Popularity versus Quality: Our Analysis on Kuyun and Douban's Report for C-Drama 2023

Best Chinese Drama in 2023

Kuyun, China's leading provider of digital entertainment consumer data (viewership and popularity), just released its annual report of drama performances aired in 2023, so we compared their score in Douban, the largest and most influential drama rating platform in China. 

Kuyun measures the number of viewers tuning in to the drama during its broadcast. including the data how many times viewers made a repeat watch and the curve changes. 

Douban has millions of registered users who come from diverse background, mostly from the middle class and professionals who are passionate about literary works.

Best Chinese Drama in 2023
Douban's top 10 list in 2023

Unlike in Kuyun where loyal fans of a particular artist gather to watch the drama and boost its popularity, Douban reviewers are mostly not part of the fanbase of one artist, they are people, mostly yuppies (young and upcoming professionals), who simply like literature and motion pictures. 

So comparing the data of these two platforms can be very interesting as they are composed of different consumer groups with slightly different preferences and interests. 

Best Chinese Drama in 2023

Kuyun measures the viewership performance and popularity of the drama (no rating involved) during its broadcast while Douban's users review and rate the drama according to the overall quality of the script and production and the acting performances of the cast.

In short, Kuyun shows data on how commercially valuable the shows are and the potential big return on investment, while Douban shows data on how the drama is well-made. They are critical on the quality of the screenplay.

However, there are two series that appeared in the top 10 list on both platforms! The Knockout and Mysterious Lotus Casebook. 

This means these two series have both achieved commercial and critical success in 2023, and are both popular and well-made. They are also the only drama in the top 10 list of Kuyun's popular series that earned an 8.0 plus rating in Douban.

Best Chinese Drama in 2023
The only consistent dramas in 2023. They topped both Douban and Kuyun's ranking

Blossoms Shanghai is not part of Kuyun's Annual Report this year because its broadcast period ended in January 2024, so its data will be included in the 2025 Kuyun's Annual Report. Just like Flight To You, which premiered in December 2022 but its final broadcast ended in January 2023. 

Here's the comparison:

10 Highest-Rated Series in Douban from Mainland China in 2023:
  1. The Long Season: 9.4
  2. Three-Body: 8.7
  3. Blossoms Shanghai: 8.7
  4. Meet Yourself: 8.7
  5. An Ancient Love Song: 8.6
  6. The Knockout: 8.5
  7. Mysterious Lotus Casebook: 8.5
  8. Ripe Town: 8.5
  9. Be With You: 8.5
  10. The Heart: 8.4
Kuyun's 10 Most Popular Series from Mainland China in 2023 (we included their corresponding Douban rating:
  1. The Knockout: 8.5
  2. Lost You Forever: 7.8
  3. Mysterious Lotus Casebook: 8.5
  4. Destined: 6.5
  5. A Journey To Love: 6.5
  6. Till the End of the Moon: 5.6
  7. The Youth Memories: 7.5
  8. The Longest Promise: 6.3
  9. Story of Kunning Palace: 6.8
  10. Flight To You: 6.8
Our analysis on the above comparison:

Based on the annual report of China's two leading and most influential platforms for drama (rating and popularity), we found out that:

1. iQiyi has more popular drama in 2023 but Tencent has more highest-rated series in Douban.

2. Tencent's drama lacks the capacity to explode in popularity unless their drama is bannered by traffic stars. While iQiyi can have a popularity explosion even if it's not starred by traffic stars because the overall production value is excellent. 

3. Youku is struggling on both sides. None made it to the top 10 list in Douban and they have only one in Kuyun's hottest drama list. 

4. Blossoms Shanghai is not part of Kuyun's Annual Report since its broadcast ended in January 2024, therefore the data belongs to the 2025 report. But its popularity heat index on the Tencent's app is higher than Lost You Forever. 

