Flagging franchises?

Top shows on Hunan’s streaming site Mango TV sag in their second seasons

Wang Ou-w

Wang Ou: stars in the second season of Sisters Who Make Waves

When the first season of Sisters Who Make Waves appeared on Mango TV last summer, it grabbed national attention (see WiC500).

Unlike other reality TV competitions featuring teens and twenty-somethings, Sisters showcased 30 women over the age of 30 as they battled for seven spots in an all-female pop band.

The first season accumulated over 5.1 billion views, helping to boost revenues at Mango Excellent Media, the Shenzhen-listed firm that operates the online streaming unit, by 12% last year. Net profit increased a whopping 70%, almost touching Rmb2 billion. Impressed by Mango TV’s track record, e-commerce giant Alibaba was reported to have forked out Rmb6.2 billion for a 5.3% stake in the streaming giant last November (see WiC520).

So it was something of a no-brainer that the network would bring the show back for a second season in late January.

Yet the reaction has been disappointing, with the franchise receiving a decidedly muted reception. While there has been no shortage of comment on social media about feuding between teammates including Hong Kong singer Joey Yung, actress Chen Xiaoyun and Taiwanese performer Rainie Yang, the viewing numbers for the second series have dropped markedly.

The total number of views for the season openers of Sisters were similar, hovering around 120 million views. But as the second season progressed it started to lag behind in numbers. The third episode had 68 million views, compared with 100 million views in the first series. The most recent episode – the eighth – scored just 27 million, compared with 77 million for the same episode last year.

It was probably inevitable that the second instalment of Sisters was never going to catch the national mood in quite the same way as the original. Shine! Super Brothers, an attempt to tap into the format’s success with a male-centric version, was widely panned when it was streamed on Youku and Dragon TV in December last year. And while Sisters 2 has fared much better, it has still failed to trigger the same respponse as its predecessor.

“Unlike the first season, which dominated social media for the entire summer, setting off a surge in discussion of topics surrounding female empowerment, conversation surrounding Sisters Who Make Waves 2 is so quiet,” commented Entertainment Unicorn, an industry blog.

“If the first season was about forging a new career path for women over 30, levelling the playing field against younger idols, the second season is about what happens when the party is over and all the glitz and glamour has gone.”

What’s interesting is that the second season boasts a stronger cast than the first. In addition to A-listers like Yung and Chen, household names like Na Ying, Zhou Bichang and Wang Ou are also contestants. But fans of the show have been a lot more discerning in watching how the contestants prove their worth, with many saying that they have tuned out because they were underwhelmed by the performances on offer.

Although producers have tried to spice up the format with new rules, audiences haven’t really responded.

“When the first season came out, the show was a brand new concept: for the first time in programming history, a group of women over 30 were gathered together. It piqued the interest of the audience. But there’s no innovation in the second season. The competition rules were updated but they are of very little significance,” Entertainment Industry, another blog, lamented.

Mango TV was counting on the series to be a similar commercial hit. According to the streaming platform’s mid-year financial report, as many as 40 brands advertised on Sisters 1, setting a record for variety programming over the last two years. Advertisers have been more cautious this year, however, and the contestants haven’t been landing as many endorsement deals either.

Actress Ning Jing, 48, was one of the big winners from the first season, winning deals with seven brands including luxury skincare marque LaMer, L’Oreal as well as Samsung when the season ended. Only a handful of the cast have signed new endorsement deals this time around.

“Contestants in the second season received about a tenth of the endorsement offers of the women in the first season. A lot of the brands weren’t as high quality or as well-known either. Worse, a lot of the sisters didn’t sign any endorsement deals at all,” Jingxiang Entertainment noted.

Producers at Mango TV are also having to deal with another ratings disappointment – this time for the second season of the reality series My Dearest Ladies, which premiered on the platform last month.

The show, which follows the dynamic between four celebrity couples and their mothers-in-law, was another major hit during its first season (see WiC498).

But like the second instalment of Sisters, its latest iteration has failed to strike the same chord with audiences.

Perhaps one of the reasons is too much recycling of familiar faces across the Mango TV portfolio. Women from two of the four couples in My Dearest Ladies previously appeared in the first series of Sisters, for instance. Critics have also complained that the format of My Dearest Ladies is too familiar to entertainment shows of the past in drawing on old-fashioned views on marriage and childbirth, and stirring up well-versed animosity between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.

“Nothing about any of this is new, so audience interest is waning,” Entertainment Unicorn explained.

Investors are worried that Mango TV could be losing some of its commercial touch as well. The company’s share price has dropped by more than a third since Sisters 2 first premiered, for instance, depriving the streaming service of more than Rmb600 million in market value.

Yet despite the low-key response to Sisters 2 it still managed to attract 16 advertisers, a response that most variety programming will find hard to beat.

“As long as there are advertisers and contestants, there’s no reason why Sisters can’t go on,” Entertainment Industry concluded.

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.