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Comedy Icon Stephen Chow Signs With Douyin to Produce Mini-Dramas in China

Stephen Chow (aka Chow Sing-chi) has struck a deal with Douyin, the Chinese sister company of TikTok, to produce a slate of mini-drama series for mainland China audiences.

Mini dramas are a form of professionally-generated content that has become hugely popular in China, and to a lesser extent in other parts of Asia. Series typically have 20-100 episodes of 1-15 minutes each, though just a couple of minutes is typical. This makes them easily digestible and suitable for casual consumption on mobile devices. The most popular genres are comedy and romantic drama and many are derived from web novels.

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In a statement on Douyin’s WeChat social media feed, the company said that Chow’s first series project is called “Jinzhu Yuye” and is currently a work-in-progress that could be delivered by May. He is understood to be working with other creators.

Hong Kong-based writer-director-producer Chow was in his heyday in the 1990s and early 2000s with film credits including “King of Comedy,” “Shaolin Soccer” and “Kung Fu Hustle.” But he remains an iconic figure and is credited with popularizing the “mo lei tau” (which loosely translates as “nonsense”) form of frenetic slapstick comedy.

Chow has also proved to be a successful businessman, with, at different times, a stock market-listed company and a large property portfolio. In the Douyin announcement, Chow called the mini-drama format a “fast-growing sector of technology and media innovation.”

The mini-drama sector has grown quickly over the past five years alongside short video platforms operated by Bytedance (Douyin and TikTok), Kuaishou and Tencent Holdings. Quoting research firm iiMedia, Chinese state media recently reported that the sector grew by more than 250% in 2023 to reach gross revenues of $5.2 billion (RMB37.4 billion). That would make it roughly 70% of the size of the theatrical cinema market in China, which last year was worth $7.4 billion. The same source forecast that the market could triple again, reaching some $15 billion, by 2027.

Business models vary. Typically, the first few episodes are available free of charge. After that, fees and subscriptions kick in. A hit show, “Unparalleled,” produced by Xi’an Fengxin Culture, earned gross revenues of $14 million in its first eight days of release in August last year.

That is before production costs, platform fees and promotional expenditure. But with very low production costs, the sector is attracting new players and new finance. In recent weeks, both Douyin and Kauishou have increased the incentives they are offering to producers.

Chinese regulators have said that they are keeping an eye on the mini-drama sector. The National Radio and Television Administration said that it had removed 350,000 episodes between March and November last year.

The genre is also beginning to develop further afield. Chinese-owned ReelShort is a mini-drama app with over 10 million downloads on the Google Play store that is available in multiple language versions, including English.

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