When judging the popularity of television dramas, the go-to statistic has always been the drama’s ratings (收视率). Also known as audience measurement or television viewership, a drama’s ratings show how many people tuned in — the higher the number, the more people turned on their TVs to catch the latest episode.
With the rapid development of new media, however, ratings can no longer illustrate the entire picture when it comes to drama popularity. More and more, people are turning to online streaming or downloading in order to get their drama fix, which means a shift in criteria may be necessary.
Recently, Sina published a list of findings from Vlinkage, a Shanghai-based consulting company that monitors data regarding videos and new media in China. Founded in 2012, Vlinkage has amassed what they call China’s most complete information database on actors, movies, and TV dramas, which they then use to evaluate the entertainment market.
In their article, Vlinkage lists 48 dramas that have received more than 1 billion views online. To put this in perspective, that’s how many views Psy‘s “Gangnam Style” MV reached on YouTube five months after it was uploaded. That’s one video. This is 48 dramas, and the one topping the list has almost 7 billion views.
Unfortunately, the parameters of Vlinkage’s study are a little vague. For instance, it’s implied that the view count is for all of each drama’s episodes, but the article doesn’t state which website(s) they used to gather information. Was it Youku, Tudou, Sohu, LeTV, PPTV, etc., or some combination of the above? Furthermore, does downloading count, or only streaming? And did they have a cut-off point for older dramas? (I put “2009 onward” only because the oldest drama on this list is from 2009 — the study doesn’t say if they paid attention to when dramas aired.)
I’m assuming Vlinkage’s base audience is mainland Chinese netizens, although it definitely would have been interesting to see overseas statistics and trends. Then again, judging from the frequency with which drama uploads get pulled from YouTube, it might be impossible to get an accurate number.
With those caveats, here’s the list, along with some interesting discoveries:
|Name of Drama||Views (billion)|
|1||Legend of Zhen Huan (后宫甄嬛传)
Sun Li, Chen Jianbin, Ada Choi
|2||New Huan Zhu Ge Ge (新还珠格格)
Li Sheng, Hai Lu, Zhang Rui, Li Jiahang
|3||Bu Bu Jing Xin (步步惊心)
Liu Shishi, Nicky Wu, Kevin Cheng, Yuan Hong
|4||Three Kingdoms (2012) (三国)
Chen Jianbin, Yu Hewei, Zhang Bo, Lu Yi
|5||Beijing Love Story (北京爱情故事)
Chen Sicheng, Tong Liya, Li Chen, Zhang Yi
Yang Mi, Feng Shaofeng, Mickey He
|7||Xuan Yuan Sword – Rift of the Sky (轩辕剑之天之痕)
Hu Ge, Jiang Jinfu, Liu Shishi, Tang Yan
|8||All Men Are Brothers (Water Margin) (新水浒传)
Zhang Hanyu, Yan Kuan, Chen Long, Wang Jianxin
|9||Special Arms II: Edge Drawn (我是特种兵之利刃出鞘)
Wu Jing, Hou Yong, Xu Jia
|10||Temptation of Going Home (回家的诱惑)
Choo Ja Hyun, Ling Xiaosu, Rain Lee
|11||Waking Love Up (爱情睡醒了)
Roy Qiu, Tang Yan, Qi Wei, Jones Xu
|12||Flying Wooden Donkey (怪侠欧阳德)
Xiaoshenyang, Zhao Benshan, Li Sheng
|13||My Daughter (夏家三千金)
Tang Yan, Zhang Meng, Qi Wei, Roy Qiu
|14||Affairs of a Married Couple (夫妻那些事)
Huang Lei, Chen Shu, Liang Jing
|15||The Bride with White Hair (2012) (新白发魔女传)
Nicky Wu, Ma Su, Louis Fan
|16||Heroes of Sui and Tang (隋唐英雄)
Winston Chao, Yu Shaoqun, Dicky Cheung
Wallace Huo, Chen Qiao’en, Chen Xiao
|18||AA Lifestyle (AA制生活)
Li Xiaolu, Ma Su, Ren Zhong
|19||Palace 2 (宫锁珠帘)
Du Chun, Mickey He, Yuan Shanshan
|20||Schemes of a Beauty (美人心计)
Ruby Lin, Wang Likun, Yang Mi
|21||Drawing Sword (2012) (新亮剑)
Huang Zhizhong, Ren Quan, Guo Jinglin
|22||iPartment 3 (爱情公寓 第三季)
Chen He, Lou Yixiao, Sun Yizhou
Sun Honglei, Wang Luodan, Huang Lei
|24||Special Arms (我是特种兵)
Gu Zhixin, Wang Kuirong
|25||Forensic Heroes III (法证先锋3)
Wayne Lai, Maggie Cheung, Aimee Chan
|26||The Legend of Crazy Monk (活佛济公 第三部)
Benny Chan, Lam Tze Chung, Ye Zuxin
|27||The Magic Blade (新天涯明月刀)
Wallace Chung, Baron Chen, Zhang Meng
|28||Snow Leopard (雪豹)
Wen Zhang, Tao Feifei, Du Yuming
|29||The Colours of Love (女人的颜色)
Ling Xiaosu, Xu Yun, Lu Fangsheng
|30||World of a Beauty (唐宫美人天下)
Zhang Ting, Li Xiaolu, Mingdao
|31||Beijing Youth (北京青年)
Li Chen, Du Chun, Ma Su
|32||Forever Designation (永不磨灭的番号)
Huang Haibo, Wang Lei, Li Jian
|33||Sealed with a Kiss (千山暮雪)
Hawick Lau, Ying’er, Wen Zhengrong
|34||Unbeatable II (无懈可击之高手如林)
Hu Ge, Tang Yan, Qi Wei, Roy Qiu
|35||Rules before a Divorce (离婚前规则)
Bai Baihe, Jia Nailiang, Gao Lu
|36||The Happy Life of Jin Tailang (金太狼的幸福生活)
