Down With ‘Downton’: Video Sites Embrace British Invasion

4 July 2013 7 h 27 min Comments Off

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(China Realtime Report, Jul 03, 2013) China’s video sites have discovered a new menu item in their quest to feed the country’s growing hunger for foreign TV series.

While brash American shows and delicate Korean soaps still dominate the table, an increasing number of discerning consumers are electing for the sophisticated charm of British dramas like Baker Street reboot “Sherlock” and Edwardian nostalgia fest “Downton Abbey.”

Comparing levels of discussion on different social media sites, a recent study from entertainment research company Entgroup (in Chinese) found that British dramas were catching on among China’s wealthy and well-educated youth. While virtually unknown on the Chinese Internet a few years ago, British dramas now account for more than 9% of foreign TV discussion across Chinese social media sites, compared to around 28% for Korean soap operas, according to the study.

On websites that cater more exclusively to white collar workers and college students, the number for British shows jumps to more than 13%, versus less than 1% for Korean soaps, according to the Entgroup report, which found that more than half of those who followed British dramas held at least a bachelor’s degree.

That puts British shows at the top an increasingly snobbish pop-cultural hierarchy in China — described by local media as the “disdain chain.” (鄙视链 in Chinese) – in which British drama fans look down on fans of American shows, who themselves look down on Korean soap fans, who in turn look down on fans of domestic dramas.

Hit British dramas like “Dowtown Abbey” have been widely embraced by Chinese audiences, both through the country’s state broadcaster and pirated videos online, and are expected to have 160 million online followers in China in the next two to three years, according to Entgroup.

Chinese video sites have noticed the trend: After Sohu.com Inc. launched the first dedicated British drama channel in China last year, Youku Tudou Inc. followed in April and Tencent Holdings in June.

Tencent and Youku Tudou Inc. are vying with each other to sign exclusive deals with the likes of BBC Worldwide and Fremantle Media to stream the shows. Currently, Tencent has the exclusive rights to 13 shows with a total of 500 episodes. Youku Tudou Inc is licensed to stream 32 shows and 200 episodes, with exclusive rights to nine new titles and as well as hit shows “Sherlock,” “Downton Abbey” and “Black Mirror,” according to company statement.

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