En­joy en­ter­tain­ment for free, while you can

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By BAI PING

Aquestion for all TV or film buffs: Which stream­ing web­sites are your fa­vorites? There are now quite a num­ber of video sites that vie with each other for view­ers, of­fer­ing us the chance to watch their shows at any time, and any­where.

For con­nois­seurs of hot TV dra­mas, video stream­ing is prob­a­bly the best thing that has hap­pened in years, be­cause it al­lows them to binge onMad orHouse

or any other shows with com­mer­cial breaks slightly longer than one minute be­tween episodes — a welcome break for many to stand up, stretch their legs or just rest their eyes for a while.

For those into film, the choice is also var­ied, with sites charg­ing around 4 to 5 yuan (65 to 81 cents) per ti­tle for newre­leases. View­ers who don’t want to pay can check out hun­dreds of old films at no cost. And brows­ing to find a film you ac­tu­ally want to watch, while not easy, is also pos­si­ble.

I hes­i­tate to men­tion the names ofmy fa­vorite video sites, but I do like a cou­ple of Chi­nese providers who make it easy for me to find a good, free film from their ar­chives, while keep­ing me abreast of pop­u­lar TV shows.

Most im­por­tantly, they en­ter­tain me on the move.

Over the past month I have trav­eled regularly by high-speed train and I’ve man­aged to con­sume the fi­nal sea­son ofMadMen, and the first sea­son of the Ama­zon se­ries

It’s a de­light to be spared advertising when you watch down­loads, mak­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence all-the-more in­tense, al­low­ing even long rides to fly by as you lose your­self in sto­ry­lines.

Around me, I sawthat oth­ers too were watch­ing shows, on lap­tops likeme and por­ta­ble media de­vices like smart­phones and tablets.

I was not sure how many were fel­low non-pay­ers, but I was con­fi­dent I was not alone.

Sur­veys have shown that fewer than 30 per­cent of Chi­nese stream­ing view­ers, who now to­tal hun­dreds of mil­lions, are will­ing to pay for shows on their de­vice, with most pre­fer­ring en­ter­tain­ment that costs noth­ing as they are sup­ported by advertising.

I of­ten won­der why we are happy to down sev­eral beers at 5 yuan each on a train ride, while scrimp­ing on rel­a­tively new­films for the same money.

It could have some­thing to do with the mod­ern Chi­nese psy­che that in­for­ma­tion on the In­ter­net should be free. Sev­eral first-gen­er­a­tion Chi­nese In­ter­net sites have achieved ame­te­oric rise by lift­ing tra­di­tional media con­tent at dirt cheap prices or even for free.

View­ers have also ben­e­fited from grow­ing com­pe­ti­tion among sites, some of which have spent bil­lions of dol­lars ac­quir­ing con­tent. While some sites push for sub­scrip­tion or pay-per-view­mod­els, there are al­ways oth­ers that want to cap­ture larger mar­ket shares by of­fer­ing free con­tent.

And fewsites have ever pro­duced good, orig­i­nal con­tent likeNet­flix to make their prod­ucts unique and sus­tain­able.

The re­cent claims by some video site own­ers that they’ll charge for do­mes­tic tele­vi­sion shows have only at­tracted scorn from crit­ics, who con­sider such plans a “joke”.

Last week, the e-com­merce gi­ant Alibaba said it wanted to be­come China’s HBO and Net­flix and to “re­de­fine en­ter­tain­ment” by buy­ing con­tent from pro­duc­tion houses at home and over­seas.

It will cre­ate its own pro­duc­tions too, such as movies, pro­vided on a sub­scrip­tion-based plat­form, with 90 per­cent of its con­tent only avail­able to view­ers who pay.

Per­haps Alibaba with its deep pock­ets and­mav­er­ick boss will be the game changer in the in­creas­ingly com­pet­i­tive video stream­ing sec­tor.

Maybe it will soon con­vertme and the mil­lions of other “free riders” who have so far avoided pay­ing for good en­ter­tain­ment, if we are con­vinced the In­ter­net is no longer the place to find some­thing for noth­ing. Con­tact the writer at dr.baip­ing@hot­mail.com

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