Super Girl (Voice) phenomenon

I was not sure if I wanted to talk about the "Super Girl" phenomenon. But then I recognized this is too big a phenomenom to ignore, politically, sociologically, and even busines-wise. For background story in English see:

"Anti" has an excellent series of commentaries which tracks Supergirl (in Chinese), esp on its political ramification

  • 超级女声:数千万人对数千万人的民意决选 (Super Girl: Millions vs Millions, People's Choice)
  • '(...the contestant and audiences of Super Girl, practiced and demonstrated democracy with their superb performaces... depite all the criticisms, they have shown respect to their opponents, respect to the rules, respect to people's verdict, and put in their best effort, step down gracefully when defeated... someone attacked this program as the "evil of grp (gross point rating)"... but the fact that these adorable, innocent super girls are so well received and followed by our citizens, has demonstrated that we are too much in need of [a platform for] people's choice like this show...总有论者批评中国人没有民主素质。但是“超级女声”中的选手和观众,却以极其出色的表现实践并且示范了民主。虽然有太多太多对大赛的批评,但至少在这场数千万人对抗数千万的票选中,他们都尊重对手、遵守制度、服从民意、努力进取、认赌服输。亲身参与这样的过程是令人激动而有意义的。这就是“超级女声”的核心秘密。    打造这场民意决选的湖南卫视,也在商业上获得了成功。虽然长沙不是北京,但“超级女声”让长沙成为了娱乐之都。有人攻击这个节目,说“收视率乃万恶之源”,但这些可爱、纯洁的超级女生受到国人的追捧,却说明我们需要太多这种民意决选了,给国人这种机会的人再怎么成功都是应该的。)'
  • 抵制超级女权猖狂新世界,旗帜鲜明保卫美女叶一茜 (I don't know how to translate this title :) )
  • 安替终身做叶一茜粉丝宣言 (Anit's declaration to be the life-long fan of Ye Yiqian)
  • 【网文推荐】刘须:被青春和民主彻底击溃(total triump of youth and democracy)
  • 超女结束了,什么才是中国的超男决选?(Now that supergirl is over, what can be counted as China's super-"boy" final?)
  • 'I was among those who first wrote an opinion column to lift the Super Girl toward the democratic path, but all these time I feel this line from a netfriend speaks best of my heart: "CTMD ($%$%#!?#)! I am afraid it will be futile to hope for voting a president in this lifetime, so I'll just [grab this opportunity to exercise my right to] choose a babe I like." Super Girl is obviously not the same as democracy, but it is the fantasy for the 1.3 billion Chinese people who do not have democracy. When I think about this, I feel sad for my China. (我是比较早写社论把超女往民主方向拔高的,至今我还觉得网友的这句话说得最得我心:“CTMD,这一辈子想选个总统恐怕是办不到了,我就选一个喜欢的女娃子。”超女当然不是民主,但它是缺乏民主的13亿中国人对民主的幻想。想到这里,我为我中华悲凉。)'
  • "Let a subset of our ladies find democracy first 让一部分女人先民主起来..." (Note the parallel to Deng's famous baby-step gradualism quote, "Let a subset of our people get rich first")
  • 写给许纪霖教授的公开信——既然您不敢反专制,那就请别逻辑混乱地反超女 (An open letter to Prof Xu)

Updates (Sep 2): I don't have much to add to the political implications, except noting that political election is not too different from "idol election". example, Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou went on stage to sing a few times and the election nights are usually carnival parties.

Updates (Sep 2): South Metro News (based in Guangzhou, which has been well praised for its reporting of Sun Zhigang incident and SARS in 2002) has an editorial: Super Girl Voice: The Victory of the People

"The average people love it, because on stage stands not the privileged class or shining stars, but the average people like themselves; they voted, because Super Girl Voice has been a carnival participated by the average citizen throughout... millions of votes every week, demonstrated the enthusiasm of the public's participation, and also another kind of 'equality and freedom', that of free voting... first, every SMS is equal... second, against the millions of total votes, everyone has good faith and confidence in his own vote that it would be importance, non-negligible and effectual... lastly, they have the right to vote or not vote, the right to choose who to vote, without having to look at the insinuation of others, or owing of any thankfulness... There will be discords and confusion in the its birth, just like anything new to us, such as various accusations on under-table deals, and backstabbing from other camps and confusion among the public -- as a mother is uncertain about the fate of her embryo, but what we can say is, a new life has been born."

