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Why Short Drama is Taking Center Stage

We all start with “just one episode”, but before we know it, hours have flown by and we’ve binged the whole season. We didn’t intend to spend the entire day watching, but the cliffhangers and story twists made it impossible to stop.

This viewing habit has grown into a new type of entertainment: Short Drama. And apps like ReelShort who produce short drama content are quickly gaining popularity in multiple markets worldwide. Hollywood filmmaker Muyan Pei has also noticed an increasing demand for producing short dramas. She comments, “It’s evident that short dramas excel at engaging viewers by effectively tapping into their emotional highs and lows, which is why well-written scripts often see significant returns. Looking ahead, short dramas are expected to remain a stable and growing sector. I believe this trend will continue, with the industry becoming more standardized and professional.”

Read on to explore this short drama trend and uncover strategies and tips for successfully promoting your short drama series to the masses.

What is Short Drama?

Short drama is described as this generation’s soap opera. Engaging stories in the style of a typical TV drama are produced with smartphone viewing in mind. Episodes can run from one to three minutes in length, offering bite-sized entertainment that easily fits into viewers’ busy schedules.

Short dramas are usually delivered in a series format, with themes covering personal and family relationships, or fantasy elements like werewolves and vampires. Compelling narratives and strong visual appeal make them exceptionally engaging to modern audiences.

Some of the most popular titles on ReelShort, the premier short drama app, include ‘Snatched a Billionaire to be My Husband,’ ‘Fated to My Forbidden Alpha,’ and ‘Bound by Vendetta: Sleeping with the Enemy,’ captivate audiences, sparking discussions on social media and forums as fans eagerly anticipate more episodes and similar series.

Women make up 70% of the short drama audience, with the majority aged between 25-44. They are also, typically, middle class. These viewers are typically busy with household duties, childcare, and social activities. They use short drama apps to seek brief escapes into romance and fantasy through engaging snippets that fit their fragmented schedules.

What Does the Market Landscape Look Like for Short Dramas?

Viewers prefer to watch short dramas on apps. According to data from Mobvista, in terms of media buying, the leading markets for ad placements are in North America, Europe, and Southeast Asia, with the US and Canada at the forefront. While Southeast Asia is a significant source of downloads for short drama apps, North America’s stronger purchasing power has established it as a core market. Currently, the United States leads in both net revenue and download volume.

The competitive landscape for short dramas varies by region. While ReelShort has established itself as the dominant player within the North American market, ShortTV and DramaBox have gained significant traction in Southeast Asia.

The leading short drama apps typically feature two types of shows: locally produced and translated dramas. These apps attract local users with themes centered around werewolves, vampires, revenge, and romance, which are well-received.

However, entering the U.S. market presents challenges for new short drama app developers due to higher financial investments, larger team sizes, and longer production cycles. To mitigate these risks, developers might consider testing the waters in Southeast Asia and Middle Eastern regions using lower-cost strategies, such as offering translated dramas.

How Do Short Drama Apps Acquire Their Users?

Short drama apps depend heavily on advertising to drive user growth. In 2023, paid advertising contributed to 70% — 80% of downloads. ReelShort saw its share of paid downloads increase from 42% in September 2022 to 90% by April 2023. Similarly, GoodShort, ShortTV, and MoboReels reported that over 70% of their downloads were from paid sources.


How Are Short Drama Apps Monetized?

Short drama apps generate revenue by putting content behind a paywall. But their strategy is to place payments at a mid-series point, such as the second or tenth episode, with a fee of around $10-20 to unlock subsequent episodes.

A successful short drama can sustain interest for at least 60 days. If it achieves an ROI of 0.8 or higher on the first day, the initial investment can be returned within 20 days.

How Can You Effectively Promote Your Short Drama Series?

Naturally, video is the preferred ad format to promote short drama. Simple video snippets showcasing the drama unfolding can often prove effective in piquing user interest and encouraging app downloads. Localization is key. Tailoring these video ads to resonate with the local audience in terms of language and cultural references is crucial for maximizing impact.

Let’s take a look at the advertising strategy of the recently popular short drama app, TopShort.

