SHANGHAI — The private sector is making inroads into government-controlled television in China. While TV stations remain off-limits, there are now more opportunities for production, programming and channel management than ever before.
“We supply content to around 300 local channels, as well as China Central Television,” comments Paul Yang, general manager of Star Image Film, based in Beijing and Hollywood. “That translates to over 2,500 hours of programming per year, of which 1,000 hours is imported.”
This reflects a growing awareness in China of the need for localized and international TV content.
U.S. broadcasters have two ways into the market. Media giants like News Corp. and Time Warner have direct broadcasting rights in prosperous Guangdong Province. However, they have no reach outside that region.
Others are restricted to distribution via existing channels. This is where companies like Star Image come in, ensuring the widest audiences through syndication.
“I don’t see privately-owned channels on a national level as a realistic prospect in the near future,” says Yang. “However, we already control programming on large blocks of other channels. And we manage the advertising sales. A couple of satellite channels in China are even privately managed. Things are definitely opening up for companies like ours.”
Founded in Singapore in 1996 by China native Yang and his brother Roger, the company returned to the mainland in 2000 just as the television industry was consolidating.
Alongside repackaged overseas content, its production wing also supplies local material syndicated nationally. Two of Star Image’s biggest hits are “Earth Story,” a geography program along the lines of “National Geographic,” on CCTV, and “Surprising Daily,” a 30-minute spot featuring international sports and quirky news that airs on 100 local channels.
The South East Asia links have come in handy. Star Image is expanding its business to supply Chinese content to other markets. “One of our clients is Hunan TV, who we represent overseas. We recently signed a deal for them with Singapore Channel U for a pop concert program.”
Star Image Film’s third partner, Ana Cheaz, who runs the company’s U.S. operations, will be at TV mart Mipcom in Cannes next week. “For us, this is as much about selling as buying content,” says Paul Yang. “And it is also a chance for us to keep in touch with what’s going on in the international market.”