Fighting the Epidemic: What Did China’s Entertainment Industry Do?

Soon after the epidemic became evident, eagerly awaited Spring Festival movies found themselves in an awkward position. People wouldn’t be going to the cinema and premieres would have to be cancelled.

Movie ticket sales from New Year’s Day 2019 reached 1.458 billion RMB. In 2020, it was only 1.81 million RMB. Over the seven-day Chinese New Year holiday, cinemas lost around 7.4 billion RMB.

And it wasn’t just the movie industry. The music, TV and gaming worlds also took a hit.  China’s battle against the virus affected the entertainment industry hard but there were also innovations and opportunities.

This Chinese New Year ended up being the one when people stayed at home for longer than any other previous one. Boredom was inevitable. The entertainment industry stepped up and not only used their voice and platform to support the public, who were staying at home to do their part, but also helped Wuhan in its battle. 

Movies and Videos

Faced with a cancelled premiere, New Year’s film Lost in Russia became a game changer. They decided to cooperate with ByteDance to broadcast the movie for free on Toutiao, Douyin and Xigua. The movie was seen by 180 million viewers enabling the producers to minimize their losses and still be seen by a large audience. In the future, there may be more movies that will have their premiere online.

Spring Festival is a key time for video platforms every year and this year, even in pressured circumstances, platforms managed in a short period of prosperity. In order to fight the epidemic, people were all at home, pushing video platforms to the top.

According to a survey by Kantar Data, over the holiday, 58% of people preferred to watch long videos, 56% said they mostly watched short videos and these two activities were the most popular ones.

Interestingly, iQiyi, Tencent Video and Youku only had mediocre performance during the holiday. However, platforms usually seen as second tier did very well, including Mango TV, known for its variety shows, and Bytedance’s Xigua Video, which benefited from the 630 million purchase of the rights to Lost in Russia.

The success of Mango TV was down to adjustments for its variety shows and a stop to all their live recordings. Almost all variety shows have been adjusted to multiplayer video mode for online chat, including talk shows and singing shows.

The new circumstances that were a result of the fight against the epidemic changed the competitive landscape for long videos. Although Mango TV, Xigua Video and other second tier platforms didn’t take over the top layer and unseat iQiyi, Tencent Video and Youku, they showed the power of the second tier video platforms with vertical content advantages.

Mango TV cloud variety shows

Other users focussed on relaxing short videos. In the short video market, we can’t ignore Douyin and Kuaishou. During the stay at home period, the advantages of short videos came to the fore.  

A CCTV report from a mobile hospital in Wuhan on Douyin

On one hand, short videos serve as a supplementary channel for official media, with the same serious characteristics but with a more fragmented presentation. One example of that is a short video posted by CCTV news on Douyin with the title, “What exactly is a mobile hospital? A reporter from CCTV news visited one!” This was a response to the public’s concern and curiosity about Wuhan’s mobile hospital and helped to ease their mood. 

On the other hand, as a platform for self-expression, its relaxing, humorous, unique content was a primary weapon for killing time. And for people in the epidemic areas, it also had an exciting effect. Kuaishou is thought of as being behind the times or out of touch, but this year, since Kuaishou was the platform with the broadcast rights to China’s biggest entertainment show, the 2020 CCTV Spring Festival Gala, it managed to shed this image to some extent. Now, if you search for “support Wuhan” on Kuaishou, you can see videos from farmers talking about their produce and how they’ll ship it to Wuhan.

Kuaishou Epidemic Column cooperating with CCTV

Gaming

In addition to watching videos, as people are spending more time at home, they’re also playing more video games than before. The industry did its part keeping people busy. The single-day peak for best-selling game Honor of Kings on New Year ’s Eve reached 2 billion RMB, increasing about 50% year-on-year. Another popular game. Game for Peace also gained great attention and even collapsed due to so many people playing it.

China’s gaming market is huge, and it’s been the world’s largest game market for some time. From January to June 2019, the user base of China’s game market was about 554 million people. Of those, 46.7% are female and 53.3% are male. 

During the special measures for epidemic control, Honor of Kings not only cancelled all its offline advertising cooperations, such as cross-border cooperations with DQ, Burger King, Watsons and others, it also launched an online game competition called The New Year Cup on January 31st with some game live streaming platforms such as Douyu (斗鱼). Game for Peace has also adjusted its Spring Festival slogan from “Great luck” to “Have a peaceful year”. Game for Peace also cooperated with Tencent Medicine to produce the “Tips to Prevent Infection Transmission”.

The Music Industry

The two biggest online players in China’s music industry are Tencent Music Entertainment (TME) and Netease Cloud Music.

According to QuestMobile’s 2019 Online Music Industry Report, as of July 2018, TME’s Kuwo Music had 350 million MAUs, QQ Music had 290 million MAUs and Kugo Music had 130 million MAUs. NetEase Cloud Music had 120 million MAUs and Xiami (Ali Music) had 22.77 million MAUs.

TME(腾讯音乐)

With its high quality sound and plenty of intellectual property, TME has become the industry leader. 

During lockdown, Tencent Music launched a series of initiatives and continued to pay attention to the situation in the epidemic area: TME launched “Free VIP Songs for All People ”. VIP songs are usually only for paid premium members. Users could log in to QQ music, Kugo music, and Kuwo music to enjoy VIP songs free for one week. In addition, QQ Music, Kuwo Music, and Kugo Music set up special for epidemic news and disease control knowledge.

Netease Cloud Music(网易云音乐)

The platform is a social network based on music preferences. It launched a series of columns with information about Wuhan and to express support for everyone working so hard there. First they launched positive energy MVs, “The Fire of Hope Will Not Go Out”, etc. They also organized a series of original song collections around the theme of fighting the epidemic that included 600 original songs. Cloud Music also launched a free online consultation service with Dr. Chunyu (春雨医生) for people who couldn’t leave home.

Conclusion

“We need more diversified and decentralized distribution so we can get the right traffic to the right people.” 

——Zhi Ying, the head of Douyin’s Branch Huoshan Video

The epidemic has had a severe impact on every industry and it’s also brought new opportunities along with its challenges.

Online entertainment had an unprecedented surge when everyone had to stay home but with the epidemic under control and life returning to normal, the number of users will also decline, and the wave will pass.

The entertainment industry had a unique position during this uncertain time. Although most industries in China had to shut down, they were in high demand to keep people busy, calm and informed. Some of the new users they gained during that time will become long-term users as demand settles back to a higher plateau.


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