, and the Communication University of China released in June, the year of 2014 marked the first real beginning for online series in China. Now in its second year, online series have had a booming year, and growth in this sector is expected to continue. According to the China Internet Network Information Center, the number of streaming site viewers in China is expected to reach 690 million in 2016.

Online series have seen two major trends this year.

On one hand, investors have begun taking huge interest in these shows, which has contributed to rising budgets and investment. For example, the average budget per episode of iQiyi's The Lost Tomb was more than 1 million yuan ($154,000), while LeTV's Braveness of the Ming brought in 100 million yuan in investments. Even though the visuals effects for Lost Tomb were criticized by audiences, the drama successfully brought in a large amount of users who paid for VIP memberships on iQiyi just to get early access to the entire season of the show.

On the other hand, some low-budget black horse series ended up coming from behind for big wins. LeTV's Guaige Huangdi Hui Xiandai (Lit. kidnap an emperor back to modern times) in January and Taizifei Shengzhiji (lit. crown princess's record of promotion) in December wowed online audiences. While the shows featured low-budget sets and costumes, the earnest presentation of a humorous story earned them good comments from viewers.

ACGN IP battle

Some of the most talked about shows and films this year - The Journey of Flower, The Lost Tomb, Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe, The Ghouls and You Are My Sunshine - actually all got their start as online novels - the N in ACGN (Animation, Comic, Games and Novels).

ACGN's ability to provide content that could successfully be turned into huge cross-media franchises, or Super IPs as they are referred to in China, caused ACGN to be a major buzzword on the lips of many entertainment executives.

In an interview with the Global Times in 2014, the producer of The Journey of Flower TV show, Tang Lijun, predicted that the success of this IP would not only reach TV, but also impact video games and other mediums. After gaining an average audience rating of 2.2 percent, The Journey of Flower released a licensed mobile game that brought in more than 10 million active players and 200 million yuan in revenue in its first two months, according to He Yunpeng, the CEO of Skymoons, the company that published the game.

Successes like these have ignited enterprises' passion for acquiring original ACGN IPs. In 2016, even more of these adaptations will debut as video games, films, TV shows and even plays.

The common element of this adapted ACGN content is that they started among cultural sub-circles online. For this reason, when former CCTV hostess Zhang Quanling started her own company, she took ample time to study popular ACGN website bilibili.com to understand what's popular among today's younger generations.

Fan support

While marketing in the past mainly involved hiring professional teams from ad agencies and PR companies, a major concept that proved effective this year was zilaishui (Lit: freely coming water - i.e. water that comes to you through indoor plumbing, as opposed to you heading to the local well). Referring to the support fans willingly give to the things they love, the power of zilaishui in 2015 demonstrated just how powerful fan participation and word of mouth can truly be.

The incredible success of Monkey King: Hero Is Back is a good example. An animated film towards which cinema owners had few expectations, the film soon gained itself quite a following just days after release. Seeing the excellent word of mouth and support from fans, cinemas soon moved the film from early morning and other low-traffic showtimes to cinema prime time, while the number of screenings also went from just 10 percent of showtimes in China to 25 percent in just a week. In the end, Hero went on to become the highest-grossing Chinese animated film, a result that fans could look upon proudly knowing they had a hand in marketing the film.

Movie Goodbye Mr Loser and TV series Nirvana in Fire are other examples of shows that succeeded through the good will of fans.

The lesson here is clear. Good content inspires people to support and promote films and shows all on their own, which can be far more effective than spending millions on marketing and advertising.

CP for coupling

CP is short for coupling, basically the Chinese equivalent of shipping.   While coupling was just something fans of certain shows fantasized about just for fun, in 2015 it actually became a popular promotional tool. 

Before the third season of Where Are We Going, Dad? hit TV, some social media sites began sharing scenes from an old film in which two of the fathers on the show play a gay couple, in order to show how much chemistry the two have together. Meanwhile, in the show Go Fighting!, guest stars are arranged in to pairs based on Internet popularity.

Nirvana in Fire lack of focus on the relationship between the leading stars has actually inspired more fan-created works to appear in which different characters are coupled together, to include male/female and even male/male pairings.

The lesson? Imagination is the best spice for fans.

Newspaper headline: Internet buzz

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