What's Hot on China's YouTube: Original Celebrity Programming

Business Talk Shows, Micromovies and U.S.-Watching From Afar All Harness Stars' Social-Media Power

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China has half a billion internet users, and about 350 million of them watch videos online. China's version of YouTube is Youku Tudou, formed when China's No. 1 online video site acquired its top competitor in a deal finalized this August. With a combined 310 million unique users each week, they remain separate sites, with Youku serving a mainstream audience and Tudou focusing on entertainment-related content.

Morning Call's Gao Xiaosong
Morning Call's Gao Xiaosong

Youku and Tudou were originally a blend of YouTube, Hulu and Netflix, offering expansive libraries of licensed content as well as user-generated videos. But the migration of Chinese viewers to online video has created unique opportunities around original content, often featuring established stars.

"Part of the original content strategy is to make sure the content is squarely targeted toward the young, urban 18-to-35-year-old demographic," said Victor Koo, Youku Tudou's CEO, in a recent conference call with reporters.

Here are some examples of what's hot on China's version of YouTube.

"Morning Call"
Gao Xiaosong, best known as a judge on the highly popular "China's Got Talent," has parlayed his earlier experience living and working in the U.S. into a program in which he explains different aspects of American culture. His episode on health care in America, with 1.9 million views, was even analyzed by The New Yorker.

Young Chinese are curious about foreign cultures, especially as the country is increasingly influenced by global brands, entertainment and trends.

"Morning Call" has even started airing on Zhejiang provincial satellite TV, which reaches households nationwide -- the first time a Chinese web series has made the jump to prime-time TV.

Cars, computers and small home appliances are advertised on "Morning Call." An episode about soccer's European Cup, with 3.1 million views, was filmed in a trendy Beijing tapas restaurant.

But marketers should know that the show can seem offensive by Western sensibilities. Mr. Gao, who has 10.5 million Weibo followers, isn't malicious toward the U.S. -- in fact, he praises its inclusiveness and diversity -- but his opinions are telling of how the country and its people are perceived from a Chinese world view.

In the episode "People and Things in the U.S.," Mr. Gao explains that WASPs are the dominant group, and that while Barack Obama has black skin he's essentially a WASP, otherwise he never would have been elected president.

Americans can't do basic math without a calculator, he says, and children aren't taught basic multiplication. Everyone from bankers to taxi drivers love to talk about sports. (This part may be true.)

He continues: "In America, the two types of people with the highest IQs are Chinese and Jews. But they have different interests. Jews with high IQs go into business. Chinese with high IQs do scientific research." As for other groups, Irish are successful in politics, while Italians favor organized crime.

Chinese love business success stories and top entrepreneurs are bona fide celebrities. Real-estate tycoon Pan Shiyi has nearly 15 million Weibo followers, and is seeking to build his own brand and promote his company through his online talk show "Friends."

Business talk show Friends
Business talk show Friends

Interviewing fellow business icons as well as celebrities from the entertainment world, the outspoken Mr. Pan has leveraged his social-media following into more than a million views for some of his episodes. Not huge numbers considering the massive size of China's online audience, but it will be interesting to see how the shrewd businessman further leverages his influence using social media.

Mr. Pan has a track record of savvy marketing decisions, making his futuristic SOHO mixed-use real estate developments key landmarks in the Beijing and Shanghai cityscapes.

His image has even been used illegally -- perhaps the best indication of celebrity status in China -- in an ad for a local hospital's treatment of male sexual dysfunction.

Sponsored Micromovies
As audiences increasingly go online to watch their favorite movies and TV shows, Youku is creating web movies that are about 15 minutes long and feature top directors and actors.

Buick partnered with Youku for a series of 12 micromovies called "Infinite Drive." In the 10-minute films from established Chinese directors, young urbanites balance their dreams with desire for stability.

Buick-sponsored micromovie
Buick-sponsored micromovie

"We hope to create and reinforce a resonance between the values of the Buick brand and the values of today's young urban professionals," Jean Liu, director of branding for Shanghai GM Buick, said in a statement.

Besides General Motors, other multinational marketers such as Philips and Lenovo have sponsored all or parts of Youku's series.

Some web films are getting critical acclaim. "Walker," a 25-minute film that is part of the "Beautiful 2012" Youku micromovie series, was screened on the closing night of Critics Week at the Cannes Film Festival.

Youku's current micromovie series, "Hello Impossible," is sponsored by Hyundai. The first installment, starring pop singer He Jie, has received 5.3 million clicks.

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