Startups cash in on Chinese traditional culture
Tingting Jiejie (Sister Tingting), a music label which composes Chinese poetry into music and sings them to children, has announced a 50 million yuan (US$7.8 million) series A funding earlier this month, after obtaining 22 million yuan from angel investors last year.
Tingting Jiejie is just one of a burgeoning cohort of new media start-ups that have found success as Chinese are more willing to pay for content due to rising incomes and popularity of mobile payments.
With over 300 million plays and 200,000 paid subscribers, the founder, Hu Tingting, started her career by singing a poem of legendary Chinese poet Li Bai, to lull her son to sleep three years ago. Her recording was well-received at Ximalaya FM, an audio sharing site. The business-savvy mom saw a new market.
Chinese traditional culture, including poetry, literature classics and idioms, is an integral part of Chinese education and has been passed on for generations. With wealthy parents eager to pay for their children's education, new entrepreneurs are now using traditional Chinese culture as a way to break into the market.
To build her brand, Hu has incorporated over 150 poems with musical elements such as Peking Opera, Huangmei Opera and Spanish Flamenco. Two audio programs have been developed to help children learn the literary masterpieces.
"The demand to learn poetry is very strong," said Hu. "It has huge market potential."
Besides being aired on major Chinese mobile audio sharing platforms, Hu's video programs are also broadcast on nine Chinese TV stations. Three foreign TV channels also bought her programs. Across the country, over 10,000 kindergartens have also adopted them as teaching materials.
"Thanks to mobile Internet technologies, assimilating Chinese classics is more interactive. We hope this can help promote our culture around the world," Hu added.
Hu is not an isolated example of successful cultural startups. Kaishu Jianggushi (Uncle Kai Telling Stories), another children's stories content provider, has also raised about 250 million yuan from investors in just one year.
According to a report released by consulting firm iResearch in March, the value of China's pay-for-knowledge market is about 4.9 billion yuan in 2017 and is predicted to top 23.5 billion yuan by 2020.
"Content startups are no longer limited to the elites. It is encouraging to see more people explore the market of traditional cultures," said Zhao Zizhong, dean of the New Media Institute with Communication University of China.
Meanwhile, Zhao warned entrepreneurs not to distort the classics when educating children.
For Wang Peiyu, a Peking Opera actress, commercialization is an approach to bring the classic art form to the mass market.
Wang started to tell stories on Ximalaya FM in September 2016 and has accumulated 1.68 million plays.
"In the age of the Internet, people are interested in a diversified range of subjects. Due to this, traditional arts such as Peking Opera have a chance to be noticed," said Wang.
"To modernize Peking Opera, we must find ways to present it to the younger generations," she said. "We are still learning and experimenting to find the best way to build the aesthetic of Peking Opera through pay-for-knowledge platforms."