The Difference Between China’s Movie, TV and Digital Audiences

The China Issue Splash 2016

Chinese moviegoers are younger and more urban than the country’s television viewers -- but the gap is closing

In China, the people who go to the movies aren’t the same ones who are sitting down in front of the television every night.

According to experts on the second day of the U.S.-China Film & TV Industry Expo, Chinese moviegoers skew a lot younger and tend to be clustered in the cities, where thousands of theaters have sprouted in recent years. By contrast, “the ones watching the CCTV broadcast tend to be agricultural, less educated,” said Larry Namer, the E! co-founder who launched China-focused Metan Global Entertainment in 2008. “The level of stuff on there reminds me of U.S. TV in 1975 or 1985.”

It’s not that young people aren’t watching episodic content -- they’re just consuming it online (China has an estimated 700 million people connected to the Internet). “Streaming media in China has grown quickly,” said Liu Kailuo, president of Heyi Pictures, the film arm of Chinese online video giant Youku Tudou. “Production companies that used to specialize in film or television are now all working together to make digital content.”

This has led to the rising popularity of the web movie, which clock in at 60 to 80 minutes. Yang Xianghua, senior vice president of iQiyi, a pioneer of the model, estimated that there will be 3,500 digital-exclusive features in China by the end of the year.

New media’s meteoric rise is transforming traditional TV content, driving both sales and cultural trends. This is partly because the coveted digital-consuming youth demographic also tends to be China’s wealthiest. “If you took a brand like Chanel and told me to create content for it in the U.S., I’d make something for a 45-plus, Lifetime audience,” Namer said. “But in China, the target age is 25-ish.”

As such, the traditional TV audience has gotten younger over the last few years "because of the rise of new media,” said veteran TV producer Wang Hui, president of Datang Brilliant Media Co. “TV drama production companies have to consider online video -- what do people like watching there? That affects what traditional media is broadcasting."

“It follows the money, so content goes online first, and to traditional TV second,” Wang added. “Online audiences lead the tastes.”