China News Weekly reporter Meng Qian

Published in the 2023th issue of China News Weekly magazine on December 12, 4

"We're all waiting, waiting, and anxious, what's next?"

A practitioner who has just joined the short drama industry group for a few days asked questions in the group. Someone replied in the group that even if there is no recent strict "rectification", the current "that kind of play" cannot last long, and the so-called "short, flat and fast mode" will make people aesthetically tired sooner or later.

"Write the script in 7 days", "shoot 100 episodes in a week", "recharge 24 million in 8 hours, and exceed 6 million in 4000 days", just a few key sentences seem to be enough to simplify and summarize the "myth of short drama wealth" in the external filter. The China Securities Construction Investment Research Report pointed out that the monthly recharge amount of the micro-short drama industry has increased from 10 million yuan in June this year to 6000 million yuan in October, and is expected to reach 200 billion yuan to 300 billion yuan throughout the year, which is equivalent to half of the box office of Chinese films.

This kind of single episode is only one or two minutes long, and the whole drama is 80 to 100 episodes of mini-program short dramas, which triggers a craze for drama chasing through plots such as the domineering president and the invincible god of war. But behind the boom is a new round of capital games: the cost of micro-short dramas that attract countless amounts of money is only a few hundred thousand yuan, attracting users to recharge and then roll into the stream. Such a set of standard leveraged and snowball-style capital operations has made many people think about trying to make a quick buck.

The alarm bells for regulation have sounded. On November 11, the mini-program short drama "Black Lotus Upper Position Manual" (hereinafter referred to as "Black Lotus") produced by the Mimeng team was launched, which attracted great attention with its high-frequency reversal plot. Two days later, "Black Lotus" was removed from the entire network. On November 16, WeChat, Kuaishou, and Douyin successively issued announcements on the removal of < Black Lotus >". The announcement pointed out that the reason for the removal of the show was "exaggerating the bad values of extreme revenge and countering violence with violence, confusing the concept of right and wrong, and destroying the good ecology of the platform".

The day before the launch of "Black Lotus", the regulatory boots fell. On November 11, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television announced the launch of a one-month special short drama governance work. In addition, it will also increase the management of online micro-short dramas and refine management measures from 15 aspects, including accelerating the formulation of the "Detailed Rules for the Creation, Production and Content Review of Online Micro-short Dramas"; Research and promote the inclusion of online micro-short drama apps and "mini programs" in the daily management of institutions; Establish a "blacklist" mechanism for Mini Programs, a statistical mechanism for online micro-short dramas, and so forth.

"The cycle of savage growth of the industry has come to an end." Many industry insiders believe that after the strengthening of supervision, the micro-short drama industry needs to move towards standardization, and at the same time cool down the virtual fire and dissuade participants who just want to make quick money.

Traffic is king in business

After hesitating for a few months, director Tang Ye, who has been engaged in the advertising industry for more than ten years, still couldn't hold back his eagerness to try, and made the first mini-program micro-short drama in his career.

In September, Tang Ye took an investment of less than 9,30 yuan and took a crew of 15 people to a third-tier city to shoot for a week, and successfully produced a micro-short drama with the theme of "God of War" designated by the investor. Tang Ye revealed to "China News Weekly" that this time, under the persuasion of his junior brother, he found an "investment boss", and the investor was willing to invest 300 million yuan to support 10 micro-short dramas. Tang Ye took one of them, but when filming, he still couldn't get rid of the feeling in his heart - a little "cheesy".

"Mini Program short drama" refers to a short drama played on a Mini Program or social platform, which is generally shot on a vertical screen in order to fit the playback habits of mobile terminals, and an episode is only a few tens of seconds or one or two minutes. The domineering president fell in love with me, the counterattack life of rebirth, the sadomasochism through the past and the present, and the original junior "teared" scumbag... Most of the short dramas are themes such as overlord, crossing, and God of War, which affect the emotions of users through reversal and conflict, so as to achieve the purpose of paying for viewing. These short dramas are usually 80 to 100 episodes, and it often costs hundreds of dollars to unlock all the episodes.

"The investment in this kind of skit is very limited, there is almost no money for the crew car, and there is not enough money for art and props, only two universal field affairs. In order to compress the budget, I will find a lot of on-campus interns, teach them the whole process, and let them enroll. Tang Ye said that the budget of this drama is very tight.

