Blog The global rise of China’s short drama a...

The global rise of China’s short drama apps

Picture this: a hybrid of a television soap opera and a TikTok reel. Short drama apps, conceived in China and now storming international markets, are just that. Each short form video clip episode is between one and two minutes long, and a series usually features around 100 episodes.

Filmed for phone screens and with the shorter attention spans in mind, they are low-budget, simplified tales of betrayal, revenge, family crises, and star-crossed lovers—any plot twist that heightens the drama and makes for cliffhanger after cliffhanger. Character development is not a priority—it’s the dramatic impact that makes addictive binge-viewing and serves as a quick hit even if a viewer literally only has a minute to spare.

In 2023, the short drama market in China was worth over US$5 billion. The huge popularity of these apps within China has led to the emergence of a number of global apps available outside of China, translating and localizing content (and in some cases creating entirely new content) to make it accessible to international audiences. These overseas short drama apps are now celebrating their own huge success—more than 40 Chinese short drama apps have entered overseas markets, with a cumulative download volume of nearly 55 million downloads and inbound purchase revenues of $170 million.

Overseas apps ReelShort and ShortTV top the downloads list, claiming 52% and 15% of downloads over the last year, respectively.

Screenshots of the ShortTV app homepage

The U.S. is currently the biggest consumer of overseas short drama apps, providing 60—70% of these apps’ total revenue outside of China. The average single download payment for apps ReelShort and DramaBox in the U.S. market is 6 times that of other markets. Incredibly, November 2023 saw app ReelShort repeatedly surpass Netflix in U.S. entertainment chart rankings on Apple’s App Store, and even briefly top the chart at number one.

Large advertising budgets lead to big rewards

Advertising is crucial for overseas short drama apps, and it’s a worthwhile investment that brings a lucrative user base. While show production is relatively cheap (around $150,000 per show if remade in the U.S., and much less expensive if a dubbed original), millions of dollars are then spent on pushing them to prospective audiences. FlexTV, provider of recent hit show “Mr. Williams! Madame Is Dying”, spent $1 million on ads and saw a return of over $2 million in revenue.

The overall paid downloads of leading apps ReelShort, DramaBox, and GoodShort are up to 80%. The launch of popular short dramas such as "Fated to My Forbidden Alpha", along with targeted marketing via TikTok and other social media platforms, have contributed to the sharp rise in popularity and profitability of short drama apps.

Adjust and short drama apps

With such a focus on targeted advertising, identifying users with the highest lifetime value (LTV) and strategically portioning a sizable marketing budget is key to the success of short drama app marketing. To do this at scale, partnering with a leading mobile measurement partner (MMP) is essential.

Adjust’s Measure products give you the full picture of your user journeys across all devices and channels. Attribution is central to everything Adjust does, and we have developed an attribution system that is easy to integrate and set up, so marketers can quickly get started with mobile measurement. Adjust clients can monitor their marketing channels and aggregate conversion data for in-depth analysis—whether that’s via click or impression. You'll always know which ads delivered which users, along with useful contextual information such as which campaign creatives those users saw. Your incoming users are measured in real time.

To cover website users, Adjust’s web attribution solution helps you to accurately measure and attribute your web users' activities. You’ll be able to analyze marketing campaign data from both mobile apps and websites in one place.

Ready to boost acquisition rates and drive high-value users to your short drama app? Request a demo today.

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