Liu Yue, a contestant from the first season of The Voice of China performs at the press conference for the radio version of The Voice on May 13 in Beijing. Photo: CFP
(Global Times, May 28, 2013) As the temperature warms up ahead of the summer months, so does the traditional TV music show season. Unlike last year when The Voice of China dominated and outshined all other singing contest programs (as well as all other entertainment shows), this year promises to be full of quality contenders.
Besides several shows that are already on the air, there are a few upcoming TV music programs that will premiere about the same time as the second season of The Voice of China. And naturally, each broadcaster will be pulling out all the stops to draw in as many viewers as possible.
Currently, China’s Strongest Voice produced by Hunan TV and the Chinese Idol by Dragon TV are both in top gear scouting for singing contestants and thinking of new ways to attract an audience.
And next, Happy Boy, an old-brand music talent show by Hunan TV which was first broadcast in 2007 and then halted in 2009, will resume its presentation this summer, the same time period as the second season of The Voice of China.
Against the backdrop of this year’s competition, the dominating force of last year has introduced a series of countermeasures to enhance its competitiveness, including the radio version of The Voice of China that just premiered on Monday.
The Voice of China, which features “blind listening” in the program, naturally connects with radio, explained Yan Tao, producer of the radio version of The Voice. “With our nationwide network, the radio version will on one hand supplement what audiences can’t see from the TV programs, and meanwhile offer a new channel for audiences to interact more with the program,” Yan told the Global Times.
A TV program that broadcasts only three hours per week after spending a whole week in production will inevitably be unable to include some interesting segments on the screen due to time limitations. “For example, one of the judges may comment for 10 minutes, but audiences only get to see one or two minutes of it,” said Yan, “but in the radio version, we will present those missing but delightful parts.”
And not just the radio version, The Voice of China earlier this year has also launched its online and street versions in collaboration with video website tv.sohu.com. Together with the radio version, all the three channels will undertake the task of selecting qualified candidates for the TV program and serve as a platform for audience participation.
Originally the idea of Liu Huan, one of the four celebrity judges of last year’s program, the radio version is meant to extend the program beyond TV to other areas along media’s industrial chain.
“It is an enrichment to the TV program and provides an answer to people’s questions about how long The Voice of China can maintain its popularity after all,” said Tian Ming, CEO of Star China Media, producer of the show.
“The program will not die due to competitors, but itself, its concept and innovative spirit,” said Tian, “now we are dedicated to building it into a music platform in China covering the entire music industry chain. In this way, the program will never die, since Chinese popular music will never die.”
Vying for distinction
However, despite the ambition, the explosion of music shows this year and the fact that they are all Chinese versions of foreign originals underscore the inevitable problem of duplication and lack of original ideas for The Voice of China and its rivals.
Right now besides The Voice, which audiences already know originated from The Netherlands, other international copies include Chinese Idol, an obvious re-packaging of American Idol, and China’s Strongest Voice, which is an adaptation of Britain’sThe X-Factor.
To distinguish themselves from the others, each of these music shows is trying their best to project their own unique style. For example, apart from its swivel chairs and “blind listening,” The Voice of China chose to select their candidates by sending music experts all across the country scouting in places like bars, professional music schools or performance troupes.
Meanwhile, the program underscores the teacher-student connections as a selling point to touch audiences.
And in Chinese Idol, not just the music talent, but the look of the candidate also matters since the show is looking for someone with the potential to become a pop star.
The strategy used by China’s Strongest Voice is to show the background training stories and pictures of contestants to both inspire and draw empathy from audiences.
To each its own
“Jumping on the bandwagon of introducing foreign TV programs illustrates that we have a long way to go to realize the marketability of our own TV programs,” said Yuan Zhiqiang, a TV critic, “In Britain they have professional idea companies for TV programs. In China, even if we have them, they don’t relate so much to the market.”
At least there is a silver lining around the cloud of borrowed ideas – each of these clone programs seems to have found an audience. For example, I Am a Singer was a copy of a South Korean music performance show that spotlighted veteran professional talents. It was broadcast earlier this year from January to April on Hunan TV and garnered great popularity while on the air.
“I Am a Singer has successfully built its own style. Its focus on those songs and singers of the past turned out well in bonding with some not-so-young audiences,” Yuan told the Global Times.
Maybe for audiences eyeing a TV screen full of various music shows, aesthetic fatigue is unavoidable. But according to a senior entertainment critic pennamed Wumeishi, so long as they have different styles and bring fresh feelings to audiences, they can all have their share of viewers.