As a senior advertising practitioner, Tang Ye's daily salary can reach five or six thousand yuan a day, but filming such a short drama requires a meager salary and extremely high work intensity, requiring 16 hours a day. The reason for his exit was a "bet" agreement: if the show can be popular, then the director will be given a share of the flow (about 1 point or 2 points).

Previously, "Mini Program Short Dramas" frequently created myths: "Oops! The 24-hour user recharge amount of "The Queen Mother Comes to Work" exceeded 1200 million yuan; "After the flash marriage, Mr. Fu's vest can't be hidden" exceeded 24 million yuan in 2000 hours; The consumption of "Wushuang" exceeded 48 million in 5500 hours after it was launched, and the consumption exceeded 8 million in 1 days... These news all made Tang Ye hold the hope that the drama series he created might become popular.

It's not an investment anymore, it's more like a bet. "If you bet on something, the income will increase geometrically if it is fired, and if it is not hot, it will be done in vain." Tang Ye believes that this is a bit similar to angel investment, investing in 10 companies is basically seven or eight will fail, but if one or two run out, then the income will cover all the previous costs.

Screenwriter Yu Yang also believes that the characteristics of micro-short dramas are low cost, quick profits, and can be small and big. In order to save money, his company currently has colleagues working on seven or eight projects. In addition, the company tried to use the same team to bring 2 to 3 projects to Hengdian and other places for continuous shooting, the purpose is to run out of explosive models in a short period of time.

However, the manufacturing logic of explosive models is not so simple. Yang Yang, the manager of the "Short Drama Study Room", told "China News Weekly" that there is not much difference between short dramas and long dramas in the production process, but the main thing is fast, fast project establishment, fast script, fast shooting, and fast post-production. The head short drama company has nearly 2 dramas in progress a month, and a drama can be completed in 3 weeks from project approval to launch, of which the shooting cycle is about 7~80 days. However, about <>% of the cost of short dramas comes from advertising, which is what the industry calls buying volume, followed by the channel fee of the broadcast platform (taking WeChat Mini Program as an example), shooting and production fees, CDN and other technical fees, script fees, etc.

"The promotion and distribution of short dramas is called casting, that is, to Douyin, Kuaishou, WeChat and other short video platforms through programmatic advertising, the cost of advertising is visible in real time, and the amount of advertising fees can be adjusted at any time according to the user's payment situation." Yang Yang further explained that the short drama can be simply divided into two sections: content and streaming, which can be vividly understood as: content is a "nail", and streaming is a "hammer", both of which are indispensable.

The micro-short drama industry chain has gradually matured, and can usually be divided into three parts: upstream, midstream, and downstream. The upstream is the content production of micro-short dramas, which is mainly participated by the copyright owner, the producer and the producer, and carries out copyright purchase, IP incubation, script writing, team formation and finished film shooting. The midstream is the content distribution of micro-short dramas, which is mainly participated by the platform and distributors, and carries out platform carrying, short drama distribution, etc. The downstream is usually the ecological support of micro-short dramas, which is mainly participated by the media and agents to carry out traffic delivery.

Producer Kang Ying believes that the benefits of streaming are brought by consumers who really like and are willing to pay for the content. In her opinion, this is a truly consumer-facing business model. Bobo, CEO of Douchacha, compared the business of mini program micro-short dramas to a game model, similar to the sale of virtual items.

However, in the popular model, streaming is even more important than content, and the paid income exceeds eighty percent of the purchase traffic, which is the basic logic behind the generation of a popular model, which is a typical game where traffic is king.

Yang Tian, a producer of a leading production platform, emphasized that after spending hundreds of thousands of yuan to make a drama, it may be necessary to spend two or three million or even tens of millions of yuan to promote the drama, which mainly relies on Douyin's huge database to provide services for finding people in the drama, so as to obtain accurate users and generate paid transactions. Compared with the proportion of production and distribution costs of traditional film and television, the proportion of micro-short dramas is completely unbalanced. "In fact, the bonus period of investment has also begun to fade, and the ROI (return on investment) of investment in the early stage can still be 2, and now it is slowly falling to 1.2 or even lower."

From the financial data of the online literature platform Chinese Online, we can also get a glimpse of the high cost paid for traffic. According to the "Announcement on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange's Reply to the Inquiry Letter of the Company's 2022 Annual Report" issued by Chinese Online, the company has begun to explore the short and medium drama market in 2020, and the revenue of the mini program short drama in 2022 will exceed 3 million yuan, the operating cost will be 2 million, and the sales promotion fee will be 16.8745 million. Bao Ran, an Internet and information technology expert, believes that its publicity costs account for more than one-third of the content costs, so this business is more like a traffic business.

