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Short Dramas Boom: How China’s Snackable Shows Are Conquering the World

What will keep you awake late at night are not only the carefully curated TV series launched by major platforms, but also a myriad of local short dramas.

A genre of television series with episodes lasting just a few minutes has taken the market by storm in recent years. In comparison to traditional TV series and movies, the production cycle of short dramas is efficiently controlled within a mere 10 days, with production costs mostly around hundreds of thousands of yuan. With their inherent characteristics of cost-effectiveness and high output, short dramas have quickly made a significant impact on screens.

According to Meiland data, numerous long-form video platforms concentrated their efforts in the first half of this year and launched approximately 279 micro-short dramas, representing an impressive year-on-year increase of about 80%. Furthermore, short dramas have also begun to gain traction overseas since last year. Prominent long-form video platforms such as iQiyi, Tencent, and Youku have already introduced dedicated channels for micro short dramas on the international versions of their apps.

The short drama industry has undergone a period of vigorous growth and has now entered a phase of blossoming development.

“The Horse to Catch,” the primary catalyst for the development of short dramas

A significant factor contributing to the immense popularity of short plays lies in their content, which is both captivating and engrossing. These productions emphasize conflicts and plot reversals, catering to the demands of online literature and comic works. These two fields are locked in fierce competition, and those who can successfully carve out a niche within it predominantly cater to the reading preferences of the masses. Consequently, platforms directly adapt popular online articles or comics, using them as the basis for shooting short dramas, resulting in a collision that effortlessly showcases their robust monetization capabilities.

Currently, many leading companies in the short drama industry have evolved from online literary companies. Simultaneously, major companies are eagerly vying for a share of the pie: Tomato Novel, owned by Byte, has successfully adapted multiple intellectual properties into short dramas; Tencent, Alibaba, Baidu, Xiaomi, and Kuaishou, among others, are also enhancing the symbiotic relationship between online articles and short dramas to cultivate monetization capabilities within the content ecosystem.

Purchasing Quantity, Indescribable Agony

Following the release of a short play, it becomes essential to rely on major platforms and channels to deliver the content to the audience, ultimately materializing content monetization through copyright distribution, platform account sharing, membership payments, brand commerce, and e-commerce conversions. Douyin, Kuaishou, Taobao, Tencent, Baidu, NetEase, and others serve as ideal channels for monetization.

Gaining more viewership means that short drama companies have a greater number of opportunities for monetization. Within the industry, the act of spending money to promote short plays on various platforms and recommending them to the audience is known as “buying volume.”

As more and more participants engage in this carnival, the competition among distributors to purchase volume has intensified, leading to a steady compression of profits. Wang Xiaoshu, the founder of Jia Shu Technology (Bingtian Short Drama), remarked, “In this business, the cost of purchasing accounts for 80% to 90% of the total box office.”

Venturing Overseas, Progressing along a Curved Path

As profits continue to erode, short drama companies have begun seeking overseas markets with lower investment costs. “Going overseas” has presented another avenue for micro-short dramas to generate profits. Influenced by the global economic situation, the film and television production capacity in various overseas regions has steadily declined to the extent that outsourcing dramas has become necessary to ensure broadcast inventory. China’s overall film and television production capacity still ranks among the highest in the world, and short dramas, especially during the outbreak period, have exhibited remarkable strength. Consequently, Chinese short dramas have entered foreign markets, nourishing the development of the local short drama industry.

Acclimatizing

There are two content models for exporting short plays overseas. The first involves translating original domestic videos and subsequently uploading them to applications or third-party video platforms. The second model entails inviting local actors and shooting according to the script to ensure relevance to the taste of local users.

Due to lower costs, most short video companies opt for the first model. However, owing to significant cultural differences with European and American markets, such companies usually target Southeast Asia and other markets that share similar cultural characteristics with our own. After years of exploration, Kuaishou has bypassed the fiercely competitive North American market and refined its operations in the more challenging markets of Latin America and Southeast Asia.

Short Plays, Embracing the Future

As technology continues to advance and audience preferences evolve, the short drama ecosystem will persistently innovate, fostering increased collaboration between platforms. Short video platforms can collaborate with traditional TV platforms, movies, TV series, variety shows, and more, ultimately achieving mutual benefit and generating win-win outcomes.

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