Children in mainland China will soon be able to watch almost as much originally produced Children’s Television Workshop programming as kids in the U.S.
CTW has cut two major production deals with Chinese TV outlets that will bring a total of 520 original episodes to China, which has been a difficult country for American production companies to penetrate.
CTW will produce 260 20-minute episodes of “3-2-1 Contact” with China Educational TV. The five-day-a-week series, renamed “We Love Science,” will be broadcast throughout China on CETV’s affiliates and also on STV in Shanghai. The show is slated to premiere in the spring or summer.
The New York-based nonprofit kids production company also will produce 260 episodes of “Risky Numbers” with Shanghai TV, which will air on CETV. The series is scheduled to debut this October.
‘Sesame Street’ in China
With these two new shows, CTW will become the leading co-producer of educational programming in China. With the Chinese version of “Sesame Street” — or “Zhima Jie” — already on the air, CTW will have produced a total of 650 episodes for China during 1998. General Electric is the underwriter of “Sesame Street” in China.
In addition, CTW has signed Kentucky Fried Chicken — the largest fast-food chain in China — to a multimillion dollar sponsorship deal to get the word out about the new series.
This success in China comes at a good time for CTW. The company is about to launch a major global branding campaign, featuring a new logo, while it faces more competition, especially for its core business in the U.S., than ever before.
“Even given the current Asian crisis, China is extremely important to us,” said Baxter Urist, senior VP, products and international, for CTW. “The launches of these shows in China shows that we can really do a lot there.”
The co-production deals took almost five years to put together, and David Jacobs, CTW’s regional VP for Asia and Latin America, said that his company’s slow, methodical approach caused CTW to succeed where other U.S. producers have failed.
From inside out
“You have to find the needs of the market and not be imperialistic,” said Jacobs. “You can’t export to China. You have to develop locally.”
Added Urist, “We tend to take a long time getting in to China compared to a lot of media companies. That’s because we don’t want to just cut a couple deals. We’re looking for long-term partnerships.”
CTW’s personnel also ingratiated themselves to the Chinese TV outlets by acting as consultants to guide them as the nascent TV industry in China matures.
Urist said that the Chinese were a particularly good match for CTW because they share CTW’s philosophy that children’s shows should contain equal parts entertainment and education.
“There are people that just want us for our entertainment value and there are ministries of education who just want us for our education side,” said Urist. “They don’t get it because they want us to teach with a ruler the way they teach. It takes a long time for us to find groups and individuals that believe in the value of entertainment balanced with education.”
Kentucky Fried deal
Jacobs said that KFC, which has more than 300 restaurants in China (Jacobs said it tastes exactly the same as KFC in the U.S.), was searching for some type of educational programming to support and CTW convinced the fast-food chain to sign on. “Education is the thing in China,” said Jacobs, explaining KFC’s interest.
CTW’s series run commercial free in China, so KFC gets billboards at the beginning and end of each episode.
Another success for CTW was bringing China Educational TV and STV in Shanghai together in a working relationship, something that had never happened before.
“They weren’t even talking before,” said Jacobs. “They were in two separate worlds.”