When you watch a video on Netflix or Youtube, have you ever come across a scene where you want to fast-forward?
However, on the mainstream international streaming websites, the fast-forward function that we were once familiar with has disappeared.
But it’s different in China, where almost all video sites have fast-forward buttons, including Netflix sites like iQiyi, Tencent Video and Youku, as well as Youtube sites like Bilibili and Weibo video.
For some live streaming platforms that provide playback, they even allow users to fast forward when watching live streaming playback.
This has even sparked a debate on the Chinese Internet: why do Chinese users like to use fast-forward to watch videos so much?
How popular is the fast-forward playback function in China?
Before 2018, only some Chinese online education websites had the function of fast-forward viewing.
But with the keen intuition of product managers, China’s three major video websites (Tencent Video, Youku and iqiyi) added fast-forward playback around 2018. As soon as this feature is launched, it is immediately welcomed by users, so that by 2020, any type of video website will have fast-forward function.
In September 2019, a survey conducted by the Beijing News showed that 67.38% of the respondents regularly used the fast-forward viewing function; domestic TV series and variety shows were the most frequently used video content categories; video content deliberately elongated and reduced personal time were the two main reasons for their use of fast-forward playback.
Most of the people in the survey have a positive attitude towards fast-forward playback, believing that this feature allows users to choose more freely.
In another survey conducted by the China Youth Daily, 88.7% of respondents had experienced “double speed” TV series, and 40.7% of them did so regularly. Although the data are slightly different from the previous survey, it still means that more than 1/3 users often use the fast-forward playback feature when watching videos.
Chinese streaming websites generally offer playback options ranging from 0.5x to 2x times the speed, and most people will choose 1.5x or 1.25x times the speed. At this speed, the actor’s voice becomes funny but does not affect the comprehension of lines, and a better balance can be achieved between the viewing experience and the length of time.
Some Chinese streaming sites also offer Pornhub-like progress bars, where key plots and other places that viewers focus on are marked. This function satisfies those audiences who want to know the story but do not want to see the whole story.
In addition, there is a special accelerated playback feature called “only watch this actor/actress” in some video websites in China.
This feature splits a long series or variety show into actors and plays it normally only when the character the user wants to see appears, skipping or fast-forward the rest.
The 2018 TV series Ashes of Love, offers “just watch acto/actress” function on Tencent Video.
In different episodes, users can watch only Yang Zi, Deng Lun and Luo Yunxi through this feature. Or only watch the opposite play between Yang Zi and Deng Lun, and only watch the opposite play between Deng Lun and Luo Yunxi, and so on.
Among them, Yang Zi is the only heroine actress of the play, Deng Lun is the leading actor of the play, and Luo Yunxi is the second leading actor of the play.
For fans of many young Chinese stars, this is a good way.
Because these stars have just made their debut, they often need to take part in a large number of not-so-good films and TV dramas. This feature allows their fans not to miss the idol’s acting career, but also not to waste too much time on shows that are not worth watching.
Why is fast-forward function popular in China?
1. The content is elongated.
The TV series “content is stretched” is the main reason why many people like fast-forward broadcasting. In Chinese, this kind of behavior is called “water injection”, which means adding some water to the real material.
According to the survey released by China Youth Daily, 52.9% of the respondents think that the accelerated broadcast is due to the prolonged plot and slow rhythm of the TV series. 52.8% of the respondents think it is because the story is boring and not attractive. 73.7% of the respondents expected to see more domestic dramas with compact narration.
Unlike most American and British dramas, which generally begin to decline in quality after multiple seasons, the quality of many Chinese TV dramas will decline dramatically in the second half of a season, because the number of episodes in each season of Chinese TV dramas is about five seasons of American dramas.
There is a deep-seated reason behind this: the drama purchase mechanism of Chinese TV stations is paid by the number of episodes, and requires that each season of the TV series must contain a complete story, which has been filmed.
Although streaming platforms often do not have this requirement, the habit continues. Because some TV dramas are not sure whether they should be broadcast on the Internet or on TV stations in the early stage of production.
This means that Chinese producers cannot decide whether or not to shoot a sequel based on ratings, as producers in Europe and the United States do.
Over time, Chinese TV producers often prefer to shoot super-long TV series at once. For example, the well-known costume series “Empresses in the Palace” produced in 2011 has 76 episodes of 45 minutes each.
For the audience, if this is a good show, then naturally there will be a better experience. But more often, the producers will start to lengthen the plot deliberately, sacrificing the quality of the show to get a higher price.
In 2019, a drama called “The Longest Day in Chang’an“, adapted from the novel of the same name by Ma Boyong, a best-selling author in China, was expected by audiences. It tells the story of an assassination of an emperor in the Tang Dynasty.
The whole story of The Longest Day in Chang’an only takes place within 24 hours, but it has 48 episodes of 60 minutes each, that is, a total of 48 hours.
When the show was first released, it got a score of more than 9 on Douban.com (China’s imdb). In the first few episodes, the plot rhythm of the play is compact, the actors perform superbly, the costume props have a high degree of reduction to the heyday of the Tang Dynasty, and the lines contain a large number of the use of Chinese classical elements. These elements make viewers think that the “amount of information” of the show is so high that some people even watch it over and over again or pause to think about the meaning of their lines.
But in the middle of the show, its rhythm began to slow down sharply, and the “amount of information” began to become sparse, which created a sharp contrast between before and after the whole show. Its score on Douban gradually dropped to 8.3, and many people on social networks complained about the slowdown and dropped out.
