The poster for Game of Thrones Photo:IC

The first two episodes of Game of Thrones (GOT) season eight have been viewed 110 million times since they were released on April 15 by Chinese streaming giant Tencent Video. 

A compilation of the Emmy Award-winning show’s past seven seasons on the Tencent Video app had also been viewed 1.07 billion times by Wednesday morning, ranking 11th on the platform’s real-time search list. 

On douban.com, a Chinese film, TV, music and literature social networking service website, the latest GOT season has received a rating of 9.7/10, the highest rating so far among all the eight seasons. 

Such a result is no surprise considering the number of fans the drama has attracted over the past years.

Han Bing, a doctoral student majoring in aesthetics at Peking University, told the Global Times on Monday that she started watching GOT as early as 2013 when the third season was released. 

When asked what attracted her at the very beginning, Han answered, “First, it’s the theme. Second, it’s the grand world the show creates.” She said the first character that impressed her was Tyrion Lannister, also known as “the imp.”

“The show is very ambitious. It creates a completely new world covering everything from kings to religion, which is like the epitome of European history,” Han said. 

Han, who is also a scriptwriter, noted that a problem in previous US fantasy TV shows was that they relied too much on magic and overlooked character motivation. 

However, GOT succeeded in using magic to extend the space for fantasy on the one hand, while developing the characters on the other, Han said. “Every character struggles for survival and multiple storylines gradually meet and intertwine with each other.”  

Big market 

To Shi Wenxue, a Beijing-based film and TV critic, it is the high quality and large amount of readers of the original book series A Song of Ice and Fire that has laid the foundation for GOT’s success in China. 

Another factor is the agreement Tencent Video reached with HBO in 2014. The platform’s huge user base and development of derivative products, including video games, mobile phone shells and T-shirts, consolidated its market share in the country, Shi noted. 

Tencent Video agreed to introduce about 900 episodes from HBO, including GOT, True Detective and Band of Brothers. The platform announced in 2018 that it would exclusively distribute a video game based on GOT. 

The game is developed by Chinese game producer Yoozoo and was the first time that a Chinese company had bought the copyright of a US TV show to develop video games. 

Given GOT’s global fan base, it is possible that the game will be distributed around the world in the future, which is precisely the direction Chinese game producers are moving toward, Xu Shan, an investment analyst, was quoted as saying in a report in Beijing Business Today on April 16. 

Besides Tencent, other streaming giants including YouKu and iQIYI are also strengthening ties with foreign film and TV producers, including Netflix and many other South Korean, Japanese as well as Thai companies. 

High cost-effectiveness is one major reason why Chinese streaming platforms are willing to introduce more overseas dramas. 

While the average price of some popular domestic dramas can go as high as 3 million yuan ($446,408) per episode, a US drama was only $30,000 per episode in 2014, according to media reports.   

In addition, trade with overseas companies can also expand the space for international cooperation for domestic platforms, which will lead to bigger market value in the future, Zhang Zhiyi, vice director of an arts research center under the Institute of Automation, Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Beijing Business Today.

In fact, intensive moves from domestic platforms have not only promoted the market but also helped the country combat piracy, which used to be the main method for Chinese audiences to watch overseas shows. 

This joint strike largely contributed to the fall of QVOD in 2014, a platform that was widely used by Chinese web users to download pirated videos and pornography.  

Chinese GOT

However, in contrast with the booming overseas drama market, there is a severe lack of high-quality domestic works, especially at a time when various streaming platforms are locked in fierce competition for subscribers. 

Many people like watching US dramas as every character has a distinct personality, but characters in many domestic dramas are flat and stereotypical, Han said.  

Han referred to Tribes and Empires: Storm of Prophecy (2017), which claimed to be a Chinese version of GOT, saying that during the course of the 75-episode show, characters showed little mental growth or development in their world view. 

Although Tribes and Empires, which is also based on a book, has reached film-level in terms of costumes, cosmetics, props and effects, the relationships between characters and story logic are too messy, which is why it has failed to attract audiences, Shi said. 

The cost of Tribes and Empires is reported to be nearly 400 million yuan. Its rating on douban.com is 6.8/10.

To produce a Chinese version of GOT, the most important thing for the Chinese industry is to learn how to tell stories, Shi said. “We can learn techniques from US dramas and innovate traditional Chinese narrative methods.”

“Another important thing is the vision of the story. Only when we tell stories with a global view can they attract larger audiences,” Shi noted. 
Newspaper headline: QUEEN OF THE SCREEN