Micro-dramas a boon for media evolution
Published: Jun 03, 2024 10:44 PM
Illustration: Liu Xiangya/GT

Illustration: Liu Xiangya/GT

The first episode of the much-anticipated Chinese micro-drama Take Me Home, produced by renowned Hong Kong director and comedian Stephen Chow, has garnered over 1 million views within just an hour of its release on Sunday. The current word-of-mouth is still unclear, with some viewers praising its "cinematic quality and satirical edge" while others find it "lacking in humor." 

Set against the backdrop of a cyber fraud case, the 24-episode Take Me Home tells the story of an intern lawyer and a live streamer who team up to uncover the truth behind a "pig butchering" scam, saving the lawyer's elder sister and finding their professional paths. 

The series stars popular stand-up comedian Xu Zhisheng, who brings most of the comedic relief and subtly addresses issues such as Japan's dumping of nuclear-contaminated wastewater and workplace corruption in his lines. The show's narrative and dialogue avoid the overuse of internet slang, opting for metaphor and satire to deliver its comedic punches.

Chow, known for his iconic roles and comedic genius, has taken on the role of producer for the micro-drama, guiding the creative process from character development to post-production editing. The first season's first episode, merely six minutes and 11 seconds, is available for free. 

Executive producer Yi Xiao­xing once noted that the series was shot at a movie pace and then divided into 24 episodes, each striving for the highest production standards, a unique approach not yet adopted by other short dramas.

The production cost of Take Me Home is said to be in the millions of yuan, classifying it as a key micro-short drama under the guidance of new regulations for micro-dramas that officially went into effect on Saturday. 

The new regulations emphasize industry, local and platform responsibilities, as well as implement a "classified and tiered review" system. 

On Sunday, the news that 220,000 episodes of short dramas have earned regulatory approval topped Chinese social media. 

According to the China Netcasting Services Association, the new rules stipulate that "key" micro-dramas with an investment of 1 million yuan ($138,000) or more are to be publicly filed with and managed by the National Radio and Television Administration. 

"General" micro-dramas with an investment between 300,000 and 1 million yuan are filed with and reviewed by provincial-level radio and television departments. "Other" micro-dramas with an investment below 300,000 yuan are to be managed by the network audio-visual platforms responsible for content management, review, and copyright verification. 

The approval information shows that the first and second seasons of Take Me Home passed review in April, setting an example for key micro-dramas. This also signals a trend in which creatives with experience in traditional TV dramas and films will be more adept at adapting to the new policies for micro-dramas.

An industry that rises abruptly will inevitably become chaotic, but after the chaos, rules will be formed and thus it will be regulated. This can be seen in the micro-drama industry.

The Chinese micro-drama market saw explosive growth in 2023, with a surge in various genres. 

According to a report by iMedia Research, the micro-drama market value reached 37.39 billion yuan in 2023, a year-on-year increase of 267.65 percent, approximately 70 percent of that year's movie box office. Projections see this market value exceeding 100 billion yuan by 2027.

The new regulations for micro-dramas are a significant step toward the governance and standardization of the industry. 

Platforms now face a significant challenge. If their standards are not properly managed, the supervisory authorities can hold them accountable, forming a bottom-up responsibility system.

Additionally, production teams must value their industry reputation. Insiders reveal that the industry is exploring the establishment of a blacklist system.

The implementation of the new regulations for micro-dramas has had several impacts on content creators. In the long run, the governance and standardized operation of micro-dramas will enhance the industry's overall image. 

The new regulations establish clear mechanisms and standards, improving administrative efficiency and effectiveness and ensuring the quality of content production at the source, thus preventing the spread of vulgar and harmful content. 

At the same time, the entry of seasoned filmmakers like Chow into the micro-short drama industry can guide more creators to focus on improving the quality and refinement of micro-short drama content, promoting the high-quality development of the industry.

However, the specific implementation should preserve the uniqueness of micro-dramas, and the variety in their types, themes, and stories under the new regulations still needs to be ensured. 

This new era of short dramas, with its combination of established talents and innovative approaches, promises a future of high-quality content that will continue to captivate audiences and might even set a good example for the industry's robust growth abroad.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.