After it was launched, the mini program micro-short drama produced by Tang Ye did not become popular, and he thought that it was likely to be "broken" in the link of casting. "In the end, the investor showed me that more than 80% of the money was lost in the background, and the money returned was less than 5,<> yuan. Someone has taken over four projects from investors, and none of them can return to their original costs at present. Tang Ye is just a supporting role in this "traffic game", and no one told him how much the platform has cast, "These are all opaque."

"Countless small bosses want to join in the fun"

"Last year, everyone had soup to drink and meat to eat, and at that time the market demand was always very large, not very saturated, which was equivalent to a shortage of supply. The production is relatively rough, the cost is low, and it will not lose money. Yang Tian said that one or two of the 10 films last year could make money, and the remaining few could barely recoup their costs.

According to public data, as of July this year, the market size of mini program short dramas exceeded 7 billion yuan, an increase of 40% over last year.

But since the second half of this year, micro-short dramas have begun to blow out. Yang Tian believes that there are too many dramas for the audience to choose from, and the entire market is becoming more and more saturated, and the probability of making money with 10 out of 1 films is already very low, and even exaggerated to the point that "if you can't make it to the top 10 on the list, you can only become cannon fodder".

Yang Tian also revealed that the turnover of a certain popular micro-short drama reached a very large volume, setting a record. In fact, everyone in the circle knows that the gimmick is greater than the return, purely to make a name for themselves, and smash all the money they make into the distribution, "slapping a swollen face and becoming fat".

In his opinion, there are constantly popular short dramas in the industry, which has created the illusion that you can get rich by creating popular models to the outside world. This led to a large number of laymen to speculate on hot money, and the entire industry expanded rapidly in a short period of time.

Song Ding is a lighting engineer from Hengdian, at the end of last year, he transformed from the traditional film and television industry to do micro-short dramas, at that time there were not many crews shooting micro-short dramas, and now there are more than 100 short video crews shooting in Hengdian every day. He told "China News Weekly" that he often took a short drama today, and within two days of the start, another crew would ask if there was time, and "the schedule was sparsely hit".

In Hengdian, as micro-short dramas become more and more popular, non-professional people from all walks of life have poured in to film, and investors who don't understand the film and television industry at all have also come to invest in short dramas. Song Ding felt this visible change: "Last year was not so popular, and generally a modern drama can invest 10,15 to 5,20 yuan." It began to roll up in May this year, and a drama started at 10,30. By October, the starting price may be 40,<> to <>,<> yuan, and even if the entrance fee is rising, there are still countless small bosses who want to join in the fun. ”

Song Ding himself has also invested in some dramas, "They are all pulled by friends, if they are not very familiar with the relationship, they will not invest money in it." He recently collaborated with a friend on a short drama project, with an investment of about 30,10 yuan, and he contributed <>,<> yuan himself, and the drama is still in production. In his contract, if the user's payment continues to be less than the cost of streaming, then the project will lose money, and if the user's payment return continues to be higher than the cost of streaming, then it may form a profit. "But now it's getting harder and harder to get a hit, the cost is getting higher and higher, and the whole market is rolling up."

"The cost of the whole industry chain has soared." Yang Tian said, for example, that in the past, it was enough to drive a Mercedes-Benz car during filming, but now it is either a Lamborghini or a Ferrari; In the past, it was enough to use an apartment for filming, but now it must be a three-story villa; In the past, it was possible to arrange a three-star hotel, but now a five-star hotel is required; The price of buying volume has risen faster, and it used to attract a user from 20 yuan, but now it has risen to 50 yuan.

"The practitioners who started to do vertical screen short dramas were producers in Hengdian who usually received a salary of two or three hundred yuan a day and had relatively little professional knowledge, and the actors were also actors in Hengdian for a few hundred yuan a day. But now more people with better professional standards have come in, and their salaries have doubled to thousands of yuan a day, Tang Ye said.

Producer Kang Ying has experienced the era of online movies and horizontal short dramas, and she believes that the development of vertical screen short dramas has the same law, the production cost is rising, and the requirements for the plot, content, and actors are getting higher and higher.











