The company’s chief executive, Charles Zhang, believes recent court victories against copyright violators is kick-starting a major import boom of Hollywood TV shows and movies. Chinese audiences are now able to laugh along to the comedic charms of U.S. TV luminaries like Kristen Wiig, Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers, as classic sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live has made its China debut on the online video site Sohu.com.
Sohu.com chief executive Charles Zhang believes the import of Saturday Night Live and shows like the soon-to-come Mob City, as well as a series of recent court victories, will spearhead industry efforts to combat piracy and woo Chinese audiences to watch legitimate U.S. content in the world’s biggest online market.
“American TV shows account for one-fifth of total clicks we’re getting, and I’m really confident that we will be able to attract the attention of younger viewers,” Zhang said at an event at the company’s headquarters in Beijing’s Haidian district. The event was also attended by Chinese stand-up comedian Joe Wong and Kelly Cha, a Beijing-based TV presenter, musician, writer and actor.
SNL quietly premiered on Sohu.com on Dec. 23, but the company officially announced the debut at the Beijing event today.
Over the course of 2013, China’s online video market began to emerge as a viable distribution channel for Hollywood content producers, with a raft of top U.S. TV series, such as The Walking Dead and Modern Family, selling to Sohu.com, Youku Tudou and other streaming services. The sums involved in licensing content are small, and to make VOD a meaningful business, China has to deal with the widespread problem of digital piracy. Zhang believes that is happening now, and fast.
Earlier this week, China’s largest search engine, Baidu Inc., and Shenzhen-based technology firm QVOD were labeled China’s top two violators of copyrighted video content in 2013 by the National Copyright Administration of China (NCAC).
“The younger generation is growing up in a connected world with greater English proficiency, and culturally they are fans of celebrities overseas — it’s worldwide. Just from the traffic, we know they are enjoying American TV episodes,” Zhang said. “Because of fair competition of American TV industry, generally the quality is so much higher, so much better, it’s eye-opening for Chinese people to watch these creations. It’s fashionable to be a fan of American culture — they feel dignified, a person with class,” he added.
He said that if Saturday Night Live becomes popular in China, it will inspire Chinese producers to do make similar shows in terms of format, although with more localized content. In a self-aware joke that drew laughs from the mixed crowd, Zhang added: “[SNL] is not going to be controversial here — unless … they make a joke about China.” Cha said the resurgence of quality American TV was being noticed in China and that there is a ready-made audience for U.S. TV here.
“American TV is just so good these days. Everybody’s watching, the quality is better, the shows are smarter,” Cha said.