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Tencent and BiliBili Ruling China’s Unique Content Acquisition Market 

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Tom Blackman Senior Analyst

For foreign distributors, China has long been a television market that is extremely hard to break into, with sizeable audiences keen for western content but with none of the usual foreign services that are available in most other countries. Using Show Tracker data we can have a look at some of the irregularities in the Chinese acquisitions market.

Foreign content in China has primarily been the territory of large SVODs like Tencent, IQIYI and Youku. But even since 2019, there has been a movement away from IQIYI and Youku, leading to the rise of more acquisitions to BiliBili, Huanxi and Xigua (also known as Watermelon). However, the most consistent and biggest buyer of foreign content has always been Tencent with double the number of new foreign shows acquired compared to any other Chinese service in the last 4 years. This isn’t a surprise when we look at who they have bought this content from.

The largest buyers of content in 2022 were BiliBili and Tencent who have relationships with very particular distributors. BiliBili buys from BBC Studios and Tencent primarily from Warner, and much more recently some ITV Studios shows. In fact, 75% of Tenecent’s foreign acquisitions in the last 4 years are from Warner, showing a strong relationship between the two. Similarly, the other major recent buyer, BiliBili, has shown a dependence on BBC Studios with 62% of their foreign titles purchased from them. This shows that it’s increasingly difficult for a one-off content deal to be made without some kind of prior relationship, particularly if trying to deal with the current biggest buyers.

China may seem similar to other markets when it comes to co-exclusivity, but there are instances where it is actually a little different, like in the acquisition of My Brilliant Friend, or that of Alex Rider to BiliBili, IQIYI, Tencent and Youku all at the same time. Not only are these co-exclusive to more than just two parties (as we might see elsewhere) but all are major competitors in the exact same space.

Another area of interest is the time it takes between the original premiere of a show and when it would premiere on a Chinese service. It is generally accepted that shows can take around a year after premiering to air in China. Indeed, from Show Tracker data we’ve seen it averages around eleven and a half months, but it can be more variable than that with a few shows like BBC’s Dracula taking only a couple of days, and shows like HBO’s Los Espookys just one month shy of three years to air in China.

Breaking it out via International Distributor using Show Tracker (that has more than two sales) most of them do take around one year to get to the market, similar to the average. NBCUniversal’s average is dragged up by the two-year waits to sell That Capture, A Discovery of Witches and Four Weddings and a Funeral. Far more telling than that however is looking at how long it takes major services in China to acquire shows, Tencent, IQIYI and Youku sit above the average time taken and BiliBili, Huanxi and Xigua are buying shows more quickly. With audiences keen for content as soon as it’s available we could see continued popularity in services that cater to that need, leaving services like IQIYI and Youku to focus on local content and Tencent using its long consistent pipeline.

Show Tracker

Show Tracker is an essential tool for the TV industry, which monitors where TV shows are being sold around the world and the rights attached to each deal. Tracking over 1,600 TV shows and 350 different services in 19 markets, it provides a unified view of the distribution market. Show Tracker gives you data you can trust to drive your strategy forward and give you the edge in negotiations.

Find out more about Show Tracker

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