The Fantastical World of China’s Internet IP Shows

Our discussion this week started with a very big question (just like every other week, duh):


What are the Chinese watching, and why are they watching them?


First, two facts -  


1) The Chinese now spend a lot of time watching things online, A LOT.

2) There are now a lot of things for the Chinese to watch online, A LOT.


China's three internet giants, Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent each owns a share of the online video market through iQiyi, Youku and Tencent Video.


In the Western world of internet videos there are Youtube, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Video, and inside China’s Great Fire Wall we've got Youku (owned by Alibaba), iQiyi (founded by Baidu), Tencent Video, LeTV, Sohu TV and so on. Although both sides have been investing heavily in copyrights as well as self-producing original entertainment content over the past number of years, video platforms in China are intrinsically unique in that they are squeezed from both ends: mounting pressure from the top (even-so-tightened government censorship an regulations) as well as incredibility fierce market competitions on the ground.


Fierce because the market is just so, so big. According to recent statistics, the Chinese Internet now has over 731 million users and 95% of them would directly access entertainment content on mobile devices. Although many viewers, especially the younger ones have found pleasure in watching things from different cultural backgrounds, the majority of the population still prefer, and desperately crave for local content with a more familiar cultural context. So what do video platforms do?


Produce, produce, and produce more - of what?


Well, ladies and gentlemen, it's time to bring on the ultimate, most productive cash machine in today’s China:


The IPs.


  • Same IP, Localized Meaning

IP = Intellectual Property, which, by the definition of the U.S law, means a work or invention that is the result of creativity, such as a manuscript or a design, to which one has rights and for which one may apply for a patent, copyright, trademark, etc.


In China, the idea of IP developed into a localized discourse in 2015, when all of a sudden everyone seemed to be talking about IPs, making IPs or busy being IPs themselves. Today, if you bumped into people discussing “IP/big IPs” in cafes or on the streets of cities in China, just remember that they are NOT talking about laws or regulations; instead, the conversations are all about entertainment, the internet, and, most importantly, money.


We didn't manage to hatch a successful IP, but at least we hatched out this story...


  • IP Fantasies and Fantasy IPs

In June 2015, the drama series 花千骨 The Journey of Flower swept through the Chinese internet as a massive sensation. Originally adapted from an online novel about a god and goddess fated to kill each other that fell in love in the afterlife, the drama broke many viewing record and became the first China television series to pass 15 billion views online.



We all know what us Chinese are good at: learning (or copying) from others’ success. Inspired by the series's huge hit, Chinese investors and producers jumped on the bandwagon to purchase thousands of similar internet-indigenous, fantasy-themed literatures from writers or platforms. These buyers – often speculators and liars (oops) who are excellent at making short-term profits, very quickly figured out a set of rules for manufacturing fast-fashion style television series which in theory could easily generate as much revenue, if not more, as The Journey of Flower.


  • The Golden Rules

In short, the whole set of rules is based on one fundamental doctrine: to hurry. Be as quick as possible, to produce as much as possible in the shortest time. Why?

Because everyone knows the tricks here - although hot money is still floating around, the market bubble could burst anytime; plus, the consumers could only stay dumb for so long after being fed with mouthful of homogenous junks...


So what exactly are the golden rules for making a successful, highly-profitable IP show in today's China? 


1) Find a hot title online.

No need to worry about the literal standard or even the originality of the works, the mass readership itself is a guaranty of money.


2) No playwrights required.

Just take the lines and scenes from the online literature and make it a “script” to shoot from.


3) Acting is unimportant, fame is crucial.

Fans of celebrities are the second big factor of this money machine, which gives the actors/actresses the immense power to write whatever paycheck they want and act however they want


4) Forget about story.

Instead of focusing on ingredients and flavors, all we needed  is to make the story dough fluffier so that it could be stretched it into more episodes (we explained more about why China's TV shows are freakin' long here). 


5) Production quality is irrelevant.

Come on, you got the hottest, most beautiful faces on cast already, who still give a damn about quality?


Last but not the least –


6) Stay away from the reality.

In a country where government regulations and censorships keep getting tighter, the last thing you want to do is to be real. Being real is dangerous. Being real is hurtful. Being real is, well, surreal.


And of course, after wrapping up the manufacturing process, don’t forget to put a big, shiny “Big-IP” label on this thing – however you think it is – that’s to be rolled out on one or multiple internet and television platforms. No matter how unoriginal or trashy the work is, by calling it out as an IP, you are making it big, making it special, making it a flying pig vociferating in China's internet frenzy.


