“When it comes to quality of reality shows, internet companies are really closing in on or have even surpassed their TV counterparts,” Chulin Luo, who has been on the production crew of several Chinese blockbuster TV shows, recently told TechNode.

That sentiment reflects a new normal in the video production industry. Chinese video sites have rolled up their sleeves to make original content—from mainstream sitcoms and reality shows to the more niched genres of anime and documentaries. This past summer, millions of young Chinese spent their Saturdays rallying for their favorite rappers from The Rap of China. Unlike other smash hit shows that preceded it, The Rap of China (中国有嘻哈) takes on a culture that used to be largely underground in the country. Moreover, it’s produced and streamed exclusively by iQIYI, the online video platform owned by Chinese search giant Baidu. The craze for the rap reality show then turned into 2.6 billion views for the 12 episodes and 6.8 billion views of the hashtag for The Rap of China on Weibo  (in Chinese), iQIYI claims.

Gone is the Youtube model of traffic-driven user-generated content that makes money from advertising; Chinese video giants are now going all-in to make expensive, producer-driven content. iQIYI, for example, shelled out over 250 million RMB (about $38 million) for The Rap of China and nabbed two highly respected TV veterans: Chen Wei, who produced the popular singing contest The Voice of China at Zhejiang Television, and Che Che, who directed So You Think You Can Dance China for Star China Media.

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Rita Liao

Telling the uncommon China stories through tech. I can be reached at ritacyliao [at] gmail [dot] com.