Joy of Life 2

China’s Hit Drama ‘Joy of Life 2’ Makes Day/Date Disney+ Debut As Streamers Dial Up Limited Release Content

What do American TV shows Tracker, Will Trent and 9-1-1; Korean dramas Queen of Tears, Uncle Samsik, Chief Detective 1958 and Dare To Love Me; Japanese series Acma: Game and The Honest Realtor; anime series Solo Leveling and Delicious In Dungeon, and upcoming China drama Joy of Life 2 have in common?

Joy of Life 2
Joy of Life 2.

These are just a small sample from a growing pool of international TV shows, ranging from dramas, comedies and action, where within weeks, days or even hours after the latest episode premieres locally, are then dropped on popular streaming services such as Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, and Crunchyroll.

Advertisement ▼

This allows international audiences to enjoy the latest episode, without waiting months for the same show to make its local debut on free-to-air channels, or be available at a premium via cable or pay TV services.

One of the biggest draws for subscribing to global streaming services, mainly American ones, is that the majority of new content are released globally at the same time, so international audiences know that they have the opportunity to watch the same shows that American audiences have longed had the advantage of being the first to watch.

And American streamers are recognising that they need a wider breath of international and local content when they launch their services globally. The likes of Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video have invested millions in producing and acquiring content from international markets to broaden the appeal of their content libraries. Where once local content providers or broadcasters would charge a premium for day/date premieres of popular shows from other markets locally, streamers have entered the picture by adding new episodes each week, breaking away from the full season drops that have come to define their services. 

Similar to how Hollywood studios might release new movies in cinemas for a limited release, before making the same show available on streaming services, usually within a short window of a few days or weeks rather than months, local broadcasters or production studios in China, Korea, Japan and more, who produce these shows, are first releasing the shows through traditional broadcast, before releasing episodes on Amazon or Netflix for international audiences within a similar shortened release window.

And the shows making their weekly streaming debut aren’t the same as the streaming shows produced by the streamers, such as Disney+’s Shogun, Netflix’s Stranger Things, Amazon Prime Video’s Reacher, or Apple TV+’s For All Mankind, where the rollout schedule, of a full season or weekly drop, is controlled by the service. As streamers invest more on local content in global markets, the acquisition of shows, which are sometimes inaccurately listed as original content from the streamer are merely just acquired from another market, and are thus only considered original for select international markets.

The standout here is Disney+, which draws content from multiple sources, some of which its parent company owns in the US. American police procedural crime drama Will Trent, based on the books by crime writer Karin Slaughter, is produced by Disney-owned 20th Television, and made its US debut on Disney-owned ABC network, which explains its international appearance on the streaming service. While nine episodes have premiered in the US, only the first seven are available on Disney+ at the time of writing.

Meanwhile, Tracker, starring Justin Hartley as a skilled survivalist and tracker, made its US debut on the Paramount-owned CBS network, but the show is produced by 20th Television. While 12 episodes have premiered in the US, the streamer is only showing up to episode seven at the moment.

The catch is that unlike the bulk of Asian and international dramas, where a full season of episodes is completed before it’s released daily or weekly, American shows are still in production as the season progresses, so if a show has low ratings and is cancelled before the series completes production, international audiences won’t be privy to a proper narrative resolution. 

And these limited release content aren’t only for new shows without a following, nor are they exclusive to a streamer and follow identical debut strategies. Both Crunchyroll and Netflix dropped weekly, new episodes of Solo Leveling, the Japanese animated show based on the hit Korean comic series, and are doing the same for anime series about a group of adventurers, Delicious In Dungeon. Meanwhile, anime series Kaiju No. 8, based on a manga about a man who gains the ability to turn into a kaiju creature after ingesting one, is available on both on Disney+ and Crunchyroll, but while the dedicated anime streaming service has all five episodes, only three are available on Disney+. 

Meanwhile, the recently concluded Korean hit series, Queen of Tears, starring Kim Soo-hyun, one of South Korea’s highest paid stars, made its weekly day/date debut on Netflix but was so new that by the time the final episode dropped, the last two episodes had not even been dubbed in English for international audiences.

The trend has become so popular that more partnerships between broadcasters, production houses and streamers are forming, to bring the latest blockbuster series to global audiences within a shorter release window. On May 16, the sequel to the hit 2019 Chinese historical and political drama, Joy of Life (庆余年), starring Zhang Ruoyun, Li Qin and Chen Daoming, will be premiering simultaneously on China’s CCTV and Tencent Video in the country, as well as on Disney+ in select international markets, including Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong, streamer Viu and on Jia Le channel on Singtel’s IPTV service.

The show will drop two episodes for its premiere on CCTV and on Viu’s freemium service, while subscribers to Tencent VIP, Singtel Jia Le and Viu Premium will have four episodes. Meanwhile, Disney+ and Tencent SVIP subscribers can watch five episodes today.

Subsequently, two new episodes will drop every weekday at 7:30 pm Singapore time, and one episode each on Saturday and Sunday, which means that Disney+ subscribers will get the highest tier of access and be able to catch the sequel to one of the nation’s most popular TV shows alongside Mainland viewers and won’t have to worry about being spoiled. 

In an interview with Singapore’s Chinese daily, Lianhe Wanbao, Wang Qiao, the vice president of New Classics Media (新丽传媒), which produces the series, said that if the sequel does well, it will give the streamer confidence in acquiring more Chinese shows, and pave the way for more Chinese dramas to appear on global streaming services. 

This is not the first time Disney+ is offering day/date debuts of Asian dramas as it has previously found great success with Korean shows, including Wonderful World, Flex X Cop, Revenent and more.

So where does that leave free-to-air, cable and paid TV networks and channels, some of who have longed given up on bringing popular international shows to viewers immediately, and choose to do so months, or even years after its debut, simply because streamers are now cheaper (Amazon Prime Video costs just S$2.99 a month), and have an ever growing library readily available?

Well, when was the last time you turned on the TV to watch the latest Korean, Japanese, American or Chinese show?