To testify the magic outcomes of these golden rules, we hand-picked 10 of the most popular IP shows that aired in the past two years and immersed ourselves in their fantastical world for a week (that's a lie, we watched about 20 mins of each series and reckoned that was more than enough).


The series we watched are:

(In airing date order)

  • 花千骨 The Journey of Flower, aired June 2015
  • 幻城 Ice Fantasy, aired July 2016
  • 微微一笑很倾城 LOVE O2O, aired August 2016
  • 锦绣未央 Princess Weiyoung, aired Nov 2016
  • 孤芳不自赏 General and I,  aired Jan 2017
  • 三生三世十里桃花 Ten great III of peach blossom, aired Jan 2017
  • 择天记 Fighter of the Destiny, aired April 2017
  • 醉玲珑 Lost Love In Times,  aired July 2017
  • 楚乔传 Princess Agents, aired June 2017
  • 秦时丽人明月传 The king's woman, aired Aug 2017


We’d analysis the viewer’ receptions and the overall market reactions in a later story. For today, all we want is to bombard you with some fascinating screenshots from these shows for the purpose of entertainment and, well, some serious self-reflections -


Why, why shows like these?



*Everything below is personal opinions of our own, objections and discussions are welcomed.


Let's start with make-ups and costumes.


Hi bro, how about using some concealers to cover your own brows first?

(from:醉玲珑 Lost Love In Times )


Those brows, ding it!

(from:醉玲珑 Lost Love In Times )


An ancient female character with full-on modern make-up and two-toned colored hair, perfect.

(From: 花千骨 The Journey of Flower)


The eyeliners. The false lashes. And the lips...

(from: 锦绣未央 Princess Weiyoung)


Sir, where did you get your red contact lenses from?

(From: 三生三世十里桃花 Ten great III of peach blossom)


When you cannot fly, your brows fly for ya.

(From: 花千骨 The Journey of Flower)



(From: 幻城 Ice Fantasy)


From make-ups and costumes we noticed a bigger trend associated with the color schemes of these shows. In our knowledge, color correction is supposed to, well, correct the colors: to make things look right, to make people look like people, to make the overall visual profile more saturated and stereo. But we were not so sure anymore after watching these IP shows...


Even the collars of the costume looks green.

(From: 花千骨 The Journey of Flower)


And now everything looks blue.

(from: 孤芳不自赏 General and I)


Let's guess - how many layers of beauty-cam filters did the visual folks apply to this shot?

(from:孤芳不自赏 General and I)


THAT soft pink glow on his face.

(From: 花千骨 The Journey of Flower)


Now onto our favorite part - the special effects.


This is meant to be a "real" Kungfu practicing field.

(from: 择天记 Fighter of the Destiny)


And this is a "real" castle.

(from: 择天记 Fighter of the Destiny)


This is NOT in a RPG game.

(From: 醉玲珑 Lost Love In Times)


Such. A. GEM.

(From: 微微一笑很倾城 LOVE O2O)


(from:三生三世十里桃花 Ten great III of peach blossom)


 (From: 花千骨 The Journey of Flower)


And of course, we are saving our faaaavorites for the end - 



OK, enough for today.


Have you watched any of these IP shows or encountered anything similar?

What do you think about them? 

Please, let's bring up a round of discussion on this topic - we are really, really curious about views and experiences from your ends (and glad that we are done watching them, for now). 

Thanks and see you next time!


Biyi and Yan


4 thoughts on “The Fantastical World of China’s Internet IP Shows

  • December 30, 2017 at 3:41 am

    It’s called suspension of disbelief and low budget TV show… you cant expect Hollywood style movies with small local V budgets! And I actually find the costumes and make up and set designs rather entertaining. Of course a lot of it is CGI…. it’s a fantasy movie! If you want something fancy, then pay to watch a big screen film.

  • December 30, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    budget is definitely not an issue for these shows – the production budget for 幻城 (the show in our cover photo) was 360 million rmb…

  • February 5, 2018 at 9:40 am

    我还真认识给幻城做PS的朋友,她是原力动画的。她说主要原因有两点,一是工期太短,拍摄完成后给她们精修的时间只有3个月,像Weta Digital做阿凡达和指环王特效都是以年计的;还有一个是大量都不是熟练工,招了大量实习生在做这个事情,效果没法保证。

  • June 19, 2018 at 2:36 am

    Princess Weiyoung is better that what I expected. I’m watched this drama. It’s a mixture of romance, action, and humor. If you watch this, you will be hooked up since you laugh at the same time will be fascinated with the action scenes. There’s a bit of political struggle too but all in all you will really enjoy this series.

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