First Fronline had set up a dedicated segment for Project Starlight, codenamed S. There were a total of five channels. ranging from S1 to S5, with each celebrity assigned a codename based on age.
Channel S1 was assigned to the oldest among the five celebrities—the 67-year-old Li Xiaoxiao. A professional host of light variety shows, Li Xiaoxiao could draw viewers based on his comical expressions alone, but this fella was also a great storyteller. He could draw laughs by spinning tales at will.
S2 was the 61-year-old bona fide singer and actor Fritz. Sixty-one was considered one's prime in the New Era. Fritz's good looks and polite, eloquent speech evoked gentlemen from the Old Era, drawing quite a few female fans.
S3 was Andre, who enjoyed mass appeal because of the movies he starred in. He had quite a few fans, especially after having applied to undergo training with the other fresh recruits after arriving at his military base. His excellent training results also won praise from many fans.
S4 needed no introduction. Woo Tianhao was already on a pedestal because he hailed from Tongzhou aristocracy. He was also quite competent on his own merits, having made a name for himself in the racing world, but what struck fans was his ability to act pretentious. He spared no moment in proving that he was a style icon. Even when he was taking a sip of water, he acted as if he was starring in a blockbuster, with the precise angle of every single hair factored into consideration. He left no stone unturned in trying to project the maximum aura of a star.
As for S5...
The gaming supergod...
In a setting like this, you could neither game nor commentate on gaming. How would you stir interest? Compared to the other four celebrities, Fang Zhao was at a disadvantage.
Kevin Lin blotted his pen on his paper notebook. He had been at the military base for two weeks, and his viewership numbers were dropping gradually. Kevin Lin was panicked, and he was further depressed by the fact that Fang Zhao didn't seem to notice that anything was wrong.
It wasn't that he hadn't discussed the issue with Fang Zhao. As early as his third day at the base, he had approached Fang Zhao during a break. He had even showed Fang Zhao the data he had on hand. Viewership statistics showed that, out of the five Project Starlight channels, their numbers were the worst, and their online audience size was declining with every episode.
Kevin Lin had made his case to Fang Zhao. "Look at what the others are doing and look at yourself. Yes, you can't game in a military base, but the other celebrities sing. You could give it a try too. They tell stories. If you can't, you could try to crack a few jokes. Don't spend all your time talking shop with all these technical types. We are going for mass appeal here. We have to be lowbrow."
Yet in response to Kevin Lin's outburst, Fang Zhao had neither acted on his suggestions nor been angry.
Kevin Lin had even applied for a transfer to cover another celebrity while briefing his editor-in-chief on his assignment, but he had been rejected. The other four journalists weren't stupid. They had no intention of swapping spots with Kevin Lin.
Kevin Lin had to broadcast live at least five hours a day. After looking at the time, he sent Fang Zhao a message. The day's broadcast was about to begin.
On the track, Fang Zhao was carrying an engineer more than 100 years old on his back. As one of the highly-valued personnel sent to Baiji, the technical experts didn't have to endure the same amount of training as those performing their military service, but they had to meet certain minimum requirements. One of the regular tasks was completing 10 laps around the track. Each lap was 500 meters long. Ten laps made for 5,000 meters. The good thing was that there was no time limit. They would pass as long as they completed the full distance.
One of the older engineers had a chronic leg problem. His jog would slow down to a walk after two laps, and then he would get tired after walking two more laps. Fang Zhao had carried this fellow on his back to the finish during previous training sessions. Today was no exception.
The camera focused on Fang Zhao while the engineer's crisp voice was picked up by the microphone. "Different geological environments require different architectural approaches. Take Baiji, for example..."
Kevin Lin wore a facial expression that suggested he was having an out-of-body experience. He gazed at the sky aimlessly as he brainstormed a solution.
S5 had actually started out with a sizable audience, but their webcast had lost its novelty quickly, and their viewers had soon defected to the other four channels.
Tuning into the live webcasts were mostly youngsters. They had no time for an old geezer reminiscing about the good ol' days.
Because S5 was dominated by footage of technical experts telling stories from the past, it was nicknamed "story time" on the web, and viewership data revealed that folks who stuck with S5 were mostly the elderly, especially retired government officials, who loved the nostalgic tone of the webcast. Thus, S5 had also been dubbed "the retired officials' channel."
Kevin Lin had no insight into Fang Zhao's interests. He longed to grab Fang Zhao by the collar and ask, "You're a young man in your 20s, not a middle-aged man in his 120s! Why are you interested in this arcane sh*t?"
But regardless of how tormented Kevin Lin was, the technical experts who spent time with Fang Zhao loved the young fella. It was a rare for a kid like him to express interest in infrastructure milestones ranging back to the beginning of the New Era.
The experts had gotten approval from their superiors to ignore certain confidentiality requirements, so they could let viewers understand the challenge of colonizing foreign planets and all that had been achieved over the years.
"Never rest on your laurels and always prepare for the worst" had been the instructions of the New Era's founding fathers when they had decided to launch their exploratory missions.
Like on previous days, the elderly technician Fang Zhao was carrying got the conversation started, and then other nearby experts joined in, sharing their personal experiences or some stories they had heard.
Kevin Lee opened his viewership analysis app and gloomily checked in on today's numbers. He had low expectations these days. He just wanted their figures to stop falling and stabilize.
But Kevin Lin raised his eyebrows when he saw today's numbers, as if in disbelief. He refreshed his app and took a closer look.
Indeed, there were more viewers online today than yesterday.
Was this the plateau they had been waiting for?
Kevin Lin's mood improved, but it would take another few days to see if their numbers had truly stabilized.
Five days later, Kevin Lin compiled the viewership data from the past week and read the detailed breakdowns. The number of viewers under 80 were still dropping, but they were making major gains in the over-100 demographic.
So was the key catering to the middle-aged and seniors market?
Kevin Lin stared at the numbers briefly and had a eureka moment. So that was it! And he had been thinking that that kid Fang Zhao had no moves whatsoever. Fang Zhao had been plotting all along!
Old folks didn't enjoy the songs youngsters liked, nor did they get the punchlines in the humorous monologues, but they loved to hear those experienced technicians tell their stories. Not only did it expand their knowledge, it satisfied their deep curiosity—and it helped them fall asleep.
The retired government officials were especially big fans. Word was that they were avid listeners. Even though they had retired, they still wielded considerable influence.
Kevin Lin rubbed his chin and wondered if Fang Zhao was kissing up to the retired officials. How cunning. He knows that he can't compete in other areas, so he targets the middle-aged and senior demographic instead.