House of Cards, a show based on the book by British author Michael Dobbs, debuted all 13 episodes of its first season on the streaming media site Netflix to great acclaim on February 1st, 2013. It received nine Emmy nominations, and managed to win both the Outstanding Directing and Outstanding Casting awards. In China, ratings for the first two seasons of House of Cards surpassed more than 150 thousand on Sohu; the show also received a high score of 9.2 (out of 10) on Douban.com, the largest literary and arts review site in China.
The instant success of House of Cards interested Amazon, Microsoft and other tech giants to invest in online and streaming shows. Many Chinese streaming websites also began to create web dramas. According to the latest data, there are more than 428 million streaming media users in China, with more than two and a half times more mobile users than America; the market potential is enormous.
Evil Minds, a web drama based on author Lei Mi’s novel Profiler, was a hit among all the web shows launched in 2015. The novel received more than one billion page views online, and was number one among all the crime novels released online in the last 10 years. The show had only eight episodes on iqiyi.com, yet in just one month, views passed 100 million. Fang Mu, the male protagonist of the show, was a sharp student who could be compared to Sherlock Holmes. After a series of campus murders, he became extremely afraid of brutal crimes, faced with more and more killings, however, he was forced to conquer his own fear in order to solve the cases. Evil Minds cost 3 million RMB to produce and was shot like an American TV show; the high-end production value and movie-like quality, combined with both English and Chinese subtitles, made the show extremely popular among web users. Many plot points such as “Is the female character Chen Xi alive or part of Fang Mu’s imagination?” and “How would the killer try to kill the next person?” became hot topics and gave the show an even bigger following.
Before fan fever for Evil Minds could slow down, The Lost Tomb, a web show based on suspense writer Xu Lei’s novel The Graver Robbers, is slated to start in June. The books were serialized in 2006, and have sold more than 12 million copies so far, with more than 10 million fans. The books followed a group of grave-robbers on their adventures and all of their fantastic and mysterious experiences. The producers claimed that The Lost Tomb is modeled after House of Cards, and will be a “super web show” with an investment of more than 10 million RMB.
While no web shows have turned into movies so far, it is undeniable that the online trend is affecting the development and growth of the entire entertainment industry. The audience for web shows tends to be younger, and the scripts are based on best-selling novels, so there’s a built-in following, plus the audience can interact with the product as the show plays, adding deep commentary no less expert than professional critics. The constant feedback helps to promote the show and makes a hot show even hotter, adding to the good feedback. In the near future, excellent web shows will lead to better traditional TV shows, and enable the audience to enjoy more varied and excellent entertainment offerings.