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UPDATED: November 6, 2013 NO. 45 NOVEMBER 7, 2013
Prime Time
TV programming from abroad reshapes the thinking of Chinese broadcasters
By Tang Yuankai

STAR APPROVAL: Judges from The Voice of China respond to one of the contestant's performances during the show's finale in Shanghai on October 7 (CFP)

On October 7, the second season of The Voice of China, a talent show on Zhejiang Satellite TV, ended, having proven an even bigger success than its first season.

This season not only maintained high ratings but also embraced a dramatic increase in turnover. During its 2012 season, the show generated a total revenue of 300 million yuan ($49.23 million). The figure jumped to 1 billion yuan ($164.1 million) this year.

Some regard The Voice of China as the first show to make Chinese audiences familiar with the concept of franchised TV shows. The show is an adaptation of The Voice of Holland, which enjoys spin-offs in nearly 50 countries.

After being introduced to China, the program was adapted to the local market before starting its first season on July 13, 2012, on Zhejiang Satellite TV, a local broadcaster in east China's Zhejiang Province, instantly attracting high ratings that persisted even during the 2012 London Olympics.

The program has a wide following on the Internet. After two days of broadcasting on China's largest video streaming services following its launch last year, it broke records with over 10 million views.

On The Voice of China, contestants are first selected through auditions open to the public. If successful, contestants have the opportunity to sing in front of four judges, all of whom are celebrities from China's music industry, with one twist—the judges have their backs to the singers, and rely purely on their ears.

When the judges is impressed by a voice, they press a button and their chair swings around to face the singer on stage. The first judge to select a singer goes on to become the contestant's coach for the rest of the season.

The suspense and the passionate performances of the contestants won the adoration of millions across China, but it was the blind listening portion in particular that wowed audiences most. The over-sized chairs used by the coaches became something of a hallmark for the show which reportedly cost 800,000 yuan ($131,280) each and were flown in from the UK to China especially for the show.

Adapting to home audiences

The Voice of China is not the only franchised talent show to find success in China. Others, such as Chinese Idol, adapted from American Idol by Shanghai-based Dragon TV, have also gained big followings.

Chinese television networks have embraced the recent surge in popularity of such shows, with the trend continuing to reach new heights. The dependence on episodic dramas has changed. In 2013, a number of variety shows enjoyed higher ratings than the most popular TV dramas, making the format the new favorite of local TV broadcasters amid fierce competition.

Almost every successful variety show aired in China in recent years has boasted exceptional ratings, influence and advertising revenue. Some, such as The Voice of China, have experienced global success through overseas Chinese communities.

According to statistics, the state broadcasting network China Central Television and local television networks—including those in Jiangsu, Hunan and Zhejiang provinces—have started franchises of nearly 30 variety shows from abroad altogether. Each month an average of 2.5 shows are brought into China, localized and broadcast on TV. Even I Love China, a singing competition that aired on Hubei Satellite TV, was actually a localized adaptation of another show from the Netherlands.

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