Weidianying – China’s Great Love for Small Movies

In addition, the advertising volume of the online video market has also risen rapidly in recent years. As per ChinaIRN’s forecast, the revenue of online short films will reach RMB 70 billion (US $11.47 billion) in 2014, which is 13 times that of 2010. Their advertising volume is estimated to reach RMB 45 billion (US $7.37 billion) this year, nearly 10 times more than four years ago.

An editor with is reviewing video streams uploaded to the website. 

And the host of Chinese smartphone users also provides a particularly lucrative business field. For them, short movies, due to their length, are perfect media candy for the meantime, not only on long bus or subway rides during rush hour. From 2010 to 2013 the revenues of China’s mobile video market grew from RMB 667 million (US $109 million) to RMB 11.61 billion (US $1.9 billion), which means an average annual growth of 159 percent. More than 90 percent of this revenue originates from user fees.

Who Benefits from the Hype?

There are four big stakeholders that are largely involved in the growing small movie industry: advertising companies, music and culture firms, independent third-party enterprises, which promote their own products through the productions or appear as investors, and last but not least, China’s big online video platforms.

Nearly every Chinese video-hosting website has established its own short film channel. Providers such as Youku, LeTV, iQIZI or Tudou attract millions of visitors with their weidianying-channels. In some cases video-hosting sites purchase exclusive rights or first transmission permission for promising productions or even launch their own short film series.

Subjects like love, work and youth as well as all sorts of comedies appear to be the most popular among Chinese Internet users, as the online portal ChinaByte found in a recent survey.

However, the advertising boom also has its downside: Although short film production has become more and more professional in recent years, the professionalization of filmmaking and advertising still lacks the ability to keep up with the pace of development of the online video sector.

Market demand is huge, while highly qualified production teams and good scripts are rare. In addition, the combination of low budgets, cost pressure and a low entry threshold creates a huge number of low-quality productions that threaten to damage the image of the whole industry. If short film fans have to wade through a mass of oysters before finding a pearl, they could soon lose interest in watching, experts warn.

The fact that the advertising industry has discovered short films as a profitable medium for online marketing could, in the end, harm the development of the short film genre as such, some critics state. More and more scripts are written only to promote a certain product or trademark, they say. The fine line between real content and advertising is becoming more and more blurred at the expense of quality.

Nevertheless, Li Xiang, general sales manager of China’s biggest microblog portal Sina Weibo, doesn’t believe that the boom will downgrade short films to “feature-length” commercials. “Although inclined to business and sales features and tactics, as a filmic medium, short movies are constructed in a different way to traditional commercials,” he says.

In contrast to critics’ fears, many representatives of the film industry regard the short film hype as an opportunity because the comparatively simpler Internet films offer a new creative playground for up-and-coming scriptwriters, directors and actors.

“Representatives of the now famous generation of Chinese directors mostly started their careers as script supervisors,” said film critic Zhang Xiaobei. “But it is very important for a director to improve his or her skills practically in his profession. In this aspect, short films offer great possibilities.”

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