Generally speaking, The Longest Day in Chang’an, is still a TV series worth watching in recent years, but it is still dragged down by the slow pace.
There are many other Chinese online dramas that are procrastinating from beginning to end, the plot is boring, and there is no conflict between the characters, even if the audience leave for 10 or 20 minutes on the way to watch, they won’t find anything unusual.
This phenomenon is particularly prominent under the classification of campus and urban love, which only tells the love story of the hero and heroine for a short period of time in the length of 40-50 episodes. There are also some fantasy-themed Chinese costume dramas that use fixed segments similar to those in Japanese animation to show some of the protagonists’ abilities or skills, extending the time by showing the same special effects in each episode.
That’s why Chinese audiences love fast forward.
2. Not all plays are used to “watch”.
But this raises another question: if these dramas are not good, why do Chinese audiences watch them?
It is worth clarifying that Chinese audiences are not without choices. There are still many high-quality dramas of normal length on Chinese streaming websites, including those made by mainland China itself and those from foreign countries.
However, after watching these high-quality dramas, Chinese audiences will continue to use the fast-forward function to view content that is not so good.
In order to explain this problem, we need to know the scene in which the Chinese watch the video.
Unlike the typical scene of Netflix, most online TV dramas in China are different at the dining table rather than in the living room.
In China, online TV series are often called “dinner drama” (下饭剧, xià fàn jù, It takes its meaning from pickles and is used to help audience to spend the boring eating time.)
The main time for Chinese audiences, especially young viewers, to watch these films and TV dramas is lunch or dinner time. A typical scene is to order takeout at noon on weekdays and put your mobile phone on the front cover of the food to watch a TV show or variety show when you order takeout to eat in the company’s lounge area.
In addition, some Chinese viewers also like to watch videos while doing other things.
For example, they may play the video while browsing Weibo, but their main attention is on Weibo, and only when the content in the video becomes interesting will they turn their attention back to the video.
In this situation, TV series are more like a “white noise with information”. Its function is to give users a sense of companionship. So the plot becomes less important, the important thing is that they can look up and see their favorite stars in the corner of the screen or hear the voices of their favorite stars all the time.
Fast-forward playback is not all a bad thing.
Of course, not all fast-forward broadcasts are for the above reasons, and some viewers fast-forward to watch the show in a shorter time.
In recent years, popular TV dramas have become one of the important social chips for Chinese young people. Many of the viewers in these TV dramas are underage primary and secondary school students.
Under the pressure of education in China, they often do not spend much time watching TV dramas. But if they don’t watch those popular TV dramas, they may lose the common language with their friends or classmates.
At the same time, more and more people begin to realize that a whole piece of free time is scarce in the Internet age. As a result, more and more young people are reluctant to devote the whole part of their time to watching a TV series, and they are more likely to devote the whole piece of their personal time to learning skills or social activities for long-term personal development. or more “active” entertainment such as playing games.
On the other hand, the passive and pure pastime of watching TV series is mostly arranged in the parallel tasks mentioned above, such as mealtime, commuting time or dealing with other affairs.
There are also some people who use fast-forward playback simply to supplement past episodes more quickly.
For example, the Chinese classic series “My Fair Princess” trilogy was released for the first time in 1998, 1999 and 2003, with a total of 112 episodes. Although no one forces young people born after 2000 to review these series, but Chinese who have not seen “My Fair Princess“, like Britons who have not seen “Dr.Who“, are thought to lack some memories in their lives.
A person who has not seen “My Fair Princess” may not even understand many of the Meme on Weibo that did not appear until 2020.
In addition to “My Fair Princess“, there are some TV dramas in China that are considered must-see in a lifetime, such as “The Legend of the Condor Heroes” (1983 version, 59 episodes in 3 seasons), “The Eloquent Ji Xiaolan” (4 seasons, 165 episodes), “I Love my Family” (120 episodes in 1 season).
In order to graduate from these excellent but some old TV series more quickly, fast-forward playback is also an option.
Overall, the fast-forward feature is an option for users to take control of their time. We have enjoyed this option on many media, and we can still use fast forward on VCR, VCD and DVD, even on local video players.
Therefore, it is strange that Netflix and Youtube do not support fast-forward playback.
In fact, Netflix also planned to introduce fast-forward playback in 2019, but had to put it off after being boycotted by Hollywood. It’s easy to understand that fast-forward playback destroys the well-designed rhythm of the show, which is unfair to writers, directors and actors who work hard for it.
However, if fast-forward playback can effectively shorten the time viewers spend watching a play, then the audience will release more leisure time to watch another show. This may lead to an increase in overall viewing and revenue for all episodes.
In China, there is no lack of criticism of fast-forward broadcasting, and even official media such as Xinhua News have criticized the function of fast-forward broadcasting.
However, the fate of the fast-forward playback function is diametrically opposed to that of overseas, and this function has not disappeared from the streaming platform. Instead, it has aroused NRTA’s attention to TV series waterflooding. In a new document, NRTA requires that the production of new series should not exceed 40 episodes in principle, and encourages about 30 episodes of TV series.
This is not only an administrative order of the Chinese authorities, but also a trend.
Some new mini dramas have become popular on Chinese short video platforms Tiktok and Kwai since last year. They are usually only 3-5 minutes long, but they are played in fast-forward mode by default to gain 10-minute plot capacity of traditional TV series.
With the popularity of short videos and the acceleration of people’s way of life, we may eventually see fast-forward playback on all streaming platforms.
Or these streaming platforms will be replaced by other products, such as Quibi.