Chinese Streamer Huanxi Premium Launches Documentary Channel

THR- Steven Xiang - Photographed by Gareth Brown - H 2019
Photographed by Gareth Brown

The startup streaming service's new section will begin with over 20 titles licensed from the BBC, Freemantle, ITV and Entertainment One. The company is "hungry for more documentary content and looking to buy more."

Huanxi Premium, the startup streaming service targeting the white-collar segment of China's massive video market, on Thursday launched a new section of its platform dedicated to film and television documentaries.

The offering begins with more than 20 English-language docs licensed from such producers as BBC Studios, Entertainment One and ITV. The company says it has deals in place to release additional titles on a weekly basis.

Huanxi has generally pursued a few key documentary categories for the service: human interest, nature and true crime. In those genres, the docs it is picking up comprise recent 2019 releases, upcoming titles and evergreen classics. For all of the newer documentaries it licenses, Huanxi is taking only exclusive Chinese online rights.

Some of the titles that went live on Thursday include Jack the Ripper — The Case Reopened (2019), Judi Dench's Wild Borneo Adventure (2019), Earth's Sacred Wonders (2019), the Morgan Freeman-narrated animal doc Born to Be Wild (2011) and most of Michael Apted's classic Up! series, spanning Seven Up! (1964) to 56 Up (2012). There also is a sizable collection of Chinese documentary content.

Huanxi Premium is the subscription video arm of Huanxi Media Group, the Chinese entertainment company founded by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon co-producer Dong Ping in 2015. The company has grown into a powerhouse of the Chinese industry in rapid time, thanks to a slew of exclusive partnerships signed with many of the most influential filmmakers working in the Chinese language, such as Xu Zheng, Zhang Yimou, Wong Kar Wai, Ning Hao, Jia Zhangke, Peter Chan and others.

"Our strategy has always been to be a premier channel focused on the white-collar market here in China, which is fast-growing and high value," says Steven Xiang, Huanxi's CEO. "We felt it was the right time for us to broaden our offerings of key content, augmenting our top-tier feature filmmaking with the best documentary content we can access." He added: "We believe this additional layer will improve the stickiness of the audience who comes to Huanxi for our high-quality feature films."

The new documentary push is part of an expansion strategy as the group revs up for the Chinese New Year period, when it will will release two of the season's most anticipated releases: Lost in Russia, the third installment in Xu Zheng's locally beloved Lost In... franchise (the first two installments in the series together grossed $463 million) and Peter Chan's sports drama Leap, about China's legendary 1984 summer Olympic volleyball team with Gong Li in the lead as Chinese sports icon Lang Ping.

The online rights to those titles will then be withheld exclusively for the group's in-house streaming service, Huanxi Premium. The company has opted to forgo the considerable revenue it could generate from licensing such tentpoles in order to drive subscriptions for its own offering — similar to the strategy the Walt Disney Company is now pursuing stateside with Disney+.

According to Xiang, the only bottleneck to expansion for Huanxi's new documentary library is the availability of top-tier titles. "We are hungry for more documentary content and looking to buy more for the best Western producers," the executive said.