Number of domestic Chinese idol groups expected to at least double within 2 years

When SNH48 arrived on the scene in 2012-2013, China’s domestic music market was the sole domain of soloists with a few duos and trios and those mostly dating back to the 90’s and early 00’s. Of the newer generation, you would find TFBoys (trio patterned on popular Johnny’s in Japan), Mandarin sub-groups of South Korean teams (e.g. EXO-M, Super Junior-M…), or groups from Taiwan / Hong Kong (e.g. Little Tigers, S.H.E., Twins…)

These groups, however, followed the standard “fixed” pattern where the members are not supposed to change. There may be occasional departures for a number of reasons but those individuals are not always replaced. When too many members leave, the group disbands (the American model).

NineStyles (later replaced by STAR48) wanted to bring the Japanese generational model (known as “fostered idols”) to mainland China. In that system, new members are constantly recruited so that, if a member leaves (resigned/”graduated”/fired), then a new one simply steps in to fill the void and that is an expected happening for the fans.

Obviously, constant growth leads to the need for expansion as one group can only sustain so many girls. This leads to new sub-groups being created to absorb the overflow until that sub-group starts filling up as well… and so on.

That is the pattern that every SNH48 Group fan understands and is common throughout Japan (AKB48 did not invent this).

That was then… This is now.




Moment of change

In summer 2016, the Chinese government decided to apply an effective ban on all South Korean acts (idol groups, actors,…) on Chinese TV. It also banned promotion events and Live concerts with more than 10K audience. Since then the only members of South Korean idol groups who have been allowed to perform were Chinese nationals doing so as individuals.

This left festivals, concerts, and TV shows scrambling to find domestic talent and opened the doors wide to the birth of several new groups (12 boy bands are expected to be launched within the next few months alone).

SNH48 was one of the key benefactors of that situation. Already doing well financially due to its lucrative general elections, STAR48 was in a position to invest to place its members in movies, dramas, commercials, varieties, and concerts which all led to increased brand exposure and recognition.

The competition strikes back

SNH48 was not the only one to benefit from this boon of course but many of their existing competition (e.g. Ladybees, Lunar, 1931, ATF…) suffered from a lack of capital. The success of SNH48 opened new investors to them and things started to change.

Operators of other groups realized that the only way to catch up to SNH48 was to try and beat them at their own game and the generational idol boom started. Many groups are copying the STAR48 business model (which was itself based on AKB48’s) with multiple theater based sub-groups in various cities including cafés & shops right down to general elections.

The table below shows a partial list of the known fostered female idol groups in mainland China for comparison purposes.

Lady BeesShangHai
ChongQing (Announced)

SNH48 still has a commanding lead when it comes to the number of venues but that will change quickly as the other groups will benefit from watching and learning what STAR48 is doing. This will enable them to be far quicker to implement as they have a “pattern” to follow.

Where are we heading next?

With groups all mostly operating in the same cities (ShangHai, GuangZhou, BeiJing…), there is bound to eventually be some challenges but it isn’t an impossible scenario.

Looking back to Japan, there are countless idol groups throughout the country at different “levels” all operating in the same geographies. This means, assuming there are enough fans to sustain them, those competing groups in China can also coexist. They in fact already do in places like ShangHai and GuangZhou.

If there is a risk, it is one of dillution. Several fans will encourage multiple groups. If all those groups start having elections then they will start splitting their “investment” between them rather than spend it all in one place.

Operators will now have to up the ante constantly to keep their event as the “main one”. All in all, that can’t be bad for fans.

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