Asian films and television shows finding success overseas isn’t anything new.
In the past few years, K-dramas Crash Landing on You and Descendants of the Sun, Chinese film Hi, Mom and Japanese title Alice in Borderland have won over fans worldwide, putting Asian programming at the forefront.
Now Chinese app iQiyi, which launched in March, has come to the UAE aiming to be the go-to place for fans solely seeking out Asian content. What differentiates it from other streaming services is that it specifically caters to the Middle East, with all of its content available with Arabic subtitles, alongside nine other languages offered, including English.
The streaming platform, which has its headquarters in Singapore, offers different tiers of subscriptions, starting with its standard package of Dh18 ($5) per month. It currently offers more than 3,000 titles and recently introduced its first all-original Korean series My Roommate is a Gumiho, which aired its final episode on July 15.
With so much varied content out there, how does the team decide which films and shows to add to its platform? Kuek Yu Chuang, vice president of international business at iQiyi, says it's a mixture of user feedback, trends and intuition.
He explains it was actually the younger fanbase that led to the platform's creation once they realised there was demand for Asian programming, but no service to fill that gap.
“This demand came predominantly from the Gen Z demographic, which continues to be our largest target market regionally and internationally. Prior to iQiyi’s launch earlier this year, the market for Asian streaming services was underserved and characterised by low-quality content from unofficial and unregulated sources,” Chuang tells The National.
“Few options were available to viewers and they often had to jump from platform to platform to find the shows they wanted to watch.”
But with iQiyi, he says it hopes to be a one-stop shop for those wanting to watch Asian content across the Middle East. As well as films and TV series, there is also an anime section, plus one for variety shows that feature K-pop stars such as Blackpink’s Lisa and former Exo member Kris Wu.
“Currently, iQiyi offers a good mix of own-produced and licensed Chinese and Korean content across dramas, variety and multilingual anime and animation. We aim to introduce more diversity in our content mix in the coming months and we hope our Middle Eastern users will stay tuned for that,” he says.
The regional team constantly analyses viewer behaviour to choose programmes and campaigns that suit audience taste, Chuang explains, but they also make sure it's in keeping with the platform's ethos.
“Great stories that fans love is always the rule of thumb. As a global streamer dedicated to bringing the best entertainment to the world, representing the authenticity and uniqueness of international cultures in our shows is of paramount importance to us.”
He cites My Roommate is a Gumiho as an example. Based off a webtoon, it’s the first Korean series produced by iQiyi and was a joint production between China and South Korea. It’s currently the most-streamed show on the platform and has been well received, with a rating of 9.4 out of 10 by more than 150,000 users.
Chuang says that while there is a wide array of content, the platform also specialises in two niches: Asian romance and NextGen Variety.
“iQiyi has been considered the destination of Asian romance shows in great variety and fresh story topics which include shows like Love is Sweet and Make My Heart Smile. Among all, the period romance drama Story of Yanxi Palace was the most Googled drama globally in 2018,” he says.
New titles set to be released soon include Korean drama series Jirisan, starring Jun Ji-hyun and Ju Ji-hoon in the leads, as well as The Ferryman: Legends of Nanyang, which iQiyi is in partnership to produce as their first Southeast Asian original.