The original Malaysian story of a man promised a life of luxury as a sugar baby has put Chinese streamer iQiyi in a sweet spot.
As iQiyi’s corporate bosses announced the company’s “iconic turnaround” for the first nine months of 2022, the Chinese streamer’s Southeast Asia team was celebrating a win of its own – Rampas Cintaku, a dark romance about a young man desperate to get out of debt and escape harassment from loan sharks. He decides to work in a nightclub where he meets a wealthy businesswoman who promises him a life of luxury as a “sugar-baby”.
The Malay original, Rampas Cintaku, topped the streamer’s charts in Malaysia, ending its run with over 100 million digital views.
This makes the 14-episode series, produced in collaboration with MIG Productions, the top (and most profitable) local title on the platform that audiences in Malaysia are willing to pay for, iQiyi says.
iQiyi describes the performance of its Malaysia originals so far as “a solid start”, and says it paves “the way for local originals to have substantial revenue stream potential for iQiyi in Malaysia”.
Rampas Cintaku, which premiered on 23 September, is one of five Malaysian originals iQiyi announced in Dec 2021.
The others are sitcom My Ofis, about rockstar wannabe Jasper who relinquishes his dream and enters corporate life, produced in collaboration with Kuching-based Longhouse Films; director Aidilfitri Mohamed Yunus’ Sorry Naik Lori with Tsar Asia, about a housewife whose TikTok video goes viral; time-travel romantic drama, Love You Later, with Juita Viden; and Infinitus Entertainment’s Restu, about a recently widowed father and three marriage prospects who need to meet the approval of his grieving daughter.
My Ofis ran earlier this year. At press time, seven of Sorry Naik Lori’s 12 episodes had dropped. Restu is scheduled for 2023. Love You Later is to be confirmed.
Dinesh Ratnam, iQiyi’s country manager for Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, says Rampas Cintaku’s “exceedingly high viewership demonstrates the strong appetite for hyper local content with authentic storytelling that is real and differentiated.”
Ratnam says the new slate of made-in-Malaysia dramas showcased “the authentic Malaysian culture and language to the international audience, while contributing to the local creative industry”.
At the same time, the demand from streaming platforms is for “something edgier” than the shows available on free TV. In Malaysia, this translates to topics that deal with, for example, women’s empowerment and cross-cultural diversity.
Across the region, iQiyi has been bold in surfacing attention-grabbing stories – topped by its Thai original, KinnPorsche: The Series La Forte, a BL series about the son of a Mafia don rescued by a part-time student, who becomes his bodyguard.
If he can’t exactly go there in his markets, Ratnam nevertheless speaks up for valuing “differentiation”, “unique storylines that represent the essence of local communities”, as well as being part of a strong production environment.
“It’s our goal to be an active driver in the local content ecosystem,” he says.
This follows the two years since launch acquiring prime-time drama rights from Malaysia’s broadcasters, including Media Prima, which made iQiyi something of a short-window catch-up service.
A more recent deal with Sure TV streaming platform adds variety and reality shows. “We’re seeing that attract a different kind of audience and obviously provides a different kind of format for existing audiences to enjoy as well,” Ratnam says.
Rampas Cintaku’s performance has given him valuable validation. “We continue to double down on productions and formats that compliment whatever local content we’ve been licensing."
A version of this story appears in ContentAsia's December 2022 magazine