Online mini dramas making major headway

The competition in China's fast-growing online mini drama series sector is heating up as major short-video platforms have intensified efforts to offer cash incentives and data traffic support for content creators

in a bid to improve the production of high-quality video content and hasten their monetization push.

Video-sharing platform Douyin, which is owned by Chinese tech heavyweight ByteDance, recently said it will invest 5 million yuan ($694,900) in cash to support the development of premium mini dramas, with each episode lasting just two or three minutes and featuring tightly knit plots.

Douyin said more than 500 mini dramas had registered over 100 million views each by the end of 2023, with 12 such presentations garnering more than 1 billion views. The platform will collaborate with professional film and television companies, multichannel network (MCN) agencies and individual creators in the areas of scriptwriting, content production and operations.

Compared with traditional TV series, mini dramas feature fast-paced narration, numerous plot twists, simpler overarching themes and character relationships that are closer to viewers' daily life experiences. They are gaining increasing popularity among younger viewers who yearn to find time to relax from stressful work scenarios.

Chinese short-video platform Kuaishou has announced plans to roll out more than 200 mini dramas in 2024, provide more capital and data traffic for content creators, as well as step up support for paid mini dramas in an attempt to enhance the production quality of offerings and better monetize long-term content operations.

Chen Yiyi, vice-president of Kuaishou and head of the company's culture and entertainment business, said average daily active users watching mini dramas on Kuaishou reached 270 million last year, and the number of viewers watching over 10 episodes of mini drama series daily rose 52.6 percent year-on-year to 94 million.

Meanwhile, the number of content creators on Kuaishou surpassed 100,000 by the end of 2023.The company has also launched paid mini dramas on its eponymous app, where users can choose to purchase each episode or entire dramas. The number of users who pay for dramas soared nearly 10 fold, while gross merchandise value (GMV) of paid mini dramas surged about 20-fold, it said.

China's mini drama market is expected to see robust growth over the next few years. Market consultancy iiMedia Research said revenue from the country's online mini drama industry stood at 37.39 billion yuan in 2023, surging 267.65 percent year-on-year. And the figure is expected to reach nearly 100.68 billion yuan in 2027.

Ma Shicong, an analyst with Beijing-based internet consultancy Analysys, said younger consumers, whose free time tends to be more fragmented and sporadic, are exhibiting great enthusiasm for mini drama series.

"The rapid development of mini dramas, which are grouped into various genres including suspense, mystery and romance, is conducive to enriching the content ecosystem of short-video platforms, enhancing user engagement and enticing a new breed of users," Ma said.

More efforts should be made to explore more diversified monetization models, including advertising, paid content and e-commerce livestreaming, Ma said, adding that further introduction of paid content will generate more profits for the mini drama sector.

Chen Jiaqi, a 27-year-old fashion magazine editor in Beijing, loves to binge-watch mini dramas in her spare time on Douyin. She said the simple storylines, funny dialogues and tightly knit plots are quite to her taste, and she is drawn in by the thrilling plots and surprise endings.

Zhang Yi, CEO and principal analyst at iiMedia Research, said the current quality of mini drama series varies considerably. "Short-video users exhibit an increasing demand for high-quality content, while the country's supervision over the mini drama industry will be gradually stricter, which will further drive the regulated and healthy development of the mini drama market."

A report from the China Internet Audio and Video Convention showed that more than half of short-video fans had watched mini dramas or variety shows that last less than three minutes, while users aged below 19 represented 57.9 percent of total short-video viewers.