Joe Tang

Recipient of Macao Literary Prize and Macao Novel Prize, Joe Tang is a writer and cultural commentator, and has published novels, including The Floating City, Assassin, and The Lost Spirit. The latter two titles were translated into English and Portuguese. Joe’s portfolio also includes commentaries on art and plays. They include Words from Thoughts, Philosopher’s Stone, Journey to the West, Rock Lion, Magical Monkey and The Empress and the Legendary Heroes.

A virtual revolution

06 2015 | Issue 6

The global bull market is not only thrilling for the investors but everyone as the stock market news can be quite entertaining. Last December, the well-known Chinese actress Zhao Wei bought stake in Ali Pictures (1060) for more than HK$3 billion, at HK$1.6 per share. The average purchase price has risen to HK$4 when this article is written. By estimation, Zhao has earned roughly HK$5 billion within a season. Of course, one might argue that there are a lot of reasons for stock rising, but Zhao’s investment represents the high expectation for the Mainland internet streaming media services. After Alibaba Group bought a majority stake of Ali Pictures in March 2014, the group announced new business strategies on film crowdfunding, production, marketing and distributing services, in order to accelerate its expansion into entertainment industry.

The expansion of Ali Pictures reminds me of Netflix, the distributor of the most talked about American political drama series House of Cards. The series is the first original programme produced by the on-demand internet streaming media provider. The success of House of Cards results in the company’s large scale expansion into original content. Netflix defies the business model of traditional TV channels by allowing subscribers to play, pause and resume watching programmes anytime and anywhere on different devices.  Also, instead of broadcasting one episode a week, the entire season of House of Cards is made available on its premiere date, so audience can watch the series at their own pace.

Netflix is designed to suit the netizens’ habit and behaviour pattern. Through analysing audience’s preferences on genres, actors, story plots, geographic locations, watching devices, along with third-party rating data and feedbacks from social media, Netflix is able to make accurate predictions about the subscriber response even before the production begins. While traditional TV station and film companies are still relying on post-release data collection, Netflix is certainly trying something new and progressive.

The internet is changing the TV and movie, as well as animation, music, publishing, and other cultural industries in every aspect. From distribution to production, from casting to content creation, the changes are obvious. Netflix’s transformation from an online movie rental provider to an original programme distributor is a role model for the Chinese film makers. The ways we receive information, our patterns of communication, entertainment and consumption are shaped and transformed by the advancement of the internet, of which is more about quality of service than the varieties of service nowadays. The internet itself is also a product rather than just being an advertising media. Its customer base is getting wider, from the young generation who fancies high-tech products to the retirees, from electronic book readers to patients seeking diagnosing online. We are witnessing and experiencing a virtual revolution affecting our lives culturally, economically and politically.