The documentary series, with five episodes to date, is co-produced by SMG’s New Media Business Unit and non-governmental organization WildAid. Shot over a period of 18 months, it involves top Chinese celebrities, including pianist Lang Lang and actor Wu Xiubo, traveling to picturesque destinations such as Hawaii, India, Kenya, Vietnam and the Bahamas to report on the status of endangered animal species. There they pitch the message that when the buying stops, the killing can, too.
SMG put major resources into the show, including its top showrunner, Hang Hui, who was responsible for the visual effects at the G-20 global leaders summit last year in Hangzhou, as well as its U.S. production team. Several members previously worked for Discovery.
Significantly, the show was created with what SMG calls an omni-media approach. “Explorers” will be broadcast on SMG’s online channel, its mainstream TV channels and also licensed to foreign broadcasters. Going in to MipTV, SMG’s new media business unit is already in talks with some potential buyers.
Other Internet shows it is selling include “Wow New Home” and variety talent show “Lolita Garden.” Heading into its second season, “Lolita Garden” is scheduled to air on Alibaba’s Youku.com and top Chinese satellite channels in the second quarter of 2017. SMG plans to invite leading girl groups from across Asia to participate.
Lin Zhiqiang, head of the NMBU and an alumnus of SMG’s Dragon TV business, says that prioritizing web content allows the company to multiply its revenue streams. As usual, producing its own shows fosters a business-to-business model made up of advertising sales, rights licensing to other distributors and production fees. But with the Internet booming and innovating rapidly in China, SMG is able to also nourish a B2C model where audiences interact and pay via micropayment systems similar to those for online games, apps or freemium services.
“Many other producers and production companies are now shifting to production for the Internet. But our NMBU is the first and the only company among China’s state-owned TV and radio media groups that puts such a focus on Internet-based content,” said Lin. “And although Dragon TV has been to Mip before, this is the first for our kind of state-owned enterprise.”
The unit was formed only last year and enjoyed first-year revenues of some $104 million (RMB720 million). That is giving it the confidence to expand.
“Currently there are four to five projects we are working on, and we expect they will earn the majority of their revenues from the B2B model,” said Lin. “In 2017, we will launch eight Internet-based variety shows and also one more large-scale Internet-based drama.”
While the voting and revenue model for a variety show is relatively obvious, Lin admits that establishing a model for dramas is somewhat more experimental.
“Currently we are running a membership card model, where users could buy membership cards that allow them to be part of interaction. But for the future we are exploring more in-depth interaction, where users might be charged on their engagement level,” he said. “Their payments could actually decide how the story goes. Take the example of a show where the main actor and actress meet for a dinner date: Audiences could decide if they continue their relationship or break up.”