Rockets at the ready

Tencent’s latest hit TV show sees its girl band go on world endurance trek


Next stop, the Carpathian Mountains and the Sahara Desert: the Rocket Girls in their more usual métier

Back in 2017, E!, the cable network owned by NBCUniversal, inked a three-year contract with the Kardashian-Jenner family to keep the world’s most famous reality show going for five more seasons. The deal for Keeping Up With the Kardashians, which lasts through 2020, sees the family take home as much as $50 million a year.

The sum is substantial but E!, like most of cable networks, has been suffering from ratings declines for many of its other programmes. That’s given the Kardashians more negotiating clout, despite the series entering its sixteenth season.

Over in China Tencent has a different strategy for ringfencing its ratings. The internet giant is counting on its pop group Rocket Girls to give its online video platform a boost. The girl group, launched from Tencent’s talent show Produce 101 (see WiC416), is heading up a new adventure series called Rampage 20. The show, which started airing in January, follows the group of 20-somethings (hence the name) as they travel from the Sahara Desert to the Carpathian Mountains, “environments that are the least suitable for humans to live in,” the show advises.

Should viewers brace themselves for the occasional fatality in the format, then? Probably not: what Rampage 20 wants to show, Tencent says, is how the girls work together as a team and give the fans a glimpse of what they are like beyond the traditional spotlight.

More important, says director Xie Dikui, is that the stars want to inspire people to live fearlessly, “as if they are in their 20s”.

The intrepid group marches through snowstorms and survives sunstroke. Still, for these pop millennials nothing proves as painful as not getting any signal for their smartphones and missing the chance to to do their makeup because of the harsh conditions.

Tears came more easily to some than others. Yang Chaoyue (see WiC416), one of the most controversial contestants on Produce 101, sobbed her way through part of the first episode because she couldn’t stand the food on offer after a long flight from Beijing to Tunisia.

After pushing away a plate of half-eaten grilled tuna, the Jiangsu-native complained: “I need rice. I feel sick. I need chilli sauce. I want to go home. I can’t survive the desert.”

Despite its high-minded ideals, many fans tune in for the bickering between the girls, especially as fatigue and hunger starts to kick in.

“Without a doubt, Rampage 20 has enriched our understanding of the girls. What we see is they argue, they fight; but they persist and they are fearless. The show is a mirror, it shows what the girls are like without the celebrity halo, but it also reminds audiences what life is like when they were in their 20s,” says Entertainment Unicorn, a showbiz blog.

Other viewers were complimentary too:“The girls really did not disappoint. They showed unity even when it was getting too difficult to walk in the desert. Through their hard work and encouragement, they were able to overcome all the challenges. This is a show that reminds us of the beauty of youth: when we are still young and energetic, why can’t we pursue our dreams and face the challenges head-on?”

Xie, the director, says that this is what the series wanted to promote. “Many young people have the desire for adventures but they are hesitant and scared to take the leap. These girls bear all the features of the younger generations of Chinese,” he told the China Daily.

The Rocket Girls are an important part of Tencent’s video streaming strategy by converting the group’s fanbase into paid subscribers (they get to see episodes that are yet to go on wider release). But not everyone thinks these newer subscribers will stick around. “Most of the fans are coming for the girls. They may subscribe for a month or two. But when the programme ends they will stop their subscriptions. Whether or not they can retain these audiences will be an important factor for Tencent’s profits,” says Get Fun, a Chinese entertainment blog.

Of course the solution to that problem will be blindingly obvious to Tencent’s management: more formats featuring the Rocket Girls. Perhaps next time they should be blasted in the rockets they are named after into outer space. That might even get an audience beyond China…


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