Matt Harty
Mar 14, 2019

The Power of CTV in China: Yanxi Palace vs. Game of Thrones

The popularity of Yanxi Palace is inextricably tied to the rise of connected TV in Asia.

Yanxi Palace testifies to the power of connected TV in China.
Yanxi Palace testifies to the power of connected TV in China.

Text: Matt Harty, Senior Vice President, Asia Pacific, The Trade Desk 

If you really want to understand the growing power of connected TV (CTV) in Asia, it’s useful to contrast the viewership of season seven of HBO’s flagship series Game of Thrones with China’s must-see-TV event this year, Story of Yanxi Palace.

Currently HBO’s most popular series, Game of Thrones’ season seven finale in August 2017 drew the show’s highest ever viewership. Nielsen reported that 12.1 million viewers watched the finale on linear TV, and HBO reported that the episode drew 4.4 million additional night-of viewers through its HBO Go streaming service and HBO Now app. Each of the season’s seven episodes had an average of around 31 million viewers, once live, time-shifted, on-demand and streaming plays were tallied.

Now let’s look at some viewership numbers for Yanxi Palace, which has smashed records since premiering in July of this year. The Qing dynasty tale of scheming concubines and palace intrigue has been described by some media as the Chinese version of Game of Thrones – without the nudity and violence.

When it concluded its original 70-episode run in August, Yanxi Palace had been streamed over 15 billion times. Co-produced by iQiyi, a Chinese streaming platform like Netflix, and Huanyu Film Works, the series was the most-watched online drama in China last summer, where it was streamed an average of 300 million times per day. The show has also been syndicated around the world. The figures are even more startling when you consider that, theoretically at least, Game of Thrones has more global appeal because it is an English programme. Yet Yanxi Palace surpasses Game of Thrones on just about every global popularity metric, including worldwide Google search enquiries.

Focus on Hong Kong

The rise of Yanxi Palace is inextricably tied to the rise of CTV – or streaming TV services – across Asia. It’s informative to look at Hong Kong as an example of the market structure of TV streaming services in Asia.

Yanxi Palace was a bona fide hit in Hong Kong. 20 million views and 9 million playing hours were attributed to TVB’s myTV SUPER platform – which is available in Hong Kong only. Hong Kong has a population of 7.5 million – close to that of Washington State or a little closer to home, Ho Chi Minh City. In just one week, from 20 to 26 August, there were over six million streaming views of Yanxi Palace in Hong Kong via myTV SUPER.

*The GoT number combines cable and connected TV, while Yanxi Palace's 200 million views is only for connected TV

myTV SUPER platform enjoyed such viewing numbers as a result of its superior market penetration. As of August 26 of this year, its myTV SUPER OTT service had more than six million registered users – that’s almost 80 percent of Hong Kong’s residents. To put it into perspective, HBO’s streaming service, HBO Now, was reported to have reached five million subscribers in February of this year – that’s only about 10 percent of HBO’s 49 million linear TV subscribers in the US.

With fewer competitors and a captive audience, it’s no wonder that local streaming platforms and indeed the industry at large is experiencing such super-charged growth in Asia. Of course, the growth of CTV is also an international story. We’ve seen the global scale of our own CTV inventory increase steadily. But the potential scale in Asia is even bigger than in other regions. The fact that Asia is a mobile-first market, and many consumers here have never had traditional TV-viewing habits like those in the US, is another reason why CTV penetration is happening much faster here. The region’s fast-growing middle class is yet another.

Bonus for brands

It’s only a matter of time before global brands catch on to the power of CTV in Asia. With The Trade Desk leading the way in partnering with the most sought-after content providers and platforms, the options for reaching your next consumer are expanding every day.

There were clear advantages for brands that used programmatic CTV to reach Hong Kong consumers watching Yanxi Palace on myTV SUPER. Not only were brands able to access a good majority of the population, they were able to extend their traditional advertising into digital and make cross-device connections with TVB’s highly-engaged, well-off audiences – a brand marketer’s dream. They also implemented better audience segmentation thanks to highly targeted audience data, including consumer traits like purchase consideration and shopping behavior. And unlike traditional television commercials, they could understand the true performance of their ads across metrics including engagement, brand lift, and conversions. 

Understanding the true performance of marketing is the essence of why CTV makes sense for marketers in Asia, and it also explains why forecasters expect that Asia Pacific CTV video revenue, including ad-supported services, will reach US$ 42 billion by 2023. It’s only in the last few years that these sort of revenue numbers has become less of a pipe dream and more of a practical reality. To avoid being locked outside the palace gates, brands and agencies need to determine their strategy for unlocking CTV in Asia – fast.

Matt Harty, Senior Vice President, Asia Pacific, The Trade Desk


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