Free and legal US dramas set to stream on Sohu website

By Liu Wei (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-09-14 09:15
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A Chinese web portal has joined hands with producers of sitcoms and dramas in the United States to release their shows for free.

If this does not sound new, it is because millions of Chinese fans of US television shows have long had access to their favorite episodes on the Internet. Usually they will download them via services such as BitTorrent or watch them on video sharing websites.

Viewers do not have to pay to see the shows in this way, but there is a delay, sometimes poor subtitling and more importantly, most of the shows available online are pirated.

Free and legal US dramas set to stream on Sohu website

Sohu, one of the most visited websites in China, is officially working with US producers such as Warner Brothers and ABC, by paying for the right to air their shows. They aim to recoup their costs through advertisements.

Sohu will release the fourth season of Gossip Girl and The Big Bang Theory, and the first season of Nikita this month.

As the exclusive Chinese online broadcaster of the shows, Sohu will release the episodes the day after the episodes are broadcast in the US. Nikita will be available on Sept 10, Gossip Girl on Sept 14, and The Big Bang Theory on Sept 24. None of the three shows is to be broadcast on Chinese television.

Warner Brothers will provide Sohu with the scripts about two weeks before they are to be broadcast, and the website has hired a team of professional translators and some experienced zimuzu - volunteers who translate the dialogue into Chinese subtitles out of love for the shows, a desire to learn English or simply an eagerness to share the shows with others.

Yu Tao, editor in chief of Sohu's video department, believes the website is in the vanguard of a new trend.

"We are cultivating a market now," he says. "We want to win producers and viewers as early as possible."

Sohu started cooperation with Warner Brothers in 2009, when the studio was searching for an online platform in China to release some of its products.

Its primary condition was that there should be no illegitimate content on the platform. From the beginning, Yu made it clear that Sohu will not offer any pirated content.

In August last year, Sohu opened a Warner Brothers' special zone to show some of its films and television shows, such as Gossip Girl, but they were not real-time broadcasts.

Later Sohu also began screening ABC's Lost.

"I believe more and more studios and viewers will come to us," Yu says. "For studios, we have a legal, powerful platform and clean reputation. And for viewers, they just open a web page and do not have to download anything to see the latest shows."

Yu says their target audience is clear. Most viewers are young people, especially students and white-collar workers. Secondly, their preferences are clear, for example, Gossip Girl appeals to young women, while The Pacific appeals to the men.

Advertisers like to see the two, Yu says, because that makes their spending on advertising effective and tangible.

So far Sohu has not made big money from its pioneering move due to the high copyright fees, but Yu believes in the long term, only legitimate video sharing will keep the industry going.

"Ultimately nobody makes money or has the passion to create good works if piracy dominates," he says.