China Is Creating A Revolutionary Talent Show Format Online

5 min read
2016 Super Girl Online Audition
2016 Super Girl Online Audition

China’s unique tech ecosystem coupled with a huge connected user base is a catalyst for disruption, and now they are reinventing one of the most hallowed traditional forms of entertainment: the gameshow.

Super Girl, one of the longest-running and most successful reality TV talent shows in China, is moving its main stage online, creating a completely new format for cross-medium gameshows. While game shows worldwide have enabled online voting and mobile social features, Super Girl is completely transcending the barrier between internet and television with a large portion of the show actually resembling a payment-enabled social network.

The  2016 season of the singing reality show kicked off this past January and will continue through August on live stream through Hunantv.com (aka. Mangguo TV), the video streaming service of the organizing TV broadcaster Hunan Broadcasting System, and Mango Live (not official translation), a live video streaming app tailor-designed for the new model.

Apart from live streaming auditions in ten cities across China, the show for the first time introduced online open audition that allows those auditionees to perform live from any place.

Online audition can accommodate applicants from any place.
Online audition can accommodate applicants from any place.

All contestants are required to create profiles on the Mango Live app where they can live stream performances, share multi-media content and interact with followers. Real-time commenting, contestant-fan chatting, and virtual gifts/points buying are enabled on the app.

Contestant Profile on Mango Live App
Contestant Profile on Mango Live App

Viewers can reward contestants virtual points either earned by fulfilling gamified tasks or bought with money. Mobile payments are supported by WeChat Payment, the mobile payment solution of Tencent, and Alipay, the online payment solution of Alibaba’s finance arm.

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After the preliminary casting where 300 hopefuls will be picked out by judging panels, there will be a one-month long online vote to advance one third of the contestants to the next stage.

Then the 100 girls will undergo two-month training which will be live streamed 24/7, according to the organizer. To help the 100 girls cultivate fans beyond the Mango Live app, the organizer has partnered with Owhat (fan engagement app), Baidu Tieba (online fan forum), Weibo (the leading Twitter-like social media), Q-zone (the Facebook-like social network from Tencent) and Changba (a social Karaoke app).

After selecting the top 20 girls through competitions in skill development and fan cultivation, the contest will finally begin and be live broadcasted both online and on TV.

The Evolution Of Digitally-Enabled Voting

Online voting will play an important role during each stage of 2016 Super Girl.

The show was actually one of the first TV shows in China to take voluntary voting into account. The first season in 2004 introduced audience vote through SMS, much like other gameshows worldwide at the time, that generated a surprising amount of revenue through millions of SMS votes sent in by viewers for the supporting telecom operator.

The management of the TV broadcaster are proud that Chris Lee (aka. Li Yuchun), the winner of the first Super Girl season whose singing didn’t impress professional judges but won the audiences’ hearts, is still one of the biggest pop stars in China. Super Girl and Happy Boy, the two flagship talent shows of the broadcaster that both conduct voluntary voting, have produced more than a dozen first-tier pop stars in the past eleven years.

While SMS was the only technology available to conduct voting a decade ago, the broadcaster is now using a whole new set of powerful online means to further democratize the show. Online voting makes real-time ranking possible. Mango Live app ranks contestants based on the virtual points each contestant has received from viewers.

Revolutionizing The Artist Development Process

Another major difference 2016 Super Girl will make is that contestants are able to build a following from the very beginning through the Mango Live app and other social platforms.

Previously winners of the broadcaster’s talent shows would be signed to (and managed by) Tianyu, an artist management company founded the same year as the first Super Girl season. Now all the interactive functions available with the broadcaster’s online platforms and other social media will help promote artists in a very different way.

No matter how far a contestant can go with the contest, they are able to rise to stardom by attracting a large fan base. With the casting just starting last month, a handful of girls have already built a considerable following.

Will The Next Chinese Super Stars Emerge From Online Platforms Instead Of TV Programs?

It is expected the next Chinese super stars will emerge from such new internet-enabled formats as Super Girl’s instead of conventional TV programs, as the web is where core audience are and increasingly more shows will take place.

Chinese online video viewers reached 504 million, some 73% of the total Chinese internet users, and mobile video viewers were 405 million as of 2015, according to the latest annual report by CNNIC. Like many other markets, typical online video viewers in China are young. The 2016 Super Girl production team has found that more than 50% of their applicants were born after 1995.

While almost all TV programs have been available online, the amount of online-only content is growing rapidly.

Not only are online video services able to live stream shows or other events as much as they like, Chinese online video streaming sites, with a majority of them backed by deep-pocketed big tech companies, have been investing heavily in original shows or licensing exclusive content to differentiate themselves from competing video streaming sites and TV broadcasters. Online video companies are also able to create more interactive shows or viewing experiences than conventional TV content producers.

Qi Pa Shuo, a debate show initiated by video streaming service iQiyi.com, has produced a dozen stars with only two seasons. Ma Dong, former chief content officer of iQiyi and a veteran TV program producer, along with the production team of the show, left iQiyi last year to up start a business producing online-only shows for various video sites. Only half a year since its founding Ma’s startup Me We Media (not official translation) was valued at RMB2 billion (about US$30mn) in the latest round of financing.

The popular Chinese online interactive networks, which accommodate amateur singers/performers, have incubated a handful of stars in recent years. A number of applicants of 2016 Super Girl are actually from these platforms such as singing platform YY Music and Karaoke app Changba.

Hunan Broadcasting System launched its online streaming site Hunantv.com, launched in 2011. It began producing original shows from the second half of last year and streaming third-party content from earlier this year. The Mango Live app, launched just before the 2016 Super Girl, has also begun live streaming other events. The company overseeing the two online services raised some 500 million yuan in external funding over 2015 and is reportedly raising another round in order to become a fully-fledged online video business.