China’s fiercely competitive streaming video sector has seen audience growth for an emerging content category that is attracting its most sophisticated local viewers: British TV dramas.
A new study from Beijing-based entertainment research firm Entgroup has revealed that China’s urban wealthy and well-educated are increasingly buzzing about Britain's lushly produced TV fare, including shows like Downton Abbey and Sherlock.
Comparing rates of discussion on Chinese social media sites, Entgroup found that British dramas now account for 9 percent of all mentions of foreign television programming, whereas just a few years ago such shows were essentially unknown in the country. Korean TV, by comparison, commands 28 percent of all social media discussion of international TV.
But when Entgroup examined social media sites that draw an exclusive white collar and college educated userbase, discussion of British shows hit 13 percent, and Korean drama fell to just one percent.
The trend mirrors what Chinese television critics have taken to calling the “disdain chain,” in which British TV fans look down on fans of U.S. shows, American TV aficionados snub Korean soap fans, who themselves turn their noses up on people who simply like local Chinese TV.
“Though British drama viewers are a minority, they are high-end and very loyal,” said Jean Shao, spokeswoman of leading streaming video site Youku Tudou, told the Wall Street Journal. ”This is what the advertisers fancy.”
Chinese video sites are tailoring their offerings to meet the demands of this rarified slice of the viewership -- and the luxury advertisers they attract. Sohu.com Inc. launched the first dedicated British drama channel in China last year, the Journal noted in its report. And Youku Tudou debuted a British TV feed in April, followed by Tencent Holdings in June.
The U.K.’s premiere TV producers, such as BBC Worldwide and Freemantle Media, are finding their content much in-demand, as China video sites vye for exclusive rights. According to the Journal, Tencent has the exclusive rights to 13 British shows with a total of 500 episodes, while Youku Tudou Inc is licensed to stream 32 shows, with 200 episodes.
“The storylines in British dramas are more complete and British actors are A-listers in terms of acting skill,” said Zhu Xiangyang, chief content officer of Youku Tudou. “The high quality of British dramas is what demanding audiences look for.”