CBI News Wrap: Coronavirus Updates, Short-Video Moves

“Enter the Fat Dragon” is the second major studio film to go straight to streaming

News From China

The closure of a growing number of public venues as a result of the coronavirus outbreak have left television and the internet as the main entertainment outlets for many Chinese who have been on extended vacation. While the grim circumstances would seem to offer an opportunity to grow audiences, there’s a delicate balance involved amid the heightened scrutiny of content from authorities. Satellite networks have been ordered to increase their reporting of virus control efforts while cutting back on entertainment programs. Broadcasts of several variety shows scheduled during the Spring Festival have been cancelled, including Hunan TV’s hit celebrity talent show “Happy Camp” (快乐大本营) and Zhejiang TV’s star-studded game show “Trump Card” (王牌对王牌, aka “Ace vs. Ace”). And while the order doesn’t directly cover video streaming services, they may also feel the pressure to downplay new offerings. Actors Dilraba and Vengo Gao have faced criticism for using Weibo to promote Tencent Video’s fantasy drama “Eternal Love of Dream” (三生三世枕上书), a much-anticipated sequel to a 2017 series. “Under the Power” (锦衣之下) another major IP production, has taken a lower-key approach to publicity by posting only short teasers and behind-the-scenes clips.

Among online platforms, more short video apps are gaining traction. While Bytedance’s Douyin leads the market with its 400 million daily active users, Xigua Video (also owned by Bytedance), Tencent’s Weishi, Kuaishou and its Fast Edition have surged to the top of app store downloads, thanks in part to creative user content showing how housebound citizens are are spending their extended vacation days. State broadcaster CCTV’s new app has also seen a surprising spike in interest, thanks in part to its livestream of the breakneck-paced construction of two new hospitals in Wuhan, which drew 12 million views on January 28.

While it’s too soon to say which short-video platforms will emerge as the long-term winners, Bytedance’s Douyin appears to lead as a source of information on the outbreak through its “Fight Coronavirus” page, which includes live updates and expert analysis and advice. Bytedance is also continuing its expansion into streaming longer content with the addition of another 13 theatrical films from Huanxi Media across its platforms, following a groundbreaking deal with the studio that brought the major Lunar New Year release “Lost in Russia” to viewers for free after all theatrical releases were cancelled last month.

Among the many Spring Festival gala shows broadcast this year, Dragon TV’s program won accolades for its last-minute changes to incorporate content on the coronavirus, including a poetry recital to express appreciation for front-line workers in Wuhan, a poverty-alleviation drive, sketch comedy with Shanghai police, and interviews with ordinary people sharing their stories of heroism.

A report on brand integrations on Hunan Television shows during 2019 highlights five noteworthy partnerships:

  • E-commerce platform Vipshop’s sponsored the romance reality show “My Little One” (我家那闺女), which used emotional appeal to establish a connection with the target audience of urban youth, spurring 438 million online discussions and drawing approval from mainstream media for promoting positive social values. Vipshop’s integration real-life scenarios portrayed consumers’ shopping needs and coincided with a 450% increase in sales for Vipshop’s top brands and a 73% increase in traffic for the Vipshop app.
  • Celebrity reality show “Back to Field” (向往的生活) strengthened the connection between sponsor Mengniu’s Milk Deluxe brand (特仑苏) and the audience by integrating the brand’s core value, “natural is better,” with serene country settings and memorable scenes on the show, thus appealing to the viewers’ desires to get away from it all.
  • In August 2019, Hunan Television partnered with major auto brands to broadcast its first-ever “Global Auto Show.” The “car culture”-themed event included interactive sessions that encouraged viewers to use the auto brands’ apps to win cash prizes (drawing 70 million unique visitors) and can serve as a model for future globally-oriented marketing campaigns.
  • The McDonald’s musical collaboration with the singing competition “Super Vocal” (声入人心) deployed a custom song “yē yé yě yè ”(椰味四重唱) featuring four of the show’s popular contestants to promote a “quartet” of coconut-flavored products, thus aligning the musical elements of the show with the McDonald’s brand. The video was shared on traditional media channels as well as on short-video platforms and Weibo to maximize its reach, and is a good example of how brands can use high-quality content to build brand equity.
  • The cultural variety show “The Magic of Chinese Characters” (神奇的汉字) was sponsored by educational app Homework Help and included special sessions featuring teachers from the company aimed at boosting credibility and gaining viewers’ trust. In addition, the study app dispatched high-achieving users to compete on the variety show, generating additional interest and improving the brand’s reputation. A joint mini-program launched by Hunan TV and Homework Help drew 330,000 unique visitors and 2.39 million page views over the course of four months.

Older celebrities are taking to China’s short-video platforms. The “second generation” of short-video stars consists mainly of comedy performers creating following types of content:

  • Videos playing on current viral memes. These can bring higher click rates but may not stand out from the crowd.
  • Vlogs that can give audiences fresh insights into their daily lives.
  • Original videos that tie into what they’re best known for, such as sketch comedy, which may have the greatest appeal for viewers.

The First International Film Festival, held annually in Xining, has emerged as a major source of new and groundbreaking Chinese films, and it is also becoming an important platform for brands seeking to integrate with high-quality creative content. At last year’s festival, sponsor Mini screened several films that it funded, in addition to providing transportation services for guests. First has also partnered with brands to launch short film programs such as Ant Financial’s young director series and Huawei’s “Future Film” campaign, which included vertical video.

News in English

  • Bona Film Group became the second studio to cancel a theatrical release and go straight to streaming. “Enter the Fat Dragon” (肥龍過江), an action comedy originally slated to hit theaters on February 16, was instead released on iQiyi and Tencent Video on February 1. Hollywood Reporter
  • Public relations executives in Asia share advice on how brands should manage communications during the coronavirus epidemic. Campaign Asia 
  • Tesla is using livestreaming on Douyin to connect with consumers who are stuck at home and can’t visit the automaker’s showrooms. Teslarati
  • Tencent streamed the Super Bowl in China, minus the all-important commercials, however. Forbes 
  • A look at Hennessy’s creative collaboration with artist Zhang Huan on a Lunar New Year campaign that included special bottle designs and a monumental work of art. SCMP

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