Web offers 'new life' for sitcoms in China

Web offers 'new life' for sitcoms in China

Streaming shows made for targeted audiences may be the future.

Sitcoms are making a comeback on video-streaming sites, which are now producing their own series.

The shows are especially popular among people in their 20s and 30s, who prefer to watch sitcoms on mobile devices such as iPads and smartphones, experts say.

Elohim Zheng, chief analyst at the research institute of Sootoo, a website that monitors the Chinese Internet industry, predicts that video-streaming sites will have produced more than 1,000 episodes by the end of the year.

"According to the current figures, we predict that sitcoms will account for more than 30 per cent of the series produced by video-streaming sites by the end of 2014," Zheng says in an e-mail to China Daily.

"The viewing landscape is changing. Sitting in front of a television is a traditional way to relax for an elderly audience, but not for the young generation. Meanwhile, the high cost of purchasing TV dramas is pushing websites to produce their own.

"Sitcoms can be made quickly and cheaply," Zheng adds. "The image quality of a sitcom may be not good enough for a satellite channel, as audiences usually watch through a big-screen television in a dining room," Zheng.

On smartphones and tablets, image quality isn't an issue, he says.

The average length of a sitcom is 20 minutes, less than half of a full-length movie. Most of the major video-streaming sites can "accurately" target audiences, by researching their surfing habits on the Internet.

"The sites investigate the audience's shopping habits and the news they are interested in. They then require screenwriters to design relevant elements in the dialogues. That makes it easier for the audience to relate to the sitcom," Zheng says.

China's top video-streaming site, iQiyi, has produced 10 series this year. The company's founder and chief executive, Gong Yu, said last month that iQiyi will make as many as 30 series, including 13 sitcoms, in 2015.

"If the sites just depend on purchasing dramas, they will have to battle for the same audience," says Wang Liyuan, a spokeswoman for iQiyi.

"But if the sites make their own series, they can broadcast them exclusively. To save money and establish their own brand, we predict major portals will invest more on producing their own series.

"Websites are better at giving audiences what they want. They offer a new platform for Chinese sitcoms," Wang adds.

Two Idiots, a 20-episode sitcom that follows the lives of seven startup entrepreneurs who share one office room in a high-end commercial building, has received more than 314 million views on iQiyi, the show's investor. The video-streaming site plans to broadcast a second season with 20 episodes starting later this month.

Zeng Nianqun, a veteran film and TV show critic, says sitcoms about the IT industry are popular among the young generation because of how intertwined technology is in their lives.

"For many years, the most popular sitcom among Chinese was I Love My Family. But its jokes are outdated. Website-made sitcoms are easier for Web users to relate to," he says.

Zeng cites the hit sitcom iPartment, which is about the hilarious happenings between the occupants of two neighbouring apartments in Shanghai. The show was initially aired by the Jiangxi provincial satellite channel in 2009, but it was cut "too much" due to poor ratings, Zeng says.

"Thanks to the uncut version that was broadcast by video-streaming sites, iPartment has gone viral on Internet. Now there are new seasons being produced," he says.

"It's a new era for Chinese Web users, and also a new era for sitcoms."

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