Business / Companies

Youku looks inward for growth in original media

By Zheng Yangpeng (China Daily) Updated: 2012-04-25 10:52

After last year's surge in copyright fees for films and TV dramas, market participants expect a price fall.

But Inc, which owns China's largest video website, isn't waiting for that to happen. Instead, it's adding to its content pool by producing original movies and TV dramas.

Youku looks inward for growth in original media

So far this year, Youku hasn't bought a single movie or TV drama copyright, Zhu Xiangyang, chief editor of, said at an event last Wednesday.

Public data show that other websites haven't done much copyright buying this year. This, said Zhu, shows a return to rationality.

"Buyers are in a much more cautious mood," Zhang Fan, an analyst with domestic research company Analysys International, told China Daily. He expected this situation to last until mid-year, to be followed by a 20-percent slump in copyright prices in the second half.

Rising demand from video websites such as Youku is believed to have pushed up copyright prices last year, which resulted in higher financial burdens for such websites.

Youku's fourth-quarter loss widened 32 percent to 49.65 million yuan ($7.9 million). The company said the rise reflected higher copyright prices and purchase volumes.

But Youku's move to produce more of its own content is independent of copyright purchase issues, said Frank Wei, senior vice-president of operations of Inc. Instead, it aims to meet the tastes of China's Internet users and fill out its product portfolio.

"Youku began to develop original content in 2008, when the price of TV dramas had not yet risen," Wei said.

In 2008, My Chief and My Regiment, a major TV hit, sold at just 300,000 yuan per episode. The price soared to a record of more than 1 million per episode the next year.

Wei said original Web content - dramas, micro-movies and movies - was "totally different" from shows produced for TV and cinema because of their length, subjects and methods of promotion.

Youku's in-house movies are much shorter than those screened in cinemas. A theatrical release usually runs for about two hours, while a micro-movie runs 10 to 15 minutes and an online movie lasts 40 to 45 minutes, reflecting web users' viewing habits.

Youku also avoids fantasies, epics and thrillers, themes often favored by conventional movies. Youku Original, a branch specializing in original content production, focuses on everyday topics such as love and work.

Old Boy, an online movie produced by Youku, is an example. Featuring nostalgic themes targeting the post-1970s generation, a key online audience, it became a hit in 2010 with a record 30 million online views.

The success of Old Boy encouraged Youku to develop movies and dramas that focus on concepts like youth, happiness and beauty.

This year, it invited four big names in the film industry - Ann Hui, Gu Changwei, Tsai Ming-liang and Tae-yong Kim - to make micro-movies.

Youku also seeks to match these directors' online efforts with their theatrical releases.

For example, following the screening of Ann Hui's critically acclaimed A Simple Life, a 20-minute micro movie by her entitled My Way was released on Youku.

"It is a good interaction," Wei said.

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