TV dramas go online, copyright prices soar
By Zhang Zhao (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-11-30

In 2006, the online copyright for 80 episodes of the blockbuster TV drama My Own Swordsman sold for a modest 100,000 yuan ($15,720).

Just five years later, the price paid by Internet portal Sohu for rights to another hit television series - New Princess Pearl, which has nearly 100 episodes - soared to 30 million yuan.

Then there's the deal by Qiyi, a video website run by China's largest search engine Baidu, to pay 1.5 million yuan for the rights to each episode of another TV drama.

The average copyright price for one online episode is about 500,000 yuan today, but the figure for a hit drama can reach more than 1 million yuan, about the same as broadcast rights.

"Six years ago, you could buy (the online copyright for) 1,000 movies with 300,000 yuan, but now you can only buy one episode of a TV drama," said Han Xuemin, vice-president of the video sharing website

One of the major reasons for skyrocketing copyright prices is the increasing number of TV viewers who are turning their eyes to their computer screens for entertainment.

Professor Fan Zhizhong from the Zhejiang University's School of Media and International Culture said it is "purely market behavior" for video websites to spend large amounts on TV dramas.

"Advanced Internet technology has made it possible to watch TV dramas online, while at the same time the government is paying increasing attention to fighting piracy, which has encouraged websites to purchase copyrights," Fan said.

'Invisible hand'

He said the true value of a TV drama's online copyright might be decided by the "invisible hand" of various deals.

After a video website buys the exclusive copyright for a TV drama, it often resells it to a number of other websites to recover its investment.

"Such a distribution strategy allows a company to profit from the price difference," said Gao Fei, vice-president of the video website "It's like buying houses. The earlier you buy a house, the more you can earn" by resale.

Growing online viewer numbers and the pursuit of copyrighted content have led to increasingly fierce competition. People who use the Internet to watch TV dramas have the choice between watching for free with ads or paying to see high-quality video.

Online viewers have noticed the difference in recent years as more advertising is added to each episode - before it begins and after it ends, or even in the middle.

"TV stations need audience ratings to attract more advertising, and so do websites. The long, popular TV dramas are without doubt a perfect attraction," said Fan.

But some websites also offer paid content.

"Some viewers are sensitive to price," Gao said. "But others have higher requirements for quality and don't like wasting time watching ads. So they are willing to pay for a better experience."

China Daily

(China Daily 11/30/2011 page17)

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