Before the new year, we reviewed some of the top trends in brand integration in China over the course of 2019, and now it’s time to look ahead to what we think will be key drivers influencing the merger between content and commerce in the coming year and beyond. Key trends from 2019 such as short video, e-commerce livestreaming, brand collaborations, and offline experiences show no sign of abating, though they are sure to undergo further transformations as China’s biggest tech companies compete and cooperate with upstart players and expand on their abilities to commercialize content.
1. 5G and interactive content
China’s technology giants are already leading the world in the integration of content and commerce, and this area is poised to take another leap forward with the widespread adoption of fifth-generation cellular networks. The rollout began on November 1, 2019, and China will soon have the world’s largest 5G network, with 110 million users forecast by the end of this year, representing seven percent of the population.
Dramatically higher-speed 5G mobile internet will enable the rapid development of interactive content, livestreaming, augmented reality and virtual reality, along with the seamless integration of e-commerce features. Brands and content producers will be required to innovate to make the most of the new opportunities to connect with consumers under 5G.
2. E-commerce entertainment
IQiyi’s latest hit reality series “Fourtry” (潮流合伙人) sees celebrities operating a trendy, streetwear-oriented boutique in Tokyo and represents the next wave of entertainment-fueled consumerism. It boasted the most major sponsors for an online reality show in 2019 with 11, and are they are featured prominently: The cast uses title sponsor Vivo’s X30 phones to snap the photos they share with their huge social media followings, their modern urban dwelling is furnished entirely by Ikea, and a boxy Mazda truck hauls them around and becomes the butt of many friendly jokes. Dozens of fashion brands are highlighted through their placement in the store, with special text effects added to note the names of products, which may be purchased via sponsor Aomygod’s app.
While several reality shows with an e-commerce angle have aired over the past few years, they will appear far more regularly this year, especially on video streaming platforms. At least 15 such shows have been announced to date, including Tencent Video’s streetwear-oriented “Generational Gravity”（我们的浪潮） and “Secret Garden” (女人的秘密花园), a competition for rural livestreaming hosts on Jiangxi Satellite TV.
The spread of 5G will encourage the inclusion of additional interactive elements on e-commerce shows. With “Fourtry,” iQiyi has already begun experimenting by using features such as branching plots, AR and VR capabilities, and “see now, buy now” technology, as well as offline experiences such as pop-up shops in Shanghai and the creation of limited-edition designer collaborations tied to the show.
3. Branded shows
Brands may also seek out a leading role by developing entertainment content that revolves around core products. The trend has started to gain ground over the past year with efforts such as the Airbnb-sponsored “Adventure Life,” real estate app Beike’s “New Life” (你好新家) and Didi Chuxing’s “Let’s Go, Driver!” (出发吧, 师傅). Each of these series highlights how brands work with different production processes to integrate their content into the core of a series. In Airbnb’s case, the brand worked closely with Tencent Video embed itself into the existing IP “Adventure Life” for its second season, while Beike worked with a production company that had developed the concept of a house-hunting show with celebrity participation and shopped it around to various real-estate companies. Didi has taken another route, establishing its own media company to become actively involved in the production process from start to finish.
Major tech companies may also use content to promote their own offerings, as was the case with “The Truth! Everything” ( 真相吧！花花万物) which airs on Youku. Alibaba, the streaming service’s parent, used the second season of the show to promote Idle Fish, the secondhand goods platform that it also owns.
4. Celebrity incubation
In addition to creating shows and other content to promote their offerings across the internet ecosystem, streaming platforms are becoming more actively involved in the incubation of idols and celebrities who can appeal to brands as spokespersons and ambassadors, establishing their own talent agencies to manage their business.
Actors and other celebrities with links to particular tech companies will not only star in their original series, where they can be seen to promote brands they are linked with offline as well, but may also engage in the creation of short videos, vlogs, livestreams, and exclusive interviews that can appeal to fans and provide a vastly expanded presence for brands.
Major players such as Tencent and iQiyi are also investing heavily in the creation of virtual idols, which are still largely seen as a niche concept that appeals primarily to the anime-comics-games community, but with clear potential for expansion.