Online video viewing trends in China provide a glimpse of the future for UK brands

I am eight months in to my China journey, and the differences have been more amazing and challenging than I could have ever imagined experiencing. Some things in media are the same everywhere, though, and recent UK figures confirming the shift away from TV viewing among young people mirror the pattern in China.

The similarities continue in where that viewership is migrating to – online video content served via PC and mobile devices. China has experienced the same trend, principally driven by a fundamental shift in technology use and content access.

The progression and growing maturity of online TV (OTV) in this market reveals how fast and far this can move and, potentially, what is to come for the UK and other markets.

China is known for scale, and with more than 400m online video users, it doesn’t disappoint. But don’t be blinded by size – it’s the growth dynamics that are key. Over the past four years, online video viewer numbers have doubled, and time spent watching OTV has increased fivefold.

Forty per cent of the country’s population is under 30, and this generation has all but abandoned TV, with more than half of its media time (more than 170 minutes a day) spent online – twice that spent watching broadcast TV.

China leads the world in smartphone adoption, with well over 300m users (more than double that of the US). By the end of 2014, most of China’s population will be carrying a smartphone and looking at it more than 100 times a day. Three times more Chinese people view TV and films on mobile, than their peers in the UK and US. This is not shortform, "snackable" content either – about 80% of OTV viewing on PC and mobile in China is longform.

Mobile use in China is fascinating – as I commute on the Shanghai Metro each day, almost everyone in the carriage is attentively and insularly looking at their screen. Young women tend to watch the latest Korean dramas, downloaded to their phone; men watch a little less OTV content on the go, preferring gaming and music. This has become such commonplace behaviour that China has a term for it: "di tou zu" (which means something like "a nation bowing its head").

Like its post-90s generation, China emerged into the modern world together with the internet. As client digital budgets nearly double each year here, and with online video looking set to overtake display media as the leading component of that investment, how long can it be before OTV surpasses broadcast TV in scale of advertiser spending?

As an advertiser, I would look to get out in front of this inevitable trend, learning from the conditions and performance that China is showing the world. OTV is not going to be about marginal incremental reach of youth audiences for much longer – soon it will be the predominant place to connect with these consumers.

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