Chinese-made short dramas boom in overseas markets as nation’s mobile internet sector showcases its prowess in business innovation
Published: Nov 21, 2023 09:13 PM Updated: Nov 21, 2023 09:04 PM
app Photo: VCG

app Photo: VCG

While short dramas are currently making waves in China’s A-share market, the same trend has also swept across international markets. A short drama app under a Chinese enterprise even briefly surpassed TikTok, claiming the top spot on the US iOS entertainment list. 

Chinese experts noted on Monday that the immense popularity of these micro and short dramas, infused with distinct Chinese characteristics, have not only become a popular cultural export but also highlighted China’s unparalleled business innovation prowess in the mobile internet sector on a global scale.

The Chinese online short drama app Reelshort, featuring episodes like Goodbye, My CEO and The Double Life of My Billionaire Husband each lasting less than two minutes, has unexpectedly gained traction in the North American market. Recently, it even briefly claimed the top spot on the US iOS entertainment chart. On Tuesday, the app ranked 13 on the list. 

Fueled by the trending topic of short dramas, the share price of the Chinese publishing company, COL Group, which owns the drama app, hit multiple daily limits. The company has seen its share price jumped from a recent low point of 11.95 yuan ($1.66) on October 23 to 30.10 yuan at Tuesday’s close.

The app operates on a per-episode payment method, with the cost to watch the entire series exceeding $10, making it pricier per unit compared to Netflix’s unlimited monthly subscription, according to Chinese economic news site

Localization efforts
Differing from the earlier practice of clumsily adding English subtitles to domestic short dramas, the current wave of popular overseas short dramas features authentically European and American accents and faces. However, the storyline bears a striking resemblance to the explosively popular Chinese web novels from a few years ago, which were saturated with themes like “high-handed CEO falling in love with me.”

There are three common production methods for such short dramas: hiring foreign models or actors to shoot and produce in China; shooting overseas and completing post-production in China; or hiring an entirely foreign team, with costs increasing accordingly, reported.

COL has been actively seeking international markets and has launched various products, including an interactive visual reading platform named Chapters. And it has set up subsidiaries and branches in the US, Japan, and Singapore, according to the company.

In the US, the company set up three film and TV studios in Los Angeles which deployed a differentiation strategy and engaged in developing different types of film and TV projects, the company said.

Innovation advantage
With each episode lasting one to two minutes, the format’s average cost ranges from hundreds of thousands to millions of yuan. Featuring melodramatic and clichéd plots, straightforward payment options, and tapping into the vast user base of short video platforms, short dramas, once ridiculed by the industry in the past two years, are now viewed to be the “most lucrative track of 2023” due to their remarkable cost-effectiveness, attracting investments from various capital sources.

Behind the boom of the short dramas in overseas, it is the accumulation of China’s internet product innovation capability, Zhang Yi, CEO of iiMedia Research Institute, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Over the past decade, innovation in China’s internet products has been emerging one after another, developing rapidly and showcasing remarkable revolutionary changes, Zhang said.

Especially with the advent and widespread adoption of mobile internet, China has transitioned from playing catch-up in the 2G era to taking a commanding lead in the 5G era in terms of internet infrastructure. “Against the backdrop of significant investments in this mega network infrastructure, China’s achievements in mobile internet applications and business innovations, frankly speaking, have been truly impressive,” Zhang noted.

Although the short dramas feature relatively simple and clichéd plots, they demand a high sense of “rhythm,” emphasizing brevity and speed. While strongly emphasizing “short, flat, and fast,” they rely heavily on blockbuster hits, forming a product system that is distinctly characteristic of China’s internet landscape, experts said.

Chinese enterprises have already mastered a complete system, ranging from script creation, shooting, broadcasting platforms, to the entire marketing ecosystem, Liu Dingding, a tech industry expert, told the Global Times. 

With a well-established methodology, their approach allows them to achieve results with greater efficiency compared to players from other countries. This enables them to rapidly export a large quantity of short dramas globally, Liu noted.

Moreover, the huge size of the Chinese domestic market is highly advantageous for swiftly validating a new business format, Zhang said.

While these short dramas have rapidly gained popularity, some of the vulgar and violent content has sparked wide controversies. China’s National Radio and Television Administration has been actively regulating and managing the online micro and short drama industry to purify its ecosystem. 

In a three-month concentrated rectification campaign conducted at the end of last year, a total of 1.365 million episodes of short dramas containing pornographic, violent, and vulgar content were taken offline, according to media reports.

While regulatory authorities are actively monitoring and supervising, it is essential for companies to implement effective content regulation internally. This is crucial for achieving a more sustainable and responsible development in both home and overseas, experts said.