Twenty years ago, a black-and-white television receiving grainy
images was enough to make any rural Chinese home the center of an
evening's entertainment in a land where TV was rare and channels
Today that is nothing more than a memory, with a feast of
television programs available to even the remotest islands and
"In the past I only used to get one or two channels and the
image was often blurry, but now I can get more than 40 channels and
the picture is so clear and stable," said Si Zhibin, a villager in
Sichuan Province in southwest China.
The 658 villages in the mountainous county had just 20,000 TV
viewers before 2000.
With such limited access to programs, many rural residents had
little idea what was going on outside their community.
All that has changed, with every village in the county now
enjoying access to cable TV.
Si, whose village was hooked up to cable TV at the end of last
year, said that watching news and drama programs is now an
essential part of his daily life. "It feels great," he said.
Si's experience epitomizes the development of TV across the
nation. In 1998, the central government launched the Cuncuntong
Project, which aims to give all villages access to radio and TV. At
the time, it was estimated about 148 million people in 680,000
villages were not covered by radio and TV signals.
Both the central government and local authorities had ploughed
3.44 billion yuan (US$428 million) into the project by the end of
last year, according to the State Administration of Radio, Film and
Television (SARFT). This huge investment improved the TV
broadcasting coverage rate to 95.8 percent from 87 percent in
"The goal of radio and TV services is to meet people's
increasing cultural demands," said SARFT spokesman Zhu Hong.
He said the government would continue to invest to improve news,
children's, rural and ethnic minorities' programming, while also
developing digital TV and making efforts to ensure that radio and
TV signals cover the entire country.
SARFT Vice Minister Zhang Haitao recently confirmed that the
long-awaited terrestrial digital TV broadcasting standard is due to
be released this year, which will promote the digitalization of TV
He said a draft of the digital TV terrestrial broadcasting
standard had been submitted to the National Radio, Film and
Television Standardization Commission. It will then go to the
Standardization Administration of China to become a national
standard. He added that China will also draft standards on mobile
telephony, Internet Protocol TV (IPTV) and satellite
Digital TV can be received from satellite, cable and terrestrial
broadcasts. But the latter takes the lion's share when it comes to
Chinese TV viewers, making the terrestrial standard the most
important one for the nation. Therefore, China has decided to
develop its own terrestrial TV standard, based on the European
standard but tailored to meet local requirements.
The number of households capable of receiving digital TV rose
from one million in 2004 to 4.13 million in 2005, according to
"The experience of many other countries indicated that citizens'
cultural and entertainment spending rises sharply when per capita
GDP surpasses US$1,000," said Pan Li, a professor at the
Communication University of China.
China's per capita GDP exceeded US$1,000 in 2003 and reached
US$1,269 in 2004. Pan remarked that this situation offers massive
potential in terms of the development of TV services.
Ensuring that all citizens can benefit from the rapid
development of TV services has become a major issue for the
One of the major tasks outlined in the 11th Five-year Guidelines
(2006-10), which was approved earlier this month by the annual
session of the National People's Congress (NPC),
is to ensure better provision of public services such as
broadcasting and telecommunications.
SARFT Vice Minister Zhang Haitao said the government was
launching a new round of the Cuncuntong Project this year to make
sure TV broadcasts are available across the entire country.
"This is the most important mission for our broadcasting
business and we should all put it on the top of our agenda,"
He said that the goal for the next five years is to provide
broadcasting to all villages that have more than 20 households and
access to electricity. Terrestrial transmission stations in towns
and counties will also receive subsidies to improve their equipment
About 42 million people in more than 300,000 villages are
expected to benefit from the program.
Zhang said the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the Ministry of Finance,
and SARFT have held a working conference on financing the project.
Although the amount of the investment has yet to be decided, he
said tens of billions of yuan would be needed.
(China Daily March 27, 2006)