”I Am The Actor”, Tencent Bets on the Talent Show


Is AI going to determine future KOL? While the top Chinese reality show ”I Am The Actor” – 我就是表演 – becomes a trending topic on Weibo, the innovative format is now ready to land in overseas countries. That’s why Western companies have to follow it


While the Middle Kingdom’s social media are crowded with ironic memes about Chinese acting and the conflict between old and new actors is getting more and more intense, Zhejiang Satellite TV and Tencent bet on a talent show that will consecrate the new Chinese movie star.

Broadcast on Saturday night, the TV show mixes both reality and talent show dynamics creating a new format that keeps viewers glued to the screen. But it does not stop there. Thanks to their performances and funny moments, the protagonists soon became KOL on the web.

However, what is this about?  ”I Am The Actor” – formerly ”The Birth of Performer” 演员的诞生 – is the TV revelation of the year. Along with 10 professionals from the movie industry and judges chosen among the Chinese star system, the audience is invited to comment and vote groups of actors who contend the role of next Chinese movie ”star”.


I am the actor - the format that set-up some of the Chinese blockbusters - cifnews

©ZhejiangTV. This format set-up some of the Chinese blockbusters. In this case Brotherhood of Blades 2, 绣春 刀 2. In the poster some of the participants in the reality show.


After the first episode, the TV show gained huge public success. The viewers of the Dragon not only follow it on Zhejiang Television channel, they also watch the show on the mobile app Tencent Video so that when the first episode was hired in October 2017, it suddenly entered all Chinese media trending conversations gaining more than 97 million online views by the end of the first 12 hours.

The first two episodes then reached 330 million viewers. The social networks, Weibo at the head, have been invaded by enthusiastic comments from netizens who support their respective favorites. The secret of success lies in the simplicity of the format and in the cast.


“I Am The Actor” has the ability to glue millions of viewers to the screen. Thanks to the big data of the Shenzhen giant, the protagonists were strategically chosen among those people who are not only successful at home but who are also internationally appreciated.


Despite continuous allegations, the talent has found the recipe for success: the all-star cast that includes both established movie stars as well as new talents. An example is Yu Hewei, 于和伟, the true star of the small Chinese screen that participated in the masterpiece Mr. Six, by the renowned Guan Hu.

Then, the actor, producer, and musician Wu Xiubo, 吴秀波, is also in the cast as he represents one of the most loved multi-talented artists of the Chinese audience. Xu Cheng, 徐峥, is another famous protagonist of the format.

Nevertheless, since the first episode, the spotlight was on Joan Cheng, 陈冲, one of the first big stars in the Chinese movie industry. She became internationally renowned as one of the protagonists of Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor and for having played Josie Packard in the American TV series The Secrets of Twin Peaks, created by David Lynch. Nowadays, she is one of the most appreciated directors in China.


I am the actor - famous judges vote to choose the next Chinese movie star - cifnews

©Sohu.com. Judges from the Chinese star system and the audience vote to choose the next Chinese movie ”star”.


Therefore, ”I Am The Actor gives millions of viewers exactly what they want to see: superstars, competition, entertainment, drama and a bit of gossip. But why is this TV show so important for the Chinese business industry?

It is interesting to see how the whole format is created to be followed by a huge audience and to be loved by it. While many people would think it comes by a lucky chance, it was possible thanks to the huge amount of big data collected by Tencent instead. AI was thus used by Pony Ma’s company to choose the contenders among local web celebrities and provincial movie stars.

That is why the show hosts people like Fan Tiantian, known in the PRC for the talk show 奇葩说 which is a web success in the country. Or Tan Jianci, 檀健次, also known as Kenji, member of the idol group M.I.C. In addition, there are also professional actors like Yang Rong, actress graduated from the prestigious 人民艺术剧院, Beijing People’s Art Theatre, and the actor Wang Yan who is among the favorites.


I am the actor - Oscar Sun is one of the most voted participants - cifnews

©Sina.cn. Oscar Sun, 孙坚. The 35-year-old from Xian, graduated from the prestigious 中央戏剧学院, The Central Academy of Drama, is one of the most voted participants.


With two seasons aired, ”The Birth of Performer” has even managed to reach overseas countries. Last November 11th, in fact, one hour prior the season finale, Zhejiang Television signed an agreement with the American Is or Is not Entertainment (IOI) for the collaboration in the development of an international version of the Chinese talent of the year.

Although the production already planned to include bilingual performances to attract international audiences, this is the first time that a PRC format has landed in the United States and it looks like it is going to be hired in UK and Canada too.

”Chinese talent shows entered the stage of independent development and export overseas after nearly a decade of taking shape and amassing content. ‘I Am The Actor’ is one success story,” said Gu Shuhang, chief executive of CAA China.

The greatest success of this talent is not only in the choice of the cast but also in the simplicity of the format that allows the public from home to vote their favorite actor through the platforms of Weibo and Oppo – Chinese mobile company and main sponsor. Moreover, actors’ performances consist of the reinterpretation of scenes taken from TV series or from movie classics, which is a loved format in the Dragon.


I am the actor - Many netizens have already chosen Fan Tiantian as a possible winner - cifnews

©Zhejiang.TV. In the reproduction of the key scene of 女儿 谷, Penitentiary Angel, 1995, the actress Fan Tiantian, third from the left, touched the public and the jury with her performance. Many netizens have already chosen her as a possible winner.


The protagonists of this undisputed success thus quickly rushed into the Olympus of Key Opinion Leaders. The judges as well as the most loved or discussed participants, in a very short time, gained numerous followers who talk about them on the web and copy their style.

All the conversations around the show are an important factor for the marketing industry. If before the advent of social networks the consumer relied on the advice of experts or trusted people among their circle of friends, now the internet user finds his own style icon on the web from which to learn tips and receive ideas.

The actors’ talent show takes a step further. Each episode generates a discussion around its contents, a conversation that from the television jumps into the online world. And it is precisely online that what will determine the future of marketing takes place.


Thanks to the rise of social media, in 2016 the market value of Chinese online KOLs was estimated at more than $ 8 billion. Now Tencent is using AI to make tv programs.


Therefore, the protagonists of the talent show represent the KOLs of tomorrow while the voting system and the online talks ensured this large success.

Tencent used AI to collect and process the big data, creating new frontiers for the future of entertainment. Pony Ma’s company had already experimented it with ”Produce 101”, also broadcast on Tencent Video, but it is with ”I Am The Actor” that the experiment reached its biggest success.


I am the actor - Bertolucci's The Last Emperor is one of the sketches performed in the show - cifnews

© Zhejiang Tv. Among the representations that have inflamed the social media the is the sketch taken from ”The Last Emperor”, Bertolucci’s masterpiece. Among the judges also Joan Cheng, 陈冲, who took part in the movie.


AI at the service of the entertainment is useful as it helps to identify new trends. Moreover, knowing in advance the future KOLs will also lead to reach a larger and more engaged audience that will attract more sponsors.

What is sure is that the Chinese commercial talk has undertaken two paths that go hand in hand and complement one another. If potential consumers are attracted to television programs, it is in social media that they establish the closest relationships.

For brands whose goal is to enter the Dragon’s market, all that remains is to identify these two realities and find their own channel of communication and engagement taking inspiration from the most virtuous examples.

”I Am The Actor” with its enormous success is the best example of how AI and big data will define the future of entertainment. It looks like the Dragon is becoming an innovation and hi-tech leader way before its own plan.


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