Microdramas: The Short-form Videos Reshaping the Entertainment Landscape


Introduction: Drama in Minutes

Vampires in love. A woman who unknowingly marries a billionaire. The homesick Chinese jade teapot that makes a daring escape from a museum. A chef who time-travels to the Ming Dynasty — to cook up a storm, naturally.

Welcome to the world of microdramas. Fast paced, fun, and compelling, microdramas are taking the mobile entertainment world by storm. In this genre, over-the-top stories with dramatic plot twists and cliffhanger endings make up individual episodes that last not an hour, or half that, but rather mere minutes.

Not in theaters or even on streaming services, these shows are made to be watched on smartphones and on the go. Intrigued? Read on for a microdramas explainer in six — brief — episodes.

Episode 1: What’s a Microdrama, Anyway?

Think of microdramas as the snack-size, easily digestible version of traditional TV soaps and dramas. These bursts of entertainment typically range from one to two minutes, and up to 15 minutes per episode, and are tailor-made for mobile-first digital natives eager to squeeze in a story or two between tasks. Most are low budget and rely on engaging, tabloid-style stories that keep people coming back for more.

Episode 2: A Galaxy of Genres

These dramas aren't just quick; they're diverse. Microdramas cut across every genre, from romance and mystery to comedy, sci-fi, and action-packed thrillers. There's something for everyone. In “Unparallel,” for instance, a clerk is shocked to learn he’s heir to a vast corporate empire, resulting in a gripping power struggle that captivated audiences and generated US$100 million in revenue in just eight days. Microdramas tap into themes from daily life to fantastical adventures, often revolving around relatable or aspirational characters striving for love, personal transformation, or success.

Episode 3: Origin and Growth Story

Originating in China, microdramas went mainstream around 2018, as smartphone adoption became near universal and increasingly used to conduct all manner of daily life. Their prevalence soared on platforms like Weixin Channels. And where, for a time, podcasts seemed to dominate in many corners, China embraced visual storytelling. In 2022, some 1 billion Chinese online users watched an average of 2.5 hours of short video daily, with more than half of them watching microdramas.

Microdrama broadcasting platforms make money from viewing, membership, and advertising fees, with many charging per episode. Low production costs and flexible production methods have attracted a heap of emerging film and TV production companies and multi-channel networks (MCNs). Monetization comes from sharing the purchase fee of the broadcasting platform and the embedded advertising fee.

Episode 4: Conquering the Domestic and Global Stage

In addition to captivating a massive audience in China, microdramas have also made significant inroads internationally. The industry's market size in China was $5.2 billion in 2023, up a phenomenal 268 percent year-on-year, with the number of Chinese online micro-short dramas issued in the third quarter of 2023 nearly double that for all of 2022. By 2027, some estimate that the industry’s market size could grow to nearly $14 billion, highlighting its substantial market potential.

ReelShort, a prominent short-form streaming platform, has seen success abroad, even surpassing TikTok in the US iOS entertainment charts for a period in late 2023. The platform has attracted a global audience with diverse story themes and casts that resonate well beyond its domestic market.

Episode 5: Lights! Camera! Get in the Action!

How Tencent Delivers a One-stop Microdrama Management Platform that Empowers Program Creators

  • Platform support: Tencent Cloud offers an integrated solution for microdramas that includes robust and cost-effective tools for the production, management, and efficient distribution of video content. It simplifies the content-creation process and allows comprehensive performance data analytics.
  • Audience reach: The platform connects creators with a global audience through its extensive network, enhancing content visibility. Any delay in streaming can lead to loss of viewers, so seamless delivery is a priority.
  • Monetization models: Through advertising, subscriptions, and pay-per-view models, Tencent helps storytellers turn their creative ideas into profitable ventures.
  • Quality and IP innovation: Tencent encourages high-quality production and innovative storytelling, supporting creators in making standout content and monitoring and protecting their copyrights.

Lainey Zhu, product lead for Video on Demand (VOD) Solutions, says that “VOD provides a one-stop solution for, and meets the business needs of, microdrama customers. These include upload, distribution, media processing, media asset management, content playback, copyright protection, and other industry pain points.”

Bonus Content: Did You Know?

  • Bollywood shorts: India's entertainment giants are rapidly embracing the trend of microdramas, distilling the vibrant essence of Bollywood into shortform storytelling.
  • Anime in a flash: In Japan, the anime industry is condensing its epic narratives into micro-formats, allowing fans to enjoy quick slices of their favorite stories.

Episode 6: Closing Scene

Microdramas are transforming the entertainment landscape, compressing grandiose stories into concise, captivating episodes tailored for on-the-go consumption. Perfect for both creators looking to make a mark with innovative content and audiences seeking a quick storytelling fix, microdramas provide thrilling experiences in miniature form. Time will tell, but this one’s feeling like “happily ever after.”