China’s reality TV sector is heavily reliant on brand sponsors for funding. But advertiser spending is slowing down amid a broader slowdown in the economy, meaning popular series such as “Go Fighting!” (极限挑战) and “Keep Running” (奔跑吧) have seen the fees they can command for titles sponsors halved from RMB 400 million ($56.2 million) two years ago to RMB 200 million ($28.1 million) for the latest season.
Big talent competitions and star-studded reality shows are expensive to produce, with these costs are passed on to sponsors who have to compete with other brands for airtime (counted in seconds). Meanwhile, brands and producers risk alienating viewers with heavy-handed or awkward product placements.
Brands may see better outcomes through the customized production of smaller-scale shows that allow a brand to be deeply tied into the purpose of the series from its inception. One recent example of this was “The Truth! Everything” ( 真相吧！花花万物), which ventured into celebrity homes to find used goods to be auctioned on Alibaba-owned Idle Fish’s resale platform. Another, “Building Your Life” (头号型动派) from Amway supplement line Nutrilite, was a celebrity fitness challenge emphasizing healthy living.
This week, we’re looking at house-hunting app Beike’s recent efforts — which involve not one, but two branded shows — as examples of this trend in action. “New Life” (你好新家) premiered on Beijing Satellite TV and iQiyi on August 14, while “Good House Help” (好房帮帮忙) launched on Dragon TV and Youku on July 9.
Premise: Beike offers a mobile platform to connect house-seekers with professional brokers and provides virtual home tours through its app. A relatively new company, founded less than 18 months ago by established property firm Lianjia, Beike has sought to make inroads in a market dominated by an established player, Fang.com. Beike previously sponsored shows unrelated to its business, including “Birth of an Actor” (演员的诞生) and “Viva La Romance” (妻子的浪漫旅行) to boost brand awareness, but these could only provide a general introduction to the company and its product.
Implementation: Both “New Life” and “Good House Help” were inspired by a South Korean reality show in which teams of celebrities competed to get house-hunters to choose a property they had selected. While “Good House Help” stuck more closely to that format, the creators of “New Life” sought to boost the association between Beike’s brand and professionalism by having celebrities serve as interns to licensed real estate agents. This change also allows viewers to more fully experience the process of looking for a home using Beike.
The use of popular celebrities adds to the entertainment value of the two series and is in line with the current trend in Chinese television for celebrity guests to provide studio commentary on filmed action that takes place elsewhere. The series also takes on an educational aspect to inform consumers of factors they should consider when searching for a property, and an especially popular topic focused on considerations for female property buyers in particular.
Creating a branded reality show avoids the dilemma faced by brands and producers of traditional reality programming of balancing content and brand placement. Since the branded series is fully sponsored by a single brand, it can focus more deeply on the brand’s offerings. “New Life,” for example, was able to highlight 20 different product features of the Beike house-hunting app.
Results: The second episode of “New Life” ranked third in that week’s ratings for non-scripted television, and first among reality shows airing concurrently on television and streaming. The show continues to rank comfortably in the top ten, a rare success for a small-scale reality show. The discussion of women and property buying in the second episode went viral, and saw posts about the show garner more than 100 million views on Weibo.
In an interesting twist, “Good House Help,” which more closely resembles the South Korean hit series that inspired both shows, did not rank as highly but has maintained steady ratings and positive social media discussions due to the compelling real-life client stories.
Functions of the Beike app that were highlighted on particular episodes also saw a marked increase in use following the airing of the episodes that introduced the features.
The production company behind “New Life” is reportedly planning to create more custom shows on subjects such as housekeeping, social e-commerce, and used car sales.