In China, it is getting easier for companies to earn money from fans.
On Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, the most shared post is not of an adorable animal video or some random social media post from a president of a certain country, but it is from a teenager who has millions of fans in China.
“I’m 15 years old today. Thank you all for being with me all these years…,” wrote Karry Wang on Weibo. Wang is the leader of TFBoys, an extremely successful boyband that took China by storm since debuting in 2013. The birthday message was posted in September 2014 and has been shared over 350 million times, remaining the most shared Weibo post according to Guinness World Records.
In fact, Wang’s fans are more than willing to spend a fortune on just a mere birthday celebration. In 2016, his fans celebrated his 17th birthday by purchasing media advertisements to put up birthday messages on iconic buildings and newspapers around the world. Those messages appeared in New York City’s Times Square on 10 large screens, on tour buses in Seoul, and in subway stations in Japan. Even Iceland’s local leading newspaper celebrated Wang’s 17th birthday with a half-page advertisement purchased by fans.
According to an iFensi report in 2016, the fan base in China has increased to 470 million people in 2016 with a steady growth of 40 million people year-on-year. The report also stressed that activities like Wang’s massive birthday celebration are key factors to scale up the market size.
With the rapidly growing fan base in China, this is how the entertainment industry makes its money through the power of fans.
Among all the fan websites in China, iFensi stands out with its various kinds of services for fans. Liu Chao, iFensi’s CEO, told local press 36 Kr that it serves 14,000 fan clubs in which money spent on supporting their idols has surpassed millions of US dollars annually.
Aside from purchasing ads to support idols, fans have other options on its platform as well. iFensi has launched several “competition campaigns” where the website puts up an online “race” among the most popular stars to urge fans to purchase virtual points to help their idols win. The latest campaign “Go! Idol” for instance asked fans to buy points for their idols. Stars with the most number of points could win a promotional space on iFensi’s website and app.
Those fan “empires” can lead to business opportunities worth millions of dollars. For instance, iFensi recently landed RMB 150 million (USD 22 million) for its Series B financing round and it is now valued at an estimated RMB 1 billion (USD 147 million). This shows that the fandom market in China has grown bigger than ever.
Fan clubs are serious businesses and are professionally organized with lots of volunteer managers. For example, Lu Han, a 27-year-old Beijing-born superstar who is regarded as China’s Justin Bieber, has numerous fan clubs around the world. Debuting in 2012 as a member of the South Korean pop group EXO, Lu soon gained popularity in Asia and later returned home in 2014 after ending his controversial contract with the Korean group.
Lu received an incredible welcome back home. Lu’s fan club Lu Han Bar on China’s online forum Baidu Tieba has 3.25 million registered members, and is probably the country’s largest fan club for Lu. It has about 300 volunteer managers in 33 branches in China and other countries including the U.S. and Australia.
This is what they do. Every day, the managers update Lu’s latest schedule, news, photos, and videos on fan sites and social media. According to a Global Times interview with one of these managers, the club’s only income is from self-made items related to the star, and the money earned from sales are used for activities related to Lu. For example, the group has carried out charity work in Lu’s name for years.
Aside from the usual ways of earning money from fans such as selling items related to their favorite stars, companies dedicated to fan service now have more options to test the market. With all these fans’ desires to promote their idols, China’s entertainment industry will see an even brighter future and a market with vast potential.
(Top photo from Baidu images)