iQiyi is bolder than ever, streaming across the region with its own high-end Chinese productions, expensive rights acquisitions and plans to ramp up local originals. iQiyi SVP, Chen Xiao, speaks about the what, how and why of redefining content for a new entertainment universe.
Chinese streamer iQiyi has just wrapped filming its first Southeast Asia original drama – The Ferryman: Legends of Nanyang, an adaptation of an iQiyi original that streamed in China in 2014. Cameras rolled in Singapore in August, a few weeks after the platform unveiled its coming slate of 40 original dramas and 20 variety titles in China, and talked about redefining content for a new universe.
It’s all part of a grand growth plan that, among other things, has drawn attention for the platform’s ability to make bold content decisions, made iQiyi a regular in the top three entertainment apps in Apple’s app store in Singapore, and put the streamer on the priority call-list of anyone with a right to sell.
iQiyi offers a mix of Asian drama, variety, iQiyi originals such as The Bad Kids from China, Youth With You in English and Thai plus library titles like Singapore’s The Little Nyonya, and Korean drama such as Backstreet Rookie and Hotel De Luna.
What does iQiyi mean by redefining content? “Redefining new content means we take deep insight into the core of psychological units of a user and carefully understand the subtle difference between different user groups. On this basis, we are innovating, including new story themes, the latest social trends and cultivating new ideas. To make new content, we should not only tell a different story but tell it in a brand new way,” says iQiyi’s senior vice president, Chen Xiao.
That journey in Southeast Asia begins with The Ferryman: Legends of Nanyang, based on iQiyi’s Mandarin original, Soul Ferry, a supernatural drama about a young man who can communicate with spirits. The Ferryman: Legends of Nanyang portrays the history of Singapore and Malaysia during World War II. The premiere date had not been disclosed at press time.
Chen says Soul Ferry series is one of iQiyi’s most successful original series. “And we want to enlarge its influence. We think the story is quite suitable for overseas audiences, especially in Southeast Asia, and we’ve paid attention to the preferences of audiences in the region. For example, we chose Singapore actor, Lawrence Wong, to play the lead character, and we are shooting in Singapore and Malaysia. The story line has also been adapted to make it more relevant to local viewers.”
The series is only the beginning of iQiyi’s bigger ambitions for original production in Asia, putting the streamer in play against global and local rivals in Southeast Asia’s content gold rush.
“iQiyi’s original content has proven very successful in Chinese markets and we will leverage the best practice to further cooperation with local talent or companies. Our dream is to produce the best Asian content for the world with high-quality production levels and very rich visual and audio experience and more trendy cultural features expressing the lives and feelings of modern audiences,” Chen says.
“We are focused on markets more open to new content, especially Chinese content to begin with... but we are trying to make content that doesn’t focus on specific countries or cultures because we want to make worldwide content in future,” he adds.
iQiyi has its eyes wide open for co-productions opportunities. “We’re more than happy to work with local content partners who bring us good ideas or high level production capacities,” Chen says.
Meanwhile, the platform has a seat at the table of every high-end regional acquisition discussion, pulling ahead on exclusive rights for shows like SBS’s Korean series, Backstreet Rookie, distributed globally (ex-Korea) by A+E Networks and JTBC’s Hush (ex-China/Korea, premieres 11 December), but also adding current titles such as tvN’s Tale of the Nine Tailed and Memorist, and JTBC’s 18 Again and More Than Friends.
Chen says exclusive rights “help us get more subscription, which is key to our business model. It’s the same for different streaming platforms”.
Non-exclusive content, meanwhile, “helps us get a good balance between content coverage and cost efficiency. 100% exclusivity is not what our consumer audience needs. We will keep developing iQiyi originals to strengthen our content brand and to make it different from other platforms.”
Much of iQiyi’s premium content is offered for free, with advertising, with a VIP premium layer that carries benefits like earlier access and no advertising.
“In general, the business pattern of free and VIP meet different needs of our users, Chen says. VIP users are able to access more up-to-date content with sometimes better audio and visual effects. In addition, they have the opportunity to participate in offline events,” Chen says, adding: “Our business pattern provides users with diverse choices so that everyone can enjoy our services. iQiyi’s business model is to monetise one IP in multiple ways.”
Running alongside content development strategies are iQiyi’s tech ambitions. “iQiyi’s vision is to become a technology-based entertainment giant,” Chen says.
“We are constantly applying AI technology to the whole process of content creation and operation, such as intelligent production, intelligent shooting, intelligent editing and intelligent recommendation for users. We hope that through the application of technology, the creation will become smarter, and creators can spend more energy on discovering and realising great ideas, save their time and do the right thing.”
Published in ContentAsia's December 2020 magazine