Media

The smart money

Why a little knowledge is a big business in China

Luo-Zhenyu-w

Ireland’s surprise ambassador

The Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration is probably the most famous in the world. And over the decades a famous broadcast has been made at the party’s scene: Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. The show began in its current format on ABC in 1974, with Dick Clark as the master of ceremonies – though since his death in 2012 the MC role has been occupied by Ryan Seacrest. The programme became such an iconic part of American life, that it even featured as part of the plot in an episode of the 1990s hit comedy Friends.

However, in China this year content of a similarly lively nature was somewhat lacking. Instead as the clock ticked towards 2018, those who opted to stay in front of a TV set were more likely to be watching a live talk show discussing topics like the Chinese economy.

At first glance it may look like just another attempt by the Chinese government to kill off the mood for an “imported festival” (see WiC392 for why it became so political to celebrating December 25 or December 26 this year). Yet it also points to the potential of the so-called “knowledge economy” in China – that is to say, businesses that monetise people’s thirst for more valuable information.

Take Luo Zhenyu. The 44 year-old is not a star because he’s particularly good-looking. Popularly known as Pudgy Luo because of his appearance, his four-hour talk show – about global economic trends and what opportunities they present for young Chinese – was a surprise hit among TV shows on New Year’s Eve.

After quitting his job at state broadcaster CCTV, Luo founded a number of popular new media firms such as Dedao, an app that encourages “lifelong learning with fragmented time”. Dedao invites KOLs (key opinion leaders) to record short speeches or lectures on their favourite topics. Paid subscribers can then listen to the audio lectures when they have time (for instance, when they are driving).

According to Jiemian.com, a recent fundraising round has valued Dedao at “several billion yuan” while Ximalaya FM – a similar online podcast and audio media platform – is now worth more than Rmb10 billion ($1.7 billion).

Ximalaya was also the sponsor of Zhejiang Satellite TV’s rival New Year Eve show, which again switched from the usual singing and dancing format to a more cerebral discussion-based approach. As people counted down to 2018 KOLs such as Gao Xiaosong, a senior executive at Alibaba’s music division, were invited to talk about topics like changes in Chinese culture.

The incredibly erudite Gao is another icon of the “knowledge economy”. A legend in Chinese folk music and a fan of Irish literature, Gao presented Ireland’s tourism board with a surprise coup late last year after he spent four episodes of his popular online show Morning Call introducing Irish culture – devoting time to topics like whiskey and The Cranberries (reportedly Chinese arrivals to the Emerald Isle have jumped as a result).

Gao often uses The Cranberries anthem Zombie as the opening theme for Morning Call. In fact, he is so closely associated with the group that when its lead singer Dolores O’Riordan died last month, thousands of Chinese netizens flocked to Gao’s weibo to pay her tributes.

The potential of “knowledge economy” has also caught the attention of Wang Sicong, the princeling from property giant Wanda Group. Wang got a taste of the potential of this booming sector when he made more than Rmb200,000 by simply answering questions about himself – including details of his sex life – on Fenda, a question and answer app (see WiC328 and also this week’s “World of Weibo” section).

Wang is now trying to monetise the Chinese thirst for knowledge further with a new quiz app called Chongdingdahui, which appears to be inspired by the TV show Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

Chongdingdahui and other rival apps have been offering prize money of between Rmb100,000 and Rmb5 million. These smartphone apps have become a sensation. “People all over China are racking their brains to recall high school knowledge,” Xinhua observed of the quiz apps’ popularity.

A little knowledge, as they say, is a wonderful thing…


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