China's young lap up budget Web comedy
THEY are low-budget productions, have no stars and are typically adapted from online novels. Yet, they are massively popular with young people.
Go Princess Go, a small-budget online series without a star cast, has become a hit among young Chinese viewers since it was broadcast on a streaming website last month, with daily views crossing more than 10 million.
The ongoing original series made by LeTV, one of China's biggest online video companies, has been watched some 1.5 billion times as of Tuesday, ushering a new era for original programming by such companies.
Adapted from an online novel, the 35-episode series is a comedy about how a modern playboy accidentally time-travels to a fictional dynasty and unexpectedly turns into a crown princess and then an Empress Dowager.
The series, which broadcasts one episode a day, has yet to conclude. The final episode will be released online tomorrow.
The series has been described as "addictive" by netizens because once viewers see an episode - about 20 to 30 minutes in length, they invariably start following the series.
The settings, props and costumes are so different from TV costume dramas that they have become hot topics for discussion on social media.
Data on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, shows that as of Tuesday, discussions on the series had attracted more than two billion clicks.
"It's very funny and light-hearted. All the actors are handsome. Many of my friends and classmates are fans.
"I would pay to watch it," said Feng Shanshan, 21, a student in Beijing.
Ms Feng said her enjoyment also comes from sending out messages while watching the show online. She feels that she can share comments with viewers across the country about the funny bits.
The series is so popular that many of its viewers, who are college students, complain online that it distracts them from their studies.
The rating of Go Princess Go on film-review website Douban is much higher than another popular series, Legend Of Miyue, which features well-known directors and popular stars.
Despite Go's huge popularity online, Jin Bo, a commentator, said on his WeChat account that it is a "lousy drama series because of its weak plot".
He noted that the series tries its best to cater to the "low-brow tastes" of its young audience, a common phenomenon in film and TV circles.
The costumes for the series that have sparked discussions online are usually designed by the director based on Western collections launched in the capitals of world fashion.
The brands include KTZ, Valentino, Jean Paul Gaultier and John Galliano.
"It's a series targeting those born in the 1990s and later. We did a lot of research and wove fresh and fashionable elements into it to appeal to the youth," said Gan Wei, executive producer of Go Princess Go.
The actors and actresses are also young. The lead actor is 24 and the actress is 26.
Ms Gan added that the huge popularity of the show among teenagers, college students and even office workers was beyond her expectations.
She said the total investment in the series is about 20 million yuan (S$4 million). It is not a big budget when compared with rival shows.
The budget for one episode of the Lost Tomb, a popular series made by streaming website iQiyi, could be six million yuan, said Li Li, vice-president of LeTV.com.
Said Li: "The popularity of Go Princess Go makes it a good time for original series made by streaming media. Next year, there will be more of this."
Before Go Princess Go, major streaming media in China were already investing a lot in original shows. Among those that achieved success were Diors Man (a comedy about a "loser's" daily life) and Lost Tomb (about tomb raiders).
The latter, which starred young actors, got about 2.8 billion clicks after it went online in July.
Li said the popularity of original series made by streaming companies did not happen overnight. Instead, it is a trend with roots in the growing years of the Internet as evident from the fan base of such programmes. The majority of such fans were born in the Internet era and are used to doing everything online.
"For them, the line between reality and the virtual is blurred. They love to chat and share views with others online," Li explained of fans' infatuation with Go Princess Go.
CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK