Although the concept of reality television wasn’t introduced in China until about a decade ago, it has become the most popular genre on TV. In the fourth quarter of this year alone, 20 new reality shows will make their debut. Audiences will have even more to choose from next year, with Xinmin Evening News reporting that at least 200 reality series are scheduled to launch, up from 90 this year.
It has also become fertile ground for foreign TV firms looking to collect royalties in the fast-growing China market. For example, since October, a Chinese version of the reality competition Amazing Race (a format originally aired on American channel CBS) has been shown on Shenzhen Satellite Network, while Dragon Satellite TV in Shanghai has bought the rights to reproduce 2 Days & 1 Night from South Korean network KBS (for more, see the next story).
Meanwhile, another reality format based on a foreign show is dominating the ratings. Running Man, which first screened on South Korean network SBS, has made its way to China. It’s broadcast on Zhejiang Satellite TV and has done well during primetime on Fridays, as well as collecting an additional 40 million views on online video site LeTV.
The show features a group of celebrities, including Deng Chao and Angelababy (see WiC29), who race to complete various missions and win the competition. Audiences say it is entertaining to watch since the stars reveal another side of their personalities. For instance, viewers claim to be surprised to discover that Angelababy is “down-to-earth”. In one episode the model-turned-actress wrestles another star, and in some scenes is seen make-up free. “Not only is Angelababy unpretentious, she is also very strong. I’m in love,” one (likely male) netizen gushed.
“Whether making fools of themselves or making audiences laugh, the celebrities have really embraced the challenges. It allows the audience to put together the ‘true personality’ of the stars. And that’s the real charm of what makes for great reality TV,” says Wen Hui Daily.
The success of Running Man is another triumph for South Korea’s entertainment industry. In addition to romantic dramas like My Love Who Came From the Stars, Seoul has also been exporting its reality TV hits. But while Hunan Satellite TV’s Dad, Where are We Going, as well as I’m a Singer, were both local adaptations of popular South Korean programmes, SBS is actually co-producing Running Man with Zhejiang Satellite TV. Previously, satellite networks have paid royalties and then adapted the show for the Chinese audience. Instead of taking a straight fee, SBS hopes that forming partnerships with the domestic networks will increase its profits in China.
SBS is deeply involved in the production process of China’s Running Man. Some of the show take is set in Seoul (one of the challenges takes place inside the SBS studio). And one of the hosts in the original series also makes a guest appearance in the premiere of the Chinese show.
According to the Beijing Times, many of the original Korean crew flew in to help film the Chinese version too.
“The collaboration with SBS is the largest project this year. They want to make even bigger commercial returns from China,” admits Yu Hangying, a producer at Zhejiang Satellite TV. “So unlike other reality TV concepts, this one has the full participation of the South Korean team. They were not only heavily involved in the filming of the episodes, they were even in charge of the post-production. For instance, the premiere of the Chinese show was even edited by the director of the original Running Man.”
Hong Kong magazine New Monday says the pay off for SBS could be terrific. It reckons that the show has already brought in over Rmb400 million ($65.4 million) in advertising revenue.
But despite the positive reviews, Running Man’s ratings have yet to match The Voice of China, a singing competition that recently concluded on Zhejiang Satellite TV (see WiC256). Xinmin Evening News says it could be a sign that Chinese audiences are having trouble “digesting reality TV galore”.
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