China’s fan economy taken to new heights by hit talent show
Produce 101, a hit TV talent show produced by Tencent, has given its hundreds of millions of viewers full authority to “pick” their own idols, allowing loyal fans to help their idols rise to stardom.

The Chinese tech giant has brought some novel ideas to the country’s talent show production, giving new impetus to an already thriving ‘fan economy’.

Talent shows began to gain momentum in 2018, with some popular contestants becoming household names with high commercial value overnight. Meanwhile, the country’s fan economy has also reached a whole new level. Just for Produce 101, the fans of its participants were reported to have raised over 50 million yuan for their idols.

Produce 101 is known to be modelled on a South Korean TV show. From the first episode in April till its grand final in mid-June, the TV program had gained over 4.3 billion views, becoming the most searched and talked about topic on the country’s multiple social media platforms, reported the China Economic Weekly, a Chinese magazine sponsored by the People’s Daily.

The “mission” of the popular show is to select 11 out of 101 contestants to form a girl band named Rocket Girl 101. According to Chinese media, fans of the two most popular girls in the competition had pooled over 20 million yuan while the total funds raised for all participants was believed to have exceeded 50 million yuan.

Loyal fans have voluntarily formed fan clubs mainly to raise money on platforms that enable them to launch various support or promotional projects and collect money among club members. For example, Tencent decided that the 11 winners will be those who receive most votes. In this case, considering viewers with Tencent Video membership are granted more voting rights, fan clubs for Produce 101 idols had used millions of yuan collected to buy Tencent membership.

The money could also be spent on promotional campaigns on social media platforms, to buy concert tickets or records to bring their favorite stars fame and fortune, and even to hold charity in the name of the idols.

What’s behind the boom? Some industry insiders who didn’t want to be named told young fans nowadays tend to be more open to the philosophy of taking advantage of the capital and market in the show biz. “The younger generation (who constitute the main body of the young entertainers’ fans) are ready to exploit merchandizing and market opportunities in their fan clubs’ activities. They enjoy doing that.”

“(I spent) 300,000 yuan for your (refering to his or her idol) foray into the show biz. I just love it,” some fan of a contestant in Produce 101’s final competition posted on Weibo. and OWhat are the two major online platforms fans could turn to for financing to support their idols. An introduction of OWhat shows anyone could initiate a project and pool money along with other supporters of stars. An initiator is supposed to use the money as he or she promised when launching the project.

Despite that, not all people agree with the practice and sometimes questions are raised whether the money is properly used. Recently, a netizen broke the news online that some fans of a Produce 101 star who initiated a fund-raising project may have embezzled the money to buy an apartment with sea view.

From 2016, girl groups began to go through a growth spurt in China, with over 200 bands popping out during the period.  A report on China’s idol economy shows that the popularity of the Internet and social media are behind the prosperity. And it’s predicted the country’s idol economy would scale to over 100 billion yuan by 2020, reported the China Economic Weekly.

Behind the huge market is the brand value propped up by hundreds of thousands of Chinese fans. Ten years ago, Chris Lee, a Super Girl, generally considered the first star from a talent show, was reported to have gained 35.28 million votes during the program’s grand final. Now, Produce 101 broke the record with each of its top eight winners gaining over 100 million votes.

In the past, many talent agencies were hesitant to invest into teen idol groups. “It’s big and long-term investment at the starting phase, with unpredictable returns. Also, with minors (under the age of 18) involved, companies have to be really careful,” the China Economic Weekly cited the boss of a Beijing-based agency as saying.

On the other hand, observing the development path of talent show stars like Chris Lee, it’s found out the young idols’ fans who had all along followed and supported their rise to stardom tend to be more devoted and loyal.

Based on a iResearch survey released in 2016, Chinese fans love to spend on products and activities related to their idols to show support. As many as 88.8 percent of them would spend money on their idols at least several times a year/month/week, while 6.6 percent of the surveyed admitted they had such spending almost every day.

Against this backdrop, it’s a known fact that almost all luxury brands are looking to recruit ambassadors from young celebrities. Apparently, it seems a good bargain for brands to cash in on the tens of millions of fans behind China’s young idols.  


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