Douban's Top 10 List (Highest-rated C-Drama in 2023):

1. The Long Season: 9.4 (Tencent) Genre: Crime-Thriller
2. Three-Body: 8.7 (Tencent) Genre: Contemporary/Science fiction
3. Blossoms Shanghai: 8.7 (Tencent) Genre: Period/Business
4. Meet Yourself: 8.7 (Mango TV) Genre: Contemporary/Romance
5. An Ancient Love Song: 8.6 (Bilibili): Ancient costume/Mystery
6. The Knockout: 8.5 (iQiyi): Genre Contemporary/Crime-Thriller
7. Mysterious Lotus Casebook: 8.5 (iQiyi) Genre: Ancient Costume/Investigative
8. Ripe Town: 8.5 (Tencent). Genre: Ancient Costume/Investigative
9. Be With You: 8.5 (Mango TV) Genre: Ancient Costume/Comedy
10. The Heart: 8.4 (Tencent) Genre: Contemporary/Medical

Kuyun's Top 10 list (Hottest C-Drama in 2023):

1. The Knockout (iQiyi). Genre Contemporary/Crime-Thriller
2. Lost You Forever (Tencent) Genre: Ancient Costume/Romance
3. Mysterious Lotus Casebook (iQiyi). Genre: Ancient Costume/Investigative
4. Destined (iQiyi). Genre: Ancient Costume/Romance
5. A Journey To Love (iQiyi). Genre: Ancient Costume/Action
6. Till the End of the Moon (Youku). Ancient Costume/Xianxia
7. The Youth Memories (Tencent). Genre: Period/Slice of Life
8. The Longest Promise (Tencent). Ancient Costume/Xianxia
9. Story of Kunning Palace (iQiyi). Genre: Ancient Costume/Romance
10. Flight To You (iQiyi). Genre: Contemporary/Office Romance

Kuyun's system measures the popularity level of the show but does not measure the quality of the script, the overall production value, and the drama viewing experience of the audience, however, it is a valuable tool for investors and producers to find out which one has more commercial value. The more people watch the show, the higher its return on investment.  

This is why the popularity level of the drama is very crucial as it converts to big revenues. The more popular the show/series, the more it drives revenue/big profits and the more it attracts potential investors. 

It also increases the star power of the artists and their branding, which always leads to more projects. It helps boosts their celebrity status in the industry. Thus, Kuyun's annual report is considered a valuable game player in the Chinese entertainment industry. 

However, popularity is not the only factor in measuring how successful the drama is. Producers and investors need to hear reviews and assessments from the viewers of how the drama performed in terms of quality, and how the show impacted them (viewers).

In this sense, they turned to Douban, which is China's largest and most recognized drama rating platform. It has millions of registered users and according to Amazon's Alexa, most Douban users are in the middle class and yuppies (young and up professionals) who mostly do not belong to any fanbase of Chinese celebrities but just citizens who like literary works such as books and motion pictures.

So they give honest ratings and reviews and most of the highest-rated series in Douban are also the most awarded and critically acclaimed works. 

The above comparison of Kuyun and Douban annual report shows a big difference in audience's preferences. Although both platforms are dominated by young viewers, they don't reflect the same outcome. Clearly, Douban users are critical on the quality and technicalities of the drama. 

However, they seem to both favored the costume dramas. Based on Kuyun's most watched series, audience preferred the costume series with a strong romance arc, and those works of traffic stars (Xiao Zhan, Yang Zi, Bai Lu, and Luo Yunxi are all traffic stars). 

Meanwhile, Douban reviewers favored the script quality and the overall production value, irrespective of who are in the cast. 

For instance, The Long Season, Three Body, Blossoms Shanghai, and The Knockout are starred by veteran actors and do not have a large fanbase (except Hu Ge). 

Others in the top 10 list are starred by performers who are not known to the public - Ripe Town, Be With You, and An Ancient Love Song are starred by actors who do not have large traffic. 

In the top 10 list of Kuyun, 7 out of 10 are in the costume genre, and 6 out of 7 are costume romance. The dramas starred by traffic stars are often the most popular and the audience do not necessarily mind if the script is logical. 

So Kuyun and Douban's top lists are often the case of popularity versus quality, it's up to the producers how they will balance their next drama projects. 

If they are greedy enough and just look at big revenues only, they will surely field traffic stars that can boost the show's popularity, but if they want to establish a valuable reputation in the industry, they will favor a good script that will be bannered by an award-winning team including performers. 

Only The Knockout and Mysterious Lotus Casebook can be considered critically and commercially successful as they appeared both in Kuyun and Douban's top-rank listings, the only series in 2023 to do so.

So as a drama viewer, which one do you prefer? The Kuyun's top-ranking list or Douban's top-ranking list? Please share your thoughts. 😊

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