Youku debuts original online film series

Chevrolet and CFG leverage 420 million Internet users

BEIJING -- “The Boxer’s Secret,” an original Chinese online movie, on Friday kicked off a new Chevrolet- and China Film Group-sponsored series on Youku, one of the leading online video sites in the country with more web surfers than any other, now numbering 420 million.

A 12-minute sneak preview of the movie shared with The Hollywood Reporter revealed a glimpse of a 20-minute short by director Zhang Yaguang, about a hardworking Beijing boxer who fears he might be losing more than his sight after an accident.

Youku and competitor Tudou -- both would-be rivals to YouTube, if the Google-owned site weren’t blocked in China -- have for over a year been leading users to professionally-produced, long-form content on which they can sell advertising in the fashion of Hulu.com.

“The Boxer’s Secret” heralds Youku’s latest effort to capitalize on the size of its audience and grow its advertising base among wealthy young consumers to offset the high cost it pays for bandwidth, estimated by some analysts at more $2 million per month.

Called Youku Originals' "11 Degrees" New Media Film Project, the series has sponsored 10 “young” directors in their creation of 10 short narrative features showcasing Chevrolet’s four-door Cruze sedan, a model the U.S. car maker hopes will appeal to China’s fast-growing car market.

Among the filmmakers contributing to the series -- each for an honorarium -- are Li Feng, screenwriter of Zhang Yimou’s “Hero” -- the highest-grossing Chinese film export of all time -- and Shen Yan, director of the popular TV drama “Chinese Style Divorce.”

Both men are in their 40s, an age Youku spokeswoman Jean Shao said is still young enough in China to be called “young.”

“In the U.S., advertisers are only just catching on to this intentionally rough-cut look for online movies, but in China, it’s already a very obvious trend, even for filmmakers in their 40s,” Shao said.

At the end of the series in mid-October, a longer feature, cut together from the 10 shorts and directed by Wang Yuelun, will be shown online and on screens at schools and universities across China.

Youku, which claims 200 million video views per day and the same number of unique views monthly, said its strategy is “to continue to sink deeper into the public consciousness.”

“The 11 new media films will all focus on young people, and the struggles they must sometimes go through in order to achieve their dreams,” the Beijing-based company said in a statement. 

China’s 805 million cell phone users also can access the Youku films at the company’s 3G website. And if online and mobile phone viewing aren’t enough, Chevrolet is offering a brand new Cruze to watchers of the series who sign up to participate in offline events to win points.  More than 90,000 have already signed up, Youku said.

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