After "Black Lotus" was taken off the shelves, the official account of the show released another short drama "Li Tezhu So Many Jiao". But the show was quickly taken off the shelves, and the suspected lines and plot were suspected of rubbing the edges. According to public information, the producer of "Black Lotus" is Shanghai Silver Land Culture Media Co., Ltd. Tianyancha App shows that the legal person and executive director of Shanghai Silver Land Culture Media Co., Ltd. is Zhang Jingsi, who was a partner of Mimeng (Ma Ling).

Wang Zixin, a lawyer at Beijing Zhoutai Law Firm, also mentioned that in the preparatory stage, it is necessary to prevent micro-short drama investment from becoming a means of financial crime, and some people raise funds through illegal fund-raising and other means, and then use the characteristics of micro-short dramas to withdraw funds in a short period of time to make quick profits, which may constitute a crime under criminal law.

Platforms and regulation have also repeatedly intervened. Recently, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television will once again carry out a one-month special rectification work. Not only that, on November 11, Kuaishou, Douyin, WeChat and other platforms have issued announcements on the governance of micro-short dramas, severely cracking down on illegal micro-short dramas, and a total of hundreds of illegal micro-short dramas have been removed from the shelves.

In fact, since last year, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television has continued to carry out the governance of online micro-short dramas. As of February 2023, 2, a total of more than 28,25300 micro-short dramas containing pornographic and vulgar, bloody violence, low style, aesthetic vulgarity and other content have been taken offline, with 1365004 episodes counted, and 2420,<> "mini programs" containing illegal content have been removed from the shelves, curbing the barbaric growth of online micro-short dramas.

In the future, will the industry be affected by the same strict censorship regime as the gaming and film and TV industries? How will the intensity of supervision affect the direction of the industry?

Yang Yang told China News Weekly that the relevant departments began to issue documents to supervise in November last year, when the industry was still in a relatively early stage, so it gave some free exploration. Now that the development of the industry has a certain scale, we should leave some reasonable room for development while strengthening supervision. "Of course, it also depends on how the supervision is implemented, which can not be too heavy, resulting in too high operating costs for the industry; It can't be put to the ground, otherwise some chaos will recur."

While guiding the development of standardization, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television also proposed to give necessary support to short dramas. In December 2022, the "Opinions on Promoting the Prosperity and Development of Short Drama Creation" proposed to cultivate and expand the main body of short drama creation, and provide inclined support to short dramas in terms of resources, talents, marketing, broadcasting, publicity, etc.

Zheng Ning, director of the Law Department of the School of Cultural Industry Management of Communication University of China, believes that the management of short dramas is different from traditional film and television dramas, considering the short duration and large number of micro-short dramas, the cost of adopting traditional film and television drama review standards is higher. Therefore, more industry self-regulatory mechanisms may be explored in the future. At present, the relevant departments are also issuing review rules and standards to ensure the safety and controllability of the content.

"At present, traditional film and television dramas implement a licensing system, and the number of micro-short dramas is much higher than that of traditional film and television works. Zhu Wei, deputy director of the Communication Law Research Center of China University of Political Science and Law, believes.

"In terms of content moderation, we must establish a standard that everyone can understand, and if this standard is equivalent to the standard for short videos or other online content, then this standard is not precise enough." Zhu Wei believes that the standard must be determined to be feasible, visible, learnable and useful, but this standard is not yet clear.

In his opinion, the supervision of micro-short dramas should be light on licensing and heavy on content, and all regulatory forces should not be licensed in advance, but more during and after the event. If micro-short dramas are strictly supervised and reviewed together with traditional TV dramas, film and television dramas, "then this so-called outlet may slowly dissipate."

On November 11 this year, the Development Research Center of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television published "Micro Short Dramas: Development and Governance Should Be Strengthened with Both Hands" wrote: "We hope that the online micro short drama industry is not a flash in the pan, but a fresh force at the right time. It is expected that the industry will continue to maintain its vitality and achieve healthy and sustainable development. ”

Is the potential overdrawn?

The market for micro-short dramas is still soaring.

According to public data, the market size of short dramas has reached 200 billion yuan this year, and it is even expected to reach 300 billion yuan by the end of the year. Some industry insiders predict that "if this growth rate continues, then the mini program short drama industry may surpass the film industry next year."