Li Xiaolu, Wang Lei, Song Dandan
|37||Family, to the Nth Power (家N次方)
Song Dandan, Zhu Yuchen, Fiona Wang
|38||Journey to the West (2011/2012) (新西游记)
Wu Yue, Nie Yuan, Zang Jinsheng
|39||Chinese Paladin 3 (仙剑奇侠传3)
Hu Ge, Yang Mi, Wallace Huo, Liu Shishi
|40||When Puberty Hit Menopause (青春期撞上更年期)
Du Chun, Ma Yili, Dong Xuan
|41||Naked Wedding (裸婚时代)
Wen Zhang, Yao Di, Zhang Kaili
|42||Advancing Under Fire (向着炮火前进)
Nicky Wu, Gan Tingting, Wang Xin
|43||A Unique Militman (民兵葛二蛋)
Huang Bo, Gao Hu, Tong Yao
|44||Hot Girls (麻辣女兵)
Wang Yang, Wang Yu
|45||Lives of Omission (潜行狙击)
Damian Lau, Fala Chen, Michael Tse, Bosco Wong
|46||iPartment 2 (爱情公寓 第二季)
Chen He, Lou Yixiao, Sun Yizhou
|47||Refueling Mother (加油妈妈)
Mike He, Crystal Chang, Song Fengyan
|48||Village of Love 4 (乡村爱情4)
Zhao Benshan, He Shufeng, Xiao Shenyang
Various interesting notables:
- At #1 on the list and with 76 episodes, Legend of Zhen Huan averages 90 million views per episode.
- Swordman (#17), the most recent adaptation of Jin Yong’s Xiao Ao Jiang Hu, currently holds the record for making it past the 1-billion-views mark in the least amount of time. It began airing on February 6th of this year, with its finale on March 1st.
- Forensic Heroes III (#25) and Lives of Omission (#45) are the only two non-mainland dramas on the list.
- There are 21 city-themed dramas, nine of which are related to family issues. Ten of these are city-themed idol dramas (e.g. iPartment, Beijing Youth).
- There are 18 ancient/period dramas, with four “purely period” (i.e. non-wuxia) in the top ten.
- Wuxia dramas include Swordman (#17), The Bride with White Hair (#15), and The Magic Blade (#27), all of which sparked a lot of discussion and led to an upsurge of interest in wuxia dramas. (Whether you think these dramas are worth the discussion is up to debate.)
- The most recent remakes of Three Kingdoms (#4), Water Margin (#8), and Journey to the West (#38) are all on the list. However, the 2010 remake of The Dream of Red Mansions isn’t.
- There are eight war/army-themed dramas, and one drama about village life.
- Idol actors star in 22 of the dramas, even though the drama’s theme may not be the typical “modern romcom” idol drama.
- This wasn’t mentioned in the source article, but I do think it’s interesting that the top three dramas are ones where the main lead is female.
According to Peng Fuli, the founder of Vlinkage, we can learn a few things about the online drama market based on this data:
- Idols = views. Drama fans may sometimes complain about the unnecessary casting of Pretty Face Who Can’t Act (fill in your name of choice here), but if you look at this list, you can see that many of them star at least one “idol” actor with an extremely strong fanbase. Peng believes that actors have a bigger impact than subject matter does when it comes to online views, since there is more overlap among the target audience: after all, young people are more likely to follow idol celebrities and to watch dramas online. 80% of online viewers fall in the 15-45-year-old age range; in contrast, 48% of TV audiences are older than 45.
- The drama’s broadcasting channel determines its online popularity. To Peng’s surprise, the only CCTV drama on the list was Special Arms (#24), which aired in 2011. The rest of the list is pretty much dominated by shows from Hunan TV, Jiangsu TV, and Zhejiang TV, with fourteen of them airing exclusively on Hunan TV. A list of the top ten most viewed dramas online from January to March 2013 featured three each from Hunan TV and Jiangsu TV. Like with the previous point, this is mostly due to an overlap among the target audience. Hunan TV excels at idol dramas, and its television audience is generally younger than that of CCTV.
- A drama can be considered successful online if it garners 400 million views. There were 800 dramas aired on TV in 2012, and yet only 48 dramas have reached 1 billion views online. Among this list, 28 of the dramas aired before 2012, which means about 2.5% of the dramas aired in 2012 enjoyed such spectacular online success. To Peng, making it past the 1-billion-views mark is considered exceptional. For those aiming for just “excellent,” 400 million views is your target. Unfortunately, he doesn’t offer any explanation on why the magic number is 400 million.
Anyway, any thoughts on the Vlinkage study? How much of an impact do you think online streaming and downloading will have on TV dramas in the future? Were you surprised to see any of the dramas on this list, or do you think the list is missing a particular one?