Chinese Micro-Series Storm the US and EU Markets, Thanks to AI

Chinese Micro-Series Storm the US and EU Markets, Thanks to AI

The art of storytelling is changing, with Chinese studios leveraging AI to produce short dramas and repackaging them for global markets, especially the US and Europe, where they are gaining popularity.

The new digital technology being used in the online world allows creators to quickly leverage bite-sized episodic programs known as micro-series.

These are gaining vast popularity the world over, especially in the US and Europe, where they are steadily gathering a following. ReelShort, one of the platforms that host short dramas, topped the entertainment charts for the first time last month, surpassing TikTok and other apps like the Apple Store.

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Fast-paced storyline

The brief and addictive short series takes on twists and turns that are usually unexpected. One of the story lines may show a woman who follows her romantic passions with a “kind-hearted man, only to learn he is a family adversary bent on seeking revenge.”

Another may show a woman who feels trapped in a marriage with a “failure” of a man, but only to reveal the man has a hidden business empire, much to the shock of everyone.

The dramas are short, fast-paced, and addictive for fans who like shows that are optimized for their digital devices.

“It’s an old routine, but I’m so invested,” said a fan of one micro-series.

“I was embarrassed by the plot, but I really want to watch the next episode,” admitted another.

The micro-series normally consists of “a few dozen episodes.” Each episode can have a length of about two minutes, touching on various themes from gripping dramas to “heart-pounding suspense.”

In some cases, the series has more than 50 episodes of pocket-sized programs, keeping viewers from global markets glued to their seats following the twists and turns in the storyline.

The alterations

While these short dramas are gaining loyal fans outside China, the actors are “truly not real.” According to a Post article, although most of the micro-series’ videos are made of real performers, creators can use AI to manipulate ethnicity, age, and the general appearance of actors.

The article further states that some popular micro-series featured what looked like a European setting and European actors, but this was produced in China with Chinese performers, according to a source cited in the story.

Although this comes amid concerns about altering images and face swapping, an expert cited in the article states that this may challenge Hollywood and Netflix’s dominance.

A visual engineer working in the micro-series industry, Ye Jingfei, highlighted the complexities of transforming a series from Chinese to English.

The initial stage involves using AI translation software to replace subtitles and dubbing. The next stage is bringing in AI face-swapping software to adapt characters to resemble Western actors. This makes it possible to manipulate skin tone, age, and ethnicity.

Margins versus ethics

While this practice is gaining traction with Chinese studios, it also raises concerns over ethics around the use of AI in the film industry.

But Jingfei spoke of the cost-effectiveness of using AI in the micro-series productions, although the practice has its own challenges.

“These AI-assisted productions lack the finesse of locally produced shows, but their viral-style editing and low production costs make them easy to replicate,” said Jingfei.

“Currently, shooting a micro-series with actors overseas can cost upwards of $150,000. In contrast, AI-assisted production can be made for around $100,000.”

The plan is also to increase sales in foreign markets, according to micro-series producers.

While the initial episodes are free, the later ones will be offered for a fee. A Shenzhen-based producer indicated the high profit margins with this micro-series model, with studios that invested hundreds of thousands of dollars earning hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Most series will not sell. It doesn’t matter. We only need one that hits the charts. Then it will become a money-printing machine for us,” said the producer, who preferred anonymity.

“With the help of AI, the profit margin and turnover can increase significantly.”


Jingfei, however, added that the procedure has its limitations, for instance, the need for manual correction and synchronization. Additionally, the quality of the AI-generated content may vary.

Success stories of web novels like “Coiling Dragon,” another popular Chinese micro-series, offer a new wave of exotic film products and bring competition to Netflix and Hollywood.

“It’s not award-winning, but if you want some enjoyable trash, this is the place to get it,” commented a TikTok user.

Jingfei also maintains that the series offers a new genre, surpassing traditional media platforms in terms of creativity.

Image credits: Shutterstock, CC images, Midjourney, Unsplash.