Chinese variety shows in 2018: A diverse market
Updated 13:16, 23-Dec-2018
By Ai Yan
The variety show industry in China saw this year the emergence of new trends, amid fierce competition for audience attention between traditional TV channels and video streaming websites.
New standards related to innovation, originality and added value were introduced by the government to regulate variety shows.

Diversity and originality

It's safe to define China's variety show industry this year in two words: Diversity and originality.
From cooking shows to hybrid programs and productions emulating video games, spectators this year were in for a real treat.
A family photo of contestants in the talent show "Produce 101." /VCG Photo

A family photo of contestants in the talent show "Produce 101." /VCG Photo

Producing stars
Talent shows still reign supreme, enlarging the pool of celebrities in the country.
"Idol Producer" and "Produce 101" were two hit shows produced by iQiyi and Tencent Video respectively, which put raw talents to a series of tests leading to the formation of pop bands.
Singers and dancers selected from the two shows rapidly made a name for themselves on social media, with groups like "Nine Percent" and "Rocket Girls" garnering an army of young fans.
No auto-tune needed
While some talent shows looked for the whole package in contestants, others were searching for just one thing: vocals that give goosebumps.
Programs looking for angelic voices amassed a great number of followers, while others helped traditional Chinese performances make a comeback.
"Super Vocal" by Hunan Television, China's second most-watched channel, brought non-mainstream music genres, such as bel canto, closer to the audience.
A still from the talent show "Super Vocal." /VCG Photo

A still from the talent show "Super Vocal." /VCG Photo

The show received 9.1 out of 10 on Douban, China's answer to Rotten Tomatoes.
Other shows were more interested in other skill sets, such as "The Sound," where dubbing specialists competed, and "I am the Actor."
The spotlight was also on street dance and hip-hop music, as these art forms made their way from the shadows to the mainstream.
Cultivating culture
A still from "National Treasure." /Photo via Douban

A still from "National Treasure." /Photo via Douban

Cultural shows were not in short supply this year, with programs like "National Treasure," "Reader" and "The Chinese Poetry Conference," targeting a growing niche audience.
"The Wonderful Read" produced by Tencent Video blended reading with acting, telling novels through theatrical plays, and amassing a religious following.
The second season of the "National Treasure" debuted earlier this month, reaching ratings as high as 9.4, and smashing its own record of 9.0 from last season.
What's cooking?
A poster of "Back to Field." /Photo via Douban

A poster of "Back to Field." /Photo via Douban

Cooking shows are no stranger to the world of entertainment. The second season of "Back to Field" and "The Chinese Restaurant" raced against the new program "Wild Kitchen" for the hearts of Chinese audiences.
Out-of-the-box ideas
Producers this year outdone themselves as they looked for fresh ideas. "Phantacity" by Hunan TV drew inspiration from musicals, while "Adventure Life" combined documentaries with reality shows. Both shows won applause from audience as well as entertainers.
A still from the variety show "I am the Actor." /Photo via Douban

A still from the variety show "I am the Actor." /Photo via Douban

New players on the rise

In 2018, many new players joined the race. Streaming websites geared up for a bigger slice of the audience pie as TV channels pulled out all the stops to stay relevant in the digital age.
According to a report by China Industry Information Network, online variety shows during the first quarter of 2018 had 18.73 billion views, higher than the 17.79 billion views of televised variety shows.
From 2014 to 2017, the average growth rate of the online variety shows stood at 50.12 percent.
A still from "Who's the Murderer?" /Photo via Douban

A still from "Who's the Murderer?" /Photo via Douban

Compared to television programs, online variety shows have more room for exploration and expression.
Many streaming websites developed shows by adopting elements from mobile games or e-sports. Mango TV's "Who's the Murderer?" is basically an online detective game where the hosts and guests are "players."

New rules

China's entertainment industry this year saw significant changes as the government issued new rules on the administration of TV shows and TV workers.
The State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television issued several instructions on talent shows, banning excessive entertainment and utilitarianism as well as money worshiping.
A still from the variety show "The Wonderful Read." /Photo via Douban

A still from the variety show "The Wonderful Read." /Photo via Douban

Excessive media hype of superstars and their family members, especially those called "Xing Er Dai" in Chinese or children of celebrities, were also restricted participating in variety shows in order to prevent juveniles from excessive commercial exploitation.
Authorities also took action to eliminate sky-high pay for big names in variety shows, ordering that all guests to be payed no more than 40 percent of the general production fee. Bots in ratings were also banned.