Amer­i­can TV en­ters China’s main­stream

Tele­vi­sion se­ries from the United States have topped the most-watched list and li­censed providers in China are call­ing the trend “an open­ing era”. Xu Junqian ex­plores the scene in Shang­hai.

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

Caro­line Chan­ning was in town. Leonard Hof­s­tadter de­buted in the cap­i­tal. Vam­pire Ste­fan Sal­va­tore was in the spot­light in Shang­hai. These names, or fic­tional char­ac­ters, from US TV se­ries like 2 Broke Girls and The Big Bang The­ory, may not ring a bell for ev­ery­one. But in China, their vis­its in 2013 caused traf­fic jams, large crowds and high-pitched screams at air­ports, ho­tels or wher­ever they ap­peared. They cre­ated such a stir that couch pota­toes have hailed the vis­its “the hey­day ofUS TV in China”.

But be­hind the scenes, the or­ga­niz­ers and li­censed providers of US TV se­ries in China be­lieve it’s just the be­gin­ning, or in their words, “an open­ing era”, de­spite the fact the world’s largest tele­vi­sion au­di­ence has been watch­ing im­ported US TV se­ries for more than three decades, al­most as long as TV sets have been in the coun­try.

In 1980, one year af­ter China and the US es­tab­lished diplo­matic re­la­tions, two se­ries — Man from At­lantis and Gar­ri­son’s Go­ril­las — were in­tro­duced and broad­cast na­tion­wide by the State-owned China Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion sta­tion. (The first pro­duc­tion line of color TV sets in China was in­stalled in Tian­jin in Oc­to­ber, 1980.)

“We de­fine ‘open­ing era’ as a time when a cer­tain thing be­comes a trend,” said Zhang Chaoyang, bet­ter known as Charles Zhang, the founder and chair­man of Sohu. Inc, one of China’s big­gest Web por­tal own­ers and video site oper­a­tors, at a news con­fer­ence in De­cem­ber.

In Septem­ber 2012, the Bei­jing-based site took the ini­tia­tive to buy the li­cense of 31 of the most pop­u­lar US TV se­ries, in­clud­ing Gos­sip Girl, Mod­ern Fam­ily and Nikita, so that Chi­nese au­di­ences can watch the shows at “al­most the same time as their US coun­ter­parts”.

Since then, the site has been in­tro­duc­ing a sub­stan­tial num­ber of over­seas-pro­duced TV shows. Sta­tis­tics from Sohu showed that to date there are about 200 Amer­i­can TV se­ries on the site.

“In the past, the view­ers of US TV se­ries may have ac­counted for less than 10 per­cent of the do­mes­tic shows, but now, shows like The Big Bang The­ory have been on the most-watched top list,” Zhang says.

The sixth sea­son of the US sit­com about four Californian sci­en­tists has been played 755 mil­lion times on the site.

“I think we can call the au­di­ence of US TV se­ries the main­stream now,” he adds.

The web­site failed to de­tail the ages, ed­u­ca­tion back­ground or gen­der of the au­di­ence of the US TV se­ries in China but de­scribes them as “gen­er­ally well-ed­u­cated, well-paid and well-em­ployed”. Ad­ver­tis­ers seem to think highly of these view­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to Lu Naning, sales di­rec­tor of Sohu video, view­ers of US TV se­ries are the most pop­u­lar among high-end clients— like lux­ury brands, cars and high-tech gad­gets.

But Adam Rose­man, the founder and CEO of Fan­sTang, a mar­ket­ing firm that bringsHol­ly­wood celebri­ties to China, says the shows at­tract a cer­tain kind of viewer.

“Most Amer­i­can TV shows have viewer bases that are heav­ily fe­male, with the ex­cep­tion of a few that track heav­ily male,” says the 35-year-old Amer­i­can en­tre­pre­neur.

The for­mer in­vest­ment banker founded the com­pany in early 2012 with a mis­sion to “pro­vide Chi­nese fans Hol­ly­wood at their doorsteps”. The Shang­hai-based com­pany has held more than 50 events fea­tur­ing more than 20 celebri­ties over the past two years, and half of them are ac­tors or ac­tresses from US TV se­ries.

With more Chi­nese on­line video por­tals bid­ding for the le­gal li­cense for US TV shows, Rose­man has seen a con­sid­er­able rise in con­sump­tion ofHol­ly­wood-gen­er­ated con­tent.

“People are go­ing to watch US TV at this point whether or not they are legally li­censed. How­ever, this cre­ates a de­sire among the li­censees in China to pro­mote and fur­ther en­hance the view­er­ship of this con­tent,” he says. Why is that so? A ne­ti­zen nick­named Amos on Zhihu. an­swers the ques­tion sim­ply and bluntly. “We are no fools and can tell what’s good,” he writes, list­ing learn­ing English, broad­en­ing views and ex­cit­ing plots as among the rea­sons the shows are pop­u­lar.

Charles Zhang from Sohu Inc, pro­vides a more clear-cut def­i­ni­tion of “good”.

“The US TV se­ries en­lighten Chi­nese young people, just as Western lit­er­ary works did in the 1980s tome and people of my age with works like Jane Eyre or A Tale of Two Cities,” he says. “It in­spires one to re­flect and per­haps re­shape one’s val­ues.” Con­tact the writer at xujunqian@chi­nadaily.com.cn.

ROBERT VOETS / CBS VIA GETTY IM­AGES

A scene from the pop­u­lar US TV se­ries TheBigBangThe­ory on the CBS Tele­vi­sion Net­work.

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