Study: British TV Dramas Gaining Traction Among Chinese Elite

Lady vs. Lady

"The gunfight at the OK Corral does not happen between Maggie [Smith] and me," MacLaine said in a recent interview. "We do a little sparring, we have our moments, but it's more sophisticated than that."

Chinese social media buzz heats up and online streaming services launch new offers as “Sherlock," “Downton Abbey” and other series attract an expanding white-collar audience.

China’s fiercely competitive streaming video sector has seen audience growth for an emerging content category that is attracting its most sophisticated local viewers: British TV dramas.

A new study from Beijing-based entertainment research firm Entgroup has revealed that China’s urban wealthy and educated are increasingly buzzing about Britain's lushly produced TV fare, including shows such as Downton Abbey and Sherlock.

Comparing rates of discussion on Chinese social media sites, Entgroup found that British dramas now account for 9 percent of all mentions of foreign television programming, whereas just a few years ago such shows were essentially unknown in the country. Korean dramas, by comparison, command 28 percent of all social media discussion of international TV.

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But when Entgroup examined social media sites that draw an exclusive white-collar and college-educated user base, discussion of British shows hit 13 percent -- and Korean TV fell to just 1 percent.

The trend mirrors what Chinese television critics have taken to calling the “disdain chain,” in which fans of British TV look down on fans of U.S. shows and aficionados of American TV snub Korean soap fans, who turn up their noses at people who simply like local Chinese TV.

“Though British drama viewers are a minority, they are high-end and very loyal,” Jean Shao, spokeswoman of leading streaming video site Youku Tudou, told the Wall Street Journal. ”This is what the advertisers fancy.”

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Chinese video sites are tailoring their offerings to meet the demands of this rarified slice of the viewership -- as well as the luxury advertisers they attract. Inc. launched the first dedicated British drama channel in China last year, the Journal noted in its report. And Youku Tudou debuted a British TV feed in April, followed by Tencent Holdings in June.

The U.K.’s premiere TV producers, such as BBC Worldwide and Fremantle Media, are finding their content much in demand as China video sites vie for exclusive rights. According to the Journal, Tencent has the exclusive rights to 13 British shows with a total of 500 episodes, while Youku Tudou Inc is licensed to stream 32 shows, with 200 episodes.

“The storylines in British dramas are more complete, and British actors are A-listers in terms of acting skill,” said Zhu Xiangyang, chief content officer of Youku Tudou. “The high quality of British dramas is what demanding audiences look for.”

Caroline Torrance, director, scripted at BBC Worldwide said: “Our drama has always done very well in China and continues to do so. Viewers seem to really gravitate towards the rich storytelling and high production values of our series. Sherlock has been a hit there as it has worldwide, and Mad Dogs and Parade’s End are other dramas that have sold there recently." 

She added, "With high-end titles such as Top of the Lake, Orphan Black and A Young Doctor’s Notebook coming through our slate, I would expect we will continue to see success with our programs in this market."