China’s largest streaming service, iQIYI, is bringing one of its most popular television shows to North and South America. The dance-off reality TV show Hot-Blood Dance Crew will now be shown on Rakuten Viki, a popular video platform that allows Americans to stream Asian dramas like Boys Over Flowers, My Love From the Star, and Goblin.
It’s a big deal for a number of reasons. China’s iQIYI, which is owned by Baidu, currently has more active subscribers than Netflix. But the company has barely cracked American markets so far, and the IPO it launched at the end of March tanked during its debut week as Facebook stock and other tech stocks were also being dumped.
Hot-Blood Dance Crew was created with help from iQIYI’s AI Brain, a system that uses machine learning algorithms to analyze video and search data and predict audiences’ likes and dislikes. iQIYI previously used the in-house AI to help create the rap reality show Rap of China, which debuted last June and became immensely popular; it had nearly 3 billion views during its initial run. In January, Beijing outlawed tattoos and expressions of hip-hop culture at large, causing the winners and contestants of The Rap of China to fall under heightened regulatory scrutiny. One winner had to publicly apologize for his lyrics, and others were censored from appearing on other shows.
It’s no accident that Dance Crew’s approach is strategically less explicit than its predecessor about its hip-hop roots, and it focuses on dance rather than the sort of salty lyrics that could get its stars in hot water. Even its cast varies distinctly from the Rap of China’s. Instead of inviting indie rappers, Hot-Blood Dance Crew combines star power from well-known Korean pop and Chinese celebrities to celebrate a Chinese style of street dancing. While they often wear hip-hop clothes and feature rapping in the background, the focus is no longer on rap performances, making it more palatable to censors.
It’s hard to say how the show will be received in America, where hip-hop originated, but iQIYI has high hopes. “Having already become wildly popular in China, we’re confident that the thrilling street dance competition that has won over so many viewers locally will be met with just as much enthusiasm abroad,” Chen Xiao, vice president of iQIYI, said to The Verge in a statement. Meanwhile, The Rap of China has been recruiting international talent to showcase on its show, but there’s no word yet on if it will sell its streaming rights abroad.