Updates (Sep 2): Southern Metro in another op-ed:

"About a month ago, one of the committee judges pointed out, those with a pure heart will have boundless future... the future greatness of China, and also that of our economic take off, relies on the forming of an open society... [people] will look for the opportunities that belong to themselves in an open and transparent society... an open society must have also an boundless future"

Why do I think the Super Girl is important, other than its commercial success? Here are a few

  1. the power of technology has fundamentally changed the balance of power in business competition, in this case it is possible for a marginal player (Hunan Satellite TV) to overcome the entry barrier with innovation: although each province has its own satellite TV for about 1o years now, and most have been able to reach virtually every corner in China (vie Cable relay), their rating has been miserable. This is the first time a provincial satellite station (and one from a relatively "less developed" province, Hunan) to have beaten CCTV. The era of CCTV monopoly is gone. CCTV CPM premium will be diluted. No doubt CCTV will still be dominant, due to the audience inertia (compare TVB in HK). But there are 30+ national TV stations now, at any point of time one of them would find a niche and steal audience from CCTV. Innovation will be rewarded, because technolgy encourages "business democracy"
  2. With more and more channels to reach consumers (e.g. Bittorrent), and a much 'freer' environment (I mean, piracy tolerating) China may be the market where one discovers the post-iPod business model for the record and video industry
  3. Once again, it confirmed the similarity between the US and China consumer market (Walmart, American Idol,...). They are not that different. Fundamentals apply, and scale matters
  4. It also demonstrated that Chinese consumers are open to innovatice business ideas and products. For the Americans who lament about trade imbalance, take notes, if you failed to sell something, it is never the buyer's fault. (For a working girl in Hunan, RMB1 is 1/3 of her lunch, and she is not getting anything tangible for it.)
  5. SMS and the business opportunity associated with it - not a news
  6. Consumer marketing (and sociological insights - e.g. here): Female voters dominated the contest (election), as (perhaps) they are more involved and more willing to spend RMB1 for the vote. This is evident from the results that the Feminine 叶一茜 Ye Yiqian (ranked 7th, pictured in orange-colored vest above, and the links here) lost to the boyish finalists (the top picture, and links in top paragraph). (However, let's also note that it is simplistic to assume the 'boyish' biase, as the personal charisma must have played a major role in such vote determined contests) NTT Docomo found exactly the same pattern 6 years ago, when it was discovered that girls in15-30 are the biggest users of i-mode

Super Girl is not new. Some "sour grapes" in China claimed that they had tried that idea before. Even when compared with American Idol's rating of around 10%, Super Girl's grp was spectacular, think Bravo suddenly got NBC's highest rating. So, the ultimate question is, why is it so successful? Among other reasons,

  • it is original, and innovative. Yes, original. It tried to democratize singing contest through 3 different systems: SMS, professional judge, and mass judge. It relied on the first two to select 2 contestants on the PK (originated from the Japanese shorthand for Penalty Kick in Soccer) stage. Then the vote of the latter to eliminate one from the two
  • it adhere to its recipe (or strategy) or "audience first", and in the finale used SMS as the sole criteria. While it is no different from the American Idol mechanism, but it is the first time in China, a country where democracy is kept for the privilege of village mayor candidates
  • if positioned itself on the mass market (middle tier cities, instead of SH/GZ), with Hunan being at the middle of the GDP/cap among Chinese provinces

Super Girl is also an unplanned success. If you look at the location of the 5 prelim cities on a map of China, you will find that they are Hangzhou, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Zhengzhou + Changsha. i.e. a radiation on four directions from the center Changsha. It is obvious that Hunan Sat TV's original ambition was only to expand to the neighboring provinces. Shanghai and Beijing were not among its planned audience area. With the right strategy and brilliant execution, the result can well exceed the plan, just like Google, Net-ease, iPod, or Shanda

Updates Sep 5: economic benefits


Quan Song said...

It is just a successful entertainment show and a copycat of 'American Idol' or 'Pop Idol' (UK version). I don't think it carries so much meaning. Without heathly laws to ensure voting system, a national election in mainland China would still be a nightmare. But sooner or later, it will happen after successful economical and legal development.

Sun Bin said...

Thanks for your comment.

It must have done a lot of things right (the melodramatic anecdotes, the personal charisma of the contestants, etc.) to be such a successful show, especially considering where it has started vs CCTV. CCTV (or other mainstream channel) would never have allowed SMS to solely control the results. More importantly, they have put what audience like first, the show is fully market oriented.

As for politicial election, I actually think it takes a lot more than the legal system and middle class. e.g. some practice is needed. and this is one of the exercises. For this exercise, the results has been encouraging, as people demonstrated respect, constraint, and order.

Sure, this is only a baby step. The popularity of this baby step shows there is very strong stream pressure under the lid. And people like to release such steam. After all, there is not much difference between political election and 'idol election'. look at taiwan, Chen Siubian and Ma Yingjeou are bot sort of pop idols.

Anonymous said...

I noticed this entry is more than a year old(-.-'), wonder if it's still open for comments?
SMS for support doesn't equal 'vote', even if those support is what has the ultimate say of who's the winner. I think it's more about audience participation, which the HNSTV intends to use to boost the ratings--it's about porfits. They don't care about democracy, they only want money flow in. Just as the success was out of their expectation, so was this whole mirage of 'democracy' thing. This was all unplanned, and how could anything spontaneous be called 'election' or indicate democracy? Politics, in any sense, is meticulously planned. Maybe we shouldn't read politics into showbiz.

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