Cumberbatch, 'Doctor Who' and "Binge Viewing" Big in China

All signs of a fast-growing sophistication, says BBC Worldwide China chief

Benedict Cumberbatch, Doctor Who and “binge viewing” are winning ways to Chinese hearts for BBC Worldwide, the U.K. public broadcaster's commercial money-making arm that has signed content deals with a number of Chinese outlets.

“Benedict Cumberbatch is enormous everywhere. He’s handsome, quirky, intelligent and serious. He’s extremely popular here. But so is Doctor Who. Anything with a layer of complexity. I think viewers, young and old, are getting a lot more sophisticated here in China,” Pierre Cheung, vice president and general manager of BBC Worldwide’s Greater China division, tells THR.

“Binge viewing is a factor. With shows like Doctor Who and Sherlock, you are not obligated to watch 20 hours, it’s a stand-alone episode so you can duck in and out,” says Cheung.

He spoke to THR at a China Showcase event in Beijing to launch 300 hours of new content on the Chinese market, with deals signed with Shanghai Media Group ICS, state broadcaster CCTV, DOXTV and Wingsmedia.

Link-ups with local companies help with negotiating China’s often thorny regulatory environment. BBC has previously signed deals with the Chinese streaming-video firms Tencent, iQiyi, Yukou and BesTV.

Most of the deals announced were natural history and documentary titles, including David Beckham: Into the Unknown and Museum Secrets.

The company is also launching a Chinese version of the motoring show Top Gear at the end of the year.

“Localization is definitely the key. There are more and more ideas coming in from the U.K. Taking a concept and placing it in a market like China [without modifying it] will never work,” says Cheung.

The pace of the show is different, he said, and the Chinese will change formats by including more contestants in shows like Dancing With the Stars.

“The old type of family conflict, daily soap kind of thing is still popular, but on top of that there is an extra layer of content that people want,” saysCheung.

There is evidence of a growing sophistication on the business side, he says.

“Imagine four years ago, you would never had even dared to think of a 24-hour simulcast. We tried it for Sherlock season three, within one day we translated the content and launched it with the time difference within 24 hours. That was a phenomenon for us,” says Cheung.