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China: ‘Idol’-like ‘Girls’ taps into phone-frenzy population

Mipcom 2005: Territory report

SHANGHAI — With China home to over 400 million TV sets and close to 350 million mobile phones, revenue-hungry local programmers are eager for formats that encourage viewers to text in their opinions, for a fee.

This summer TV execs found what they were looking for in “Super Girls,” an “American Idol”-style singing contest that got the masses texting in droves and threatened to loosen the stranglehold China Central Television has on talent shows.

CCTV has long been the natural home of Chinese variety programming, and its singing competitions regularly create stars, chosen by teams of music industry judges.

“Super Girls,” produced by central China-based Hunan Satellite Channel, features quirkier contestants whose fate is decided by the texting public. This summer’s winner was frizzy-haired, husky-voiced, androgynous music student Li Yuchun from Sichuan Province, who garnered more than 3 million of the 8 million votes cast — and wouldn’t have stood a chance on CCTV.

Li’s victory has inspired countrywide Internet debate on a wide range of topics, including Li’s sexuality, and democracy.

Show was watched by more than 400 million people, making the program more popular than CCTV’s “Spring Festival Variety Show,” which usually tops the annual viewing stats.

“Super Girls” is another blow to state-run CCTV, which, despite significant yearly growth in ad rev, is struggling to hold on to audiences in the provinces.

A typical urban household in China receives around 60 cable channels from across the country, some of which, like Hunan TV, are building a reputation for more interesting fare than the national broadcaster provides. Most are generating their own content. Some are looking overseas for new material.

Shanghai Media Group, which operates a dozen or so channels in Shanghai and east China, is controlled by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. SMG is run like a private company and has pursued an aggressive campaign of partnership with foreign channels as well as buying overseas content.

According to Sun Wei, exec director at the foreign affairs department, SMG sends delegates each year to Mipcom and Mip.

“Our aim there is to develop our own market for content, so we are mainly looking to sell,” he says.

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