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China's TV Industry: An Overview
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Over the past two decades, China's television programming has experienced unprecedented expansion. Today, the TV industry has entered a stage of heated competition, as more and more domestic and international media players are entering the Chinese market.


At present, China's television coverage has reached 94 percent of the population. This huge TV market is shared by one national and 31 provincial TV stations, as well as a few international media groups. Given the size of China's population, huge opportunities are up for grabs.


However, Chinese TV competitors are also faced with greater competition both from within the industry and from the boom in new media such as the internet, mobile phone TV, cyber TV, and internet protocol, or IP TV.


Hu Zhanfan, deputy director general of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, explained to CRI the general state of China's TV media. He says most of China's TV stations are faring relatively well, as a result of numerous competitive measures undertaken.


"In recent years, TV stations have accelerated their reforms by diversifying programs, and introducing new equipment and innovative methods of management. In response to the challenges from both domestic and overseas television institutions, each TV station has been working on their individual development strategies and trying to produce innovative and original programs to enhance their audience's loyalty. Overall, the TV industry shows a picture of great prosperity."


China Central Television, or CCTV, is the only national-level TV station in the country, famed for its mainstream ideology and culture. Drawing viewers accounting for nearly half of the national population each day, CCTV features well-known programs such as "News Broadcast" and "Focus" aired in primetime, and popular theatrical programs such as "The Same Song" and "Happy China Tour".


As a flagship domestic TV station, CCTV is famous for its program quality. Only the best productions with high audience ratings are allowed on air.


CCTV President Zhao Huayong says his station will continue to expand its program variety and sharpen the features of various channels to enhance their competitive edge.


"To cater to different audience needs, we've professionalized our channels to make each of them distinctive. Since 1999, we have patterned our station into one comprehensive channel and 15 other specialized channels. They co-ordinate with each other so that our programs can cover both home and abroad. In addition, we have opened ten fee-based digital channels, and two other relay TV stations overseas. Now we have over 400 TV programs and our signals cover the whole world. We have launched TV services in 120 countries and regions."


While not as financially powerful as CCTV, many local TV stations have also formulated their own expansion strategies, resorting to innovative entertainment programs to increase their audience ratings and advertising income.


Hunan Provincial Satellite TV station is a pioneer in this respect. In 1997, the satellite TV station first produced its theatrical entertainment program called "Happy Camp." The program features a combination of bold and casual hosting styles by a pair of young hosts, as well as the participation of audience members and a large number of celebrities. "Happy Camp" has refreshed entertainment programming in China and the "Happy Whirlwind" soon swept across the country to become strong competition for CCTV's entertainment programs.


In 2005, Hunan Satellite TV staged a popular reality show, the "Super Voice Girl" singing contest. The success of the contestants depended on marks given by judges, votes from the on-site audience, and mobile phone text messages of support from TV viewers. The program lasted a few months, but the large amount of audience involvement made it one of the most favored programs among the public and advertisers.


Both "Happy Camp" and "Super Girl" instantly became a source for imitation by other TV stations. Referring to this phenomenon, professor Yin Hong from the Film, Television and Communication Department at Tsinghua University had this to say:


"The appearance of the 'Super Girl' singing contest has brought another whirlwind for reality shows. This is a rare phenomenon in recent years that a TV program would attract much social attention. Of course, the phenomenon is also a product of global influence, which means it was inspired by other overseas programs of the same kind. This indicates that the innovation of Chinese television industry is in the frame of globalization, and is seeking its own way of improving. The industry has shown great vitality.”


On the other hand, Professor Yin Hong also explained how the trend of TV stations to follow suit with reality shows indicates that Chinese TV stations are weak in terms of program originality. He says this is one area in which domestic TV media still needs to improve.


Overall, the performance of the Chinese television industry has improved greatly. This can be seen in the comments from an audience member, Collin Ma, a student at Peking University.


"I think sports programs in China are quite good. Actually there's a special channel for that and we can watch sports activities from all over the world in time. But as for entertainment programs, I think the most important and most essential thing for Chinese TV players to do is to be creative. I like CCTV II ‘Jianbao’ program very much. Actually my father and I are big fans of that. We can not only learn something about the antiques and collection knowledge about it. For TV show I'd rather say there’re some amazing TV shows recently, but I think we can all see the problems that too many TV shows are about the Qing Dynasty or policemen."


Meanwhile, Chinese TV stations also have to face the challenge posed by the presence of international media. At present, international media players have been allowed to participate in program production in China, and the number of foreign TV services in China has reached over 30 channels. This means that foreign movies, soap operas, animation films, live coverage of international sports events, and other featured documentaries are all easily accessible to Chinese audiences.


However, the international media presence does not only mean competition. For some domestic TV media, it also brings along some opportunities.


ESPN STAR Sports, which encompasses the world's leading cable and satellite broadcasters of sports events, has cooperated with several Chinese TV stations in various areas. This is what Jamie Davis, Managing Director of ESPN STAR Sports said during the China International Radio and Television Exposition not long ago.


"When I come back I get to watch all the changes constantly happening in the media industry in China. Its steady growth and improvement is the program production and the television presentation, and in the variety of programs being offered by the local mainland channels as well. I actually think that's a great opportunity, because what it's doing is expanding the universe of people in China who are interested in watching TV. And it allows us to be able to add Mandarin language and more localized programs to be able to serve that audience."


When opportunity knocks, challenges are sure to follow. But those TV stations that grasp these opportunities and focus on the needs of their audiences are sure to have great market success. 


(CRI October 26, 2006)



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