According to the "Detawen Micro Short Drama Market Report for the First Half of 2023", in 2022 and the first half of 2023, the number of domestic key online micro-short dramas will be 454 and 481 respectively, and nearly 2023 micro-short dramas will be submitted for filing every month in the first half of 300. iiMedia Consulting believes that the scale of China's micro-short drama market is expected to reach 2023.373 billion yuan in 9, and it is expected that the market size of China's micro-short drama will exceed 2027 billion yuan in 1000.

However, Chen Ruiqing, chairman of Dianzhong Technology, said at the first micro-short drama conference: "If you can't get rid of vulgarity, can't get rid of excessive commercialization, can't improve the cultural connotation of your works, can't cross over to high-quality products, and blindly sink the content, the short drama market may not have 50 billion yuan." ”

In the view of Zhang Jian, the founder of Chunfeng Pictures, the mini program micro-short drama is currently controversial, and the biggest problem lies in the content itself.

According to the "2023 China Online Audiovisual Development Research Report", as of December 2022, the number of short video users in China has reached 12.10 billion, and the average daily usage time of short video exceeds 12.2 hours. Among them, the audience of micro-short dramas is huge, and 5.50% of short video users have watched micro-short dramas, micro-variety shows, and instant noodles within 4 minutes within half a year.

Yang Tian likened the micro-short drama to "Pinduoduo in the video platform", believing that its sudden origin is the huge user base, which meets the entertainment needs of the vast sinking market. He predicts that after the regulatory upgrade, a wave of screening will occur, and in the follow-up development of micro-short dramas, the form and content will continue to upgrade, and the industry threshold will be gradually established, moving towards standardization and high-quality products.

However, in Tang Ye's view, the biggest advantage of micro-short dramas is that the production cost is low, and if it develops to high-quality products, the input cost will increase, and it will become no advantage. "The overall cost is higher, and the risk is higher." He can't imagine how high-quality micro-short dramas will develop. Therefore, after participating once, he also retreated to the wait-and-see team. He expects that in the future, there will be real room for the industry to rise, rather than repeatedly involuting on various rotten stalks.

Yan Min, founder of "Skit Insider", told China News Weekly that the regulatory upgrade is a good thing, which will make the vulgar content in the entire market become less and less, but at the same time, it also brings a greater challenge to creators, that is, how to achieve the characteristics of short, flat and fast in high-quality themes.

In Bobo's observation, most of the content of the current micro-short drama is made for the sake of strong reversal, and it cannot be called a work of art. Compared with the traditional film and television industry, most of the expenses in this market are used for investment, not for production and production, so it will be more difficult for ecological construction, and in the short term, this market cannot support the long-term cultivation of people who are too powerful, "the income is too unstable".

"The market has been slowly cooling down lately." Yang Tian pointed out that after the regulatory upgrade, the platform began to control the distribution side, such as no longer being on the list, forcing the upstream to make changes, and a large number of rubbing, showing off wealth, vulgar and other content were cleaned up.

A number of interviewees said in an interview that the future development of micro-short dramas is to develop in the direction of high-quality products. "After the regular army enters the market, studios and companies that do particularly well in the future may slowly weaken their dependence on streaming." Su Cheng, the founder of Ouyou Group, told China News Weekly that micro-short dramas have undergone a disorderly development stage, and the next step is to formalize.

In the next step of industry norms, the review cycle will be longer and longer, the production level will be higher and higher, excellent actors will be IP, and the content will become more and more high-quality. Kang Ying believes that "this is the beginning of the next round of reshuffle, which is in line with the laws of film and television creation, and in essence, it is necessary to return to content as king."

"The change in the final business model of short dramas still depends on the joint efforts of policies, platforms and producers." Yang Tian said.

Is there a long-term future for the popular "electronic mustard" micro-short drama? Will it develop into an industry on a par with movies? No one can predict the future of skits with precision.

Zhuang Minghao, VP of Qumaru Network, said frankly that the industry is running too fast, and it is too late to think about those long-term problems: will high-frequency stimulation make users bored? Just like many people are tired of watching short videos now. Are the three core elements of user volume, user duration, and user consumption in this field overdrawn?

"Taking the online text industry as an example, from paid online articles to free online articles to online text distribution, the entire industry has gone through more than ten or twenty years, and the mini program skit seems to have completed this process within a year, does this mean that the potential of this industry has been overdrawn?"

(Tang Ye, Yang Tian, and Song Ding are pseudonyms in the article.) )

China News Weekly, Issue 2023, 45

Disclaimer: The publication of China News Weekly manuscripts must be authorized in writing