Finding its voice

Record broken for ad spend on latest season of hit singing show

Voice w

The winner: Zhang Bichen now earns appearances fees of Rmb320,000

Before the premiere of The Voice Season 7, arguably the most popular singing competition in the United States, one of its judges told the press that he was worried that the job would cost him musical credibility. But now Adam Levine, the lead singer of Maroon 5, reckons that the role has had a beneficial effect. “It helped people understand who we were as a band,” he explained. It helped sales too. Maroon 5’s latest album jumped to number one on the Billboard chart when it was released early this month.

The four judges on The Voice of China, which is based on the same format, have also received a boost to their own musical careers. Last week Zhengzhou Daily reported that the four coaches – all well-known singers in China – have seen their endorsement and appearance fees soar after the third season of the competition concluded to strong audience ratings. Since the latest season began airing on Zhejiang Satellite Network in July, The Voice of China has topped the ratings every Friday night. And the finale, which was televised last week, took the show’s popularity to a new high, with one in every five people in China watching the broadcast, breaking the previous record. Tencent, which purchased the online broadcasting rights, has also accumulated 4 billion views for the show so far.

Coaches like Na Ying and Wang Feng are major beneficiaries, charging Rmb1 million ($160,000) for personal appearances. Similarly, the latest winner of the show Zhang Bichen now commands a one-time fee of Rmb320,000. Runner-up Perhat Khali from Xinjiang (see WiC250) is also charging Rmb250,000.

Small wonder then that advertisers regard the reality singing contest as an important platform for getting consumers’ attention. This season also set a new record for the most expensive advertising slot in Chinese television, when domestic cosmetics label Zhimeicun (ZMC) paid Rmb10.7 million for a 60-second commercial during the broadcast. That’s three times the highest bid from last year. (The ad was themed around upcoming model Li Teng preparing to appear on a fictional episide of The Voice.)

Cui Shixin, one of the show’s producers, admits that the franchise has become much more profitable. “The ratings for The Voice of China Season Three have already surpassed the first two seasons so as a result, the number of advertisers who are interested in the show have also gone up. It’s hard to say specifically how much total advertising revenues have gone up, but the negotiation with advertisers has got better year after year,” he told the Southern Metropolis Daily.

Star China Media, which produces the franchise for Zhejiang Satellite TV, is reportedly considering an initial public offering in both Hong Kong and China, says Hong Kong’s Ming Pao Daily.

However, there is a danger that the series is becoming over-commercialised. Many viewers are already complaining that the competition has so many ad breaks and product placements that it is increasingly hard to watch. Others say the producers have lost touch with what made the show so successful in the first place: the emphasis on music. Some even mock that the series should change its name to The Most Lucrative Franchise of China.

“Zhejiang Satellite TV: will you please run fewer ads? At this rate, everyone is going to turn to the internet to watch rather than tuning in on TV,” one netizen complained.

“Here’s what The Voice of China is made of: 2/6 is advertisement; 3/6 is just nonsense trying to drag out the show; and 1/6 is actual singing,” another netizen said.

Analysts say it is understandable that the music often has to take a backseat on the show: “TV networks need high ratings to justify the advertising fees. What generates high ratings is audience enthusiasm and participation. So they have to generate buzz around the show even if it means creating drama so fans will become more devoted. It’s no surprise then that music becomes something of an afterthought,” one critic told the Global Times.

Not that any of this quibbling seems to matter much: The Voice of China is currently so successful that producers say it is likely to run for another 10 years. In fact, they claim that they are working on the next three seasons already…

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