StoryScout 2024

Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Chinese Documentary Smashes Crowd-funding Record. Takeaway #1 from Science Producers’ Congress

Super Boy (快乐男声) is a Chinese hit show for male singing contestants that was inspired by the UK elimination format Pop Idol.

  • Hunan Satellite Television has broadcast Super Boy since 2005.
  • The producer EE Media has a background in pop music.
  • Here’s a taste of Super Boy from YouTube:

At last week’s brainy Science & Factual Producers’ Congress in Montreal, I learned that Super Boy is setting new records for China’s emerging documentary and nonfiction television sector.

The Feature Doc

  • EE Media embarked on feature (90′) documentary project that follows three young men as they compete for the ultimate prize.
  • The boys’ families come from tough backgrounds: for them, the stakes were high.
  • But they become fast friends on the ride up.
  • That is, until the final rounds, when they have to compete against each other.
  • And then things get more than a little catty…


  • The budget for the film is US$1 million +/-, a very big number for a Chinese doc!
  • The final title hasn’t yet been decided, but the working title is ‘Super Boys.’


  • To finance their film, EE Media turned to the Chinese crowd-funding site
  • The campaign was supported by Hunan TV, a powerful regional operator of around 12 channels, including two nationally-distributed channels.
  • I didn’t learn if the broadcaster contributed air time to send viewers to the crowd-funding site.
  • The campaign for ‘Super Boys’ raised RMB 5 million / US$820,000 / Euros 600,000.
  • When we consulted with Kickstarter earlier this year, the US record for a documentary crowd-funding campaign was $591,804.

Theatrical Launch

  • A nationwide, multi-screen release is planned for March 2014.
  • Its the first ever simultaneous opening for a documentary in China.
  • All previous cinema releases for docs have followed the market-by-market ‘art house’ path that is familiar to Westerners.
  • Hunan TV will actively promote the release of ‘Super Boys.’

But Is It a Doc?

  • Communist Party-run China is the home of many curious hybrid economic models, and ‘Super Boys’ is no exception.
  • It is definitely not an author-driven, independent documentary.
  • Is it an ancillary, commercial product thrown off by the ‘Super Boy’ franchise?
  • Or are the producers executing a strategy to extend or revitalize their brand by creating a new promotional platform?
  • And you have to wonder about the casting: Did EE Media get lucky and cast three boys who progressed deep into the final rounds? Or was the ‘competition’ shaped by the documentary project?


China’s non-fiction entertainment sector is charging ahead:

  • According to Asian Side of the Doc’s Yves Jeanneau, the national media regulator SARFT recently mandated that every one of China’s 100’s of satellite channels must program at least 30 minutes of documentary programming every day.
  • That decree will expand the pipeline for format deals, copro’s and original productions, but excludes acquisitions from international suppliers.
  • See this recent article on Hunan TV in TBI for valuable added perspective.
  • There are now 12+/- channels in China that are dedicated to docs and educational programs.
  • The leaders are CCTV (9 and 10), Shanghai Media Group, and Hunan TV (Golden Eagle).

Every month seems to be marked by announcements of significant new co-pro and output deals. However, as I described after MIPCOM 2013, there are important structural issues to be resolved.

  • Contracts are vaguely enforceable in China.
  • The standardization of rates and deal terms is urgently required.
  • CCTV, the national broadcaster, can preempt regional and local schedules and deals.
  • And license fees for programs don’t match their media value.

More on Asia’s Crowd-funding Platforms and Players

  • Don’t miss my workshop on crowd-funding at Asian Side of the Doc in Chengdu next March.
  • Details to come!
  • And read here, with recent coverage of my co-EP effort on A SHOT TO SAVE THE WORLD for the Smithsonian Channel and featuring Bill Gates.

The Top 5 Kickstarter (US) Docs

  1. “Chug” $591,804
  2. “BronyCon: The Documentary” $322,022
  3. “Be Here Now – The Andy Whitfield Story” $302,810
  4. An Honest Liar” $246,989
  5. “Medical Inc. The Movie” $241,948

And our two informative Case Studies of Kickstarter crowd-funding strategies in the US:

China Heavyweight

Director Yung Chang’s China Heavyweight opens today (December 19) in select cinemas across China.

Our friend Peter Wintonik first championed this absorbing story. Peter passed away recently. He had such a great eye for film, and tremendous energy to bring great projects to life.   The blast about China Heavyweight was a reminder of how much he will be missed. Check out the trailer!


Speaking Engagements

Real Screen Summit 2014
Washington DC
Sunday, January 26, 2014 1:30 PM – 3:30 PM

How Audience Research Can Make or Break Your Pitch
This workshop will take you step by step through the program approvals process for typical channels highlighting the array of research tools that network executives use to help green light – or renew – your shows; outlining the research data that producers should have at their fingertips before they pitch network development teams; and analyzing how much the ‘gut feel’ of network programmers, producers and agents will give way to an approvals process that relies more heavily on consumer research input.

Asian Side of the Doc
Chengdu, China, March 18-21, 2014
Panel: Crowd-funding Platforms in Asia
Panel: 3D / IMAX/ BIG SCREENS for Docs

Cannes, April 5-6, 2014
Panel: How to Get the Funds: Co-pro’s and Foundations
Interview: Louis Vaudeville, CC&C Paris: The Apocalypse Franchise

AND, don’t miss Hot Docs in the Big TO
April 24 – May 4, 2014


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