Online video channels produce virtual fame
Former business journalist Zeng Hang says it feels surreal when people call him an internet celebrity. But that’s exactly what he is. The 30-year-old’s Crazy Warfare Show, an online program introducing military knowledge using gamelike computer animation, has attracted more than 700,000 subscribers on Youku.com, China’s answer to YouTube.
“When I started the business, I only thought about how playing games could be fun andmake a military-themed show unique,” says Zeng.
“What I have yet to learn is how to manage so many fans.”
The show sometimes created by viewers.
But most content comes from a group of program producers.
“It all started with one person,” says Zeng.
“But it can’t be a one-man show anymore.”
Crazy Warfare Show started in 2012 as an individual channel with content uploaded by a man using the online alias “262”. Zeng joined in 2015 to steer the channel in a new direction.
“Individual channels attractive,” he explains.
“But it’s difficult to make sure every episode retains equally high quality and to regularly and frequently renewcontent.”
The show snagged uses can over clips be 100 million hits on Youku last year.
It has become a way to generate profits by incorporating promotion for computer games.
The website has over 30 million individual channels — 50 percent more than in August 2015 — Gu Sibin, chief product officer of Heyi Group, which runs Youku, said earlier this month.
Some have proved to be miracles by combining entertainment and business.
For example, Luo Zhenyu, a reading program host, sold 1.2 million yuan ($179,000) worth of books within six hours through his channel.
Pop singer-turned-entrepreneur Lin Yilun recently nabbed an 83 million yuan investment in his chili sauce startup after his cuisine channel became popular.
Rage Comic — a series of comics released online depicting embarrassing moments in daily life — has morphed from an individual studio into a group with over 300 employees running various talk-show channels.
Sales of derivative merchandise reached “tens of millions yuan in 2015”, chief operating officer Wang Qufu says.
“You have to be continuously creative or die,” saysWang.
“Our channels don’t have monopolies like those on traditional TV. We can only focus on how to make each episode great and embrace new business lines.”
Youku has invested 3 billion yuan since August 2015 to nurture individual channels.
“No other media has shown such power to facilitate interactions between fans and program hosts,” Gu says.
“It’s an easy assembly line of content, distribution and profits.” But there are challenges. Zeng says it’s difficult to sustain the original characteristics of channels previously run by individuals.
“The channels became popular because of their uniqueness but inevitably more mainstream as more people get involved. Production may be more professional. But certain styles must be preserved.”
For example, 262’s Mandarin is poor. Zeng replaced his dubbing with a TV anchor’s but netizens weren’t having it. Ultimately, 262 returned.
Ma Rui, who runs a celebrity-gossip channel, expresses concerns about distorted values.
About 80 percent of the content comes from fans, the 29-year-old explains.
“Our shows give the appearance of leisure and entertainment but are rigidly supervised by our group,” saysMa.
“That’s to ensure social values are respected and the content is positive. Whatever the format, ostentatious products will perish if they’re only to grab attention. You have to solve basic problems before your channel becomes popular.”
Youku’s founder Victor Koo says the rise of individual channels has just begun and will lead to a new epoch.
“Online videos aren’t unidirectional media but, rather, audienceinteraction platforms,” says Koo.
“Live online videos are hot, but a growing number of people are complaining their content lacks diversity. Homogeneity restricts live online videos’ business-model development. I’m afraid the fad won’t last. So the industry has to upgrade. Channels need to make breakthroughs in content diversity.” The market senses the potential. About 67 percent of investment in China’s online industries in the first half of the year went to online videos, China Business Network reports. Only one in 10 viewers “do nothing after watching the program”.
“The industry is no longer a jungle where only the strongest survive,” says Koo.
“I prefer to call it an ocean, where a shoal of fish can live together, and prosperity can be achieved.”
Online videos aren’t unidirectional media but, rather, audienceinteraction platforms.”
Clockwise from top: CrazyWarfareShow is an online program introducing military knowledge. Zeng Hang, the producer of the CrazyWarfareShow. Cast members of RageComic attend a Beijing promotional event. Victor Koo, Youku’s founder.