In the past two months, the top projects in the film and television market have gathered. On August 31th, the total box office of summer Chinese films exceeded 20 billion yuan, breaking the record for domestic box office in the same period of history.
Moreover, four films: "Lost in the Stars", "Never Say Never ", "Creation of the Gods Ⅰ: Kingdom of Storms" and "No More Bets" all surpassed 2 billion yuan at the box office. At present, it is expected that the final total box office for this season will reach 21 billion yuan.
On the other hand, the drama market lagged a little behind the movie market, especially after entering July when there was a concentration of top dramas; only "Lost You Forever" and "Mysterious Lotus Casebook" achieved explosive data.
To some extent, having a concentration of popular projects can help boost market activity and potentially create blockbusters. By looking at how movies and dramas perform, we may be able to understand specific situations within both industries from an industry perspective as well as from a market point of view. Given that Chinese film and television companies are generally choosing to focus on both movies and TV dramas simultaneously these days, it is necessary to analyze the performance of works in the summer season.
Popular works or good works?
In fact, many voices have questioned why a certain drama project did not become popular this year. The root cause behind many underperforming dramas can be attributed to their poor quality content.
As expectations rise with regards to content quality in response, the market demands higher standards. Perhaps decently-reviewed dramas such as “An Ancient Love Song” and “When I Fly Towards You”, although restricted by themes or styles, may not necessarily achieve blockbuster status.
On contrary, dramas like “Lost You Forever” and “Mysterious Lotus Casebook”, which were successful, had remarkable aspects about them. These two productions currently hold ratings on Douban (a Chinese social media platform for reviewing movies and drama) of 7.6 and 8.1 of 10 respectively. Many top-rated dramas, such as “Fireworks of My Heart”, “The Legend of Anle” and “Love You Seven Times”, are unable to progress further due to limited reputation. In a way, the reputation of these top dramas does restrict the performance of summer dramas.
However, looking at the Chinese movies released during this summer season, we see that not all of them have received positive reviews thus far. The four films that have exceeded 2 billion yuan in box office revenue each have their own controversies when it comes to completion. As for the two highest-grossing films so far this summer: "Lost in the Stars" and "No More Bets", they currently hold ratings on Douban of 6.4 and 6.9 respectively.
Perhaps one can argue that these ratings are not exceptionally good. However, in contrast, they achieve scores from Maoyan (a Chinese movie rating website) of 9.2 and 9.1, respectively. At least there appears to be some differences between professional reviews versus public feedback.
So why is it that Chinese films can break free from the limitations imposed by reputation and achieve better market performance? I believe there are three factors: marketing value, subject selection, and audience mentality.
Firstly, the importance of marketing value is clearly evident when comparing movies with TV dramas. During the review process for this year's summer movies, it was clear that marketing could never be overlooked. Marketing strategies were precisely targeted within this era dominated by short videos. "Lost in the Stars" and "No More Bets" are typical examples; both films incorporate real social events as well as tackle realistic topics.
This not only achieves a high level of topicality, but also effectively reaches target audiences. One film activates emotional discussions among women while another presents an authentic depiction about fraud groups which draws significant attention. These achievements result from effective reaching out to the intended audience.
However, marketing in the Chinese drama field is more challenging. With most dramas choosing to be straight to air, it becomes difficult to conduct early promotion and select audiences. Therefore, the emphasis lies on reputation. If viewers are willing to stick around after watching the front paft of one drama, then subsequent promotional efforts will take effect. On the other hand, if a drama like "Fireworks of My Heart" lacks sufficient quality, discussions generated during its initial release may not last long.
From the perspective of topic selection, this year's summer Chinese film market has shown some common characteristics. The popular Chinese films have demonstrated strong empathy and targeted appeal to vulnerable groups such as women and lower classes. This may indicate a new mainstream aesthetic in the current film market. However, this content is missing in the summer drama market.
Perhaps based on the observation that most of the audience for summer dramas are teenagers, the online content still focuses primarily on ancient fantasy and modern romance themes. However, audience feedback seems to suggest that there are some changes happening in terms of what constitutes a blockbuster topic.
Now let's talk about audience mentality, which is perhaps the biggest difference between films and dramas.
In terms of consumer mentality, offline consumption during this summer - including movies, cultural tourism, and performances - has experienced overall prosperity compared to last year's booming summer drama market which was driven largely by special circumstances creating a market dividend; these conditions were not present this year.
In terms of consumer behavior itself: firstly, after marketing campaigns screen potential moviegoers through preliminary screening processes they already have an underlying acceptance towards movie content which sets them apart from cdramas viewers; secondly, cinema-goers pay for their tickets whereas attracting viewers to watch dramas has much lower barriers to entry.
Audience feedback is subjective after all. Provided that certain standards are met so as not to cause negative word-of-mouth publicity collapse with regards to content quality itself - factors such as viewing environment, duration, and narrative pace in movies can relatively easily establish audience recognition and activate emotional value while at the beginning stages of dramas broadcasts it often faces non-target audiences thus how many audiences it manages to retain can only be achieved through performance quality alone at its early stages.
Taking into account these three points mentioned above collectively leads us to conclude that while this year's summer film market was bustling with activity creating challenging situations for developing hit dramas we should say there exists certain unique characteristics. However, when it comes to audience interest in content and the market's long-term performance, some common market observations can still be extracted.
A new trend in the content industry
Over the past few years, with the development of new entertainment media such as short videos and live streaming, the content industry has undergone a reshuffle. This year's trends still reflect these long-term impacts of change.
First and foremost, there is now a more diverse range of channels for audiences to obtain word-of-mouth information, reducing the value of single-channel word-of-mouth. Traditional film and television marketing relied mainly on official promotional materials and one-way communication with audiences; however nowadays audiences prefer to wait for authentic word-of-mouth feedback from various channels that correspond to their respective circles.
The result is that audience consumption decisions are delayed. This year movie word-of-mouth fermentation speed slowed down compared to before; previews' effect declined noticeably - films like "Never Say Never" and "Chang An" received only average reactions during their preview period but gained positive word-of-mouth after officially releasing; many popular films even had higher box office results during their second weekend compared to their first.
On the dramas side, except for "Lost You Forever", which generated intense anticipation early on, other dramas generally had slower word-of-mouth fermentation processes - for example it wasn't until its big finale preview event that "Mysterious Lotus Casebook" achieved an popularity exceeding. Some well-received top-tier content also failed to convert due to limitations posed by length or subject matter - such as "Imperfect Victim" and "Fearless Blood".
At the same time, genre-based film and television productions are facing a cooling market trend. This is more evident in movies where this summer's hit films were largely limited to visual effects-driven blockbusters like "Creation of the Gods Ⅰ: Kingdom of Storms"; at first they relied heavily on special effects in their promotional campaigns but the market response was relatively lukewarm.
Meanwhile, ancient fantasy dramas - considered more appealing to mainstream audiences - also showed high attrition rates this summer; for example, "Love You Seven Times" performed even worse than expected.
As the film and television industry becomes increasingly mature at the production level, emotional value is becoming a new challenge for generating popularity. Whether it's resonating with lower-class viewers through adaptations of real-life subjects or creating intense anticipation with the competition among four men and one woman in "Lost You Forever", these successes are achieved by capturing genuine audience emotions as a key step in breaking through communication barriers. Audiovisual experience and emotional value are two keys to long videos; without either one, it is difficult to capture audience's hearts.
What can be anticipated is that both film and drama markets continue to generate high levels of excitement after accumulating numerous top-tier content during this summer period. This implies that there will still be room for producing blockbusters over the next one or two months. The new trend observed in the Chinese summer film market may be further validated.