TopShort’s Breakthrough in the Japanese Market

Short Drama apps typically target English-speaking markets like Europe and North America, as well as Southeast Asia. However, TopShort’s unexpected rise in the Japanese market highlights an opportunity in this previously untapped area.

Since launching in Japan in June 2023, TopShort has quickly gained traction. By February 2024, it had surpassed Netflix and the local Japanese video app U-NEXT in the iOS top-grossing app charts.

Sensor Tower reports that starting in 2024, both downloads and IAP (in-app purchase) revenue for TopShort saw significant increases. By March, TopShort’s cumulative in-app revenue in the Japanese market had reached nearly $1.5 million.

How did TopShort capture such a significant market share in Japan?

The Advertising Strategies Behind TopShort’s Success

TopShort’s content includes both locally produced dramas and translated series, with the latter being more mainstream and predominantly featuring women-centric storylines. The locally produced shows often focus on workplace themes, such as heiresses and company heads, weaving narratives that offer cathartic resolutions to workplace conflicts. For example, TopShort’s most-watched local production, “The Heiress Tackles Workplace Harassment,” follows the success of “The Heiress is Interning.”

In terms of promotion, TopShort takes a deep dive into Japan’s local culture with its ad creatives, regardless of whether the drama is translated or locally produced. Here’s how:

  • The ad format is split into a drama and a copy section. It uses a Japanese typographic style to meet local aesthetic preferences while ensuring the drama title and CTA (call-to-action) copy are always visible.

  • The ad copy highlights specific scenes to emphasize visual storytelling, sometimes incorporating melodramatic or “chuuni” (a Japanese slang from “chūnibyō,” referring to teenagers with grandiose delusions) vibes. It also uses rhetorical questions to spark curiosity.

  • The video clips directly present scenes that deliver feel-good or heart-wrenching moments. The feel-good aspect caters to viewers’ craving for uplifting content in short dramas, while the heart-wrenching moments serve as hooks that maintain suspense and keep viewers engaged.

Let’s take a closer look at two examples:

Translated drama “Spoil Beyond Words”

When this drama launched in the Japanese market, the ad creatives were localized in language and tailored to align with Japanese audiences’ preferences on TV shows. The ad copy evokes strong visuals with scene-based descriptions with common dramatic elements such as “lies” and “divorce.” The language tapped into intense emotional expressions favored in Japan, using vivid and exaggerated terms that are familiar and enticing to the local audience.

The design of the video visuals followed Japanese typographic styles, clearly separating between copy and visuals while emphasizing the call to action with a displayed search bar filled with the drama’s title.

The video creative mainly consisted of clips from the episodes. These clips typically introduce conflicts at the beginning, followed by a segment reviewing the backstory leading to these conflicts, and end with a cliffhanger as a hook.

Locally produced drama “The Heiress Tackles Workplace Harassment”

This drama followed similar principles in its ad copy and video layout. The copy also added a touch of “chuunibyou” style with frequently used Japanese terms like “mysterious” and “grand entrance.” It also uses rhetorical questions to hint at a plot twist, setting up an anticipation of the copy’s reversal that keeps viewers eager for more.

Video creatives typically begin with scenes designed to either gratify or distress the viewer. Gratifying openings showcase the heiress uncovering and thwarting the antagonist’s schemes, delivering instant enjoyment, a key appeal for short drama enthusiasts. In contrast, distressing openings were designed to evoke strong emotions, such as heartache or indignation, drawing them further into the unfolding drama.

Marketing Your Short Drama App with Nativex

With more and more players entering the business, short drama is quickly becoming a highly competitive market that requires strategic marketing efforts.

Nativex is a leading digital marketing agency covering traffic resources across all major global markets. We specialize in a range of services from user acquisition and influencer marketing to creative customization and account management, as well as supporting your app’s growth through organic channels. Reach out to us today to kick-start your campaign for short drama apps.

Want to learn more about different social media app marketing in China? Take a pick from our “what is” series on Xiaohongshu, WeChat, Weibo, and Kuaishou. You can also keep your eye on the blog for more updates as they happen.

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