Sumner champions China

Redstone rewarded for distrib efforts

Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone is likely to get “significant additional distribution” for his MTV Networks operations in China’s rich southern Guangdong province.

That was the unofficial signal conveyed Monday afternoon to the Viacom chairman from a dozen-strong delegation from that province visiting his home in Beverly Hills.

Led by Cai Dongshi, vice secretary of Guangdong province, and Wang Keman, prexy of Southern Media Corp., the delegation apparently had only Redstone among Hollywood heavyweights on its official agenda. (The group did visit Universal Studios Monday morning, but only for the tour, not for talks.)

Dongshi makes all key decisions for print, radio, film and TV on behalf of the province while Keman is in charge of the main TV broadcaster in the province’s largest media organization.

MTV reaches 13 million homes in Guangdong, Hong Kong and hotel compounds. But Redstone has been pushing for wider availability of shows like “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Real World” in the world’s most populous country, which has 440 million TV households.The Guangdong contingent put the emphasis on greater co-operation with Viacom and with Redstone personally, designating him on the spot a senior advisor to the Southern Media Corp.During the 45-minute encounter, Redstone went beyond the diplomatic niceties, calling for wider distribution of MTV, Nickelodeon and VH1, more content sales, greater access to digital platforms and greater exchange of personnel, training and co-production opportunities.

Redstone has arguably made more business trips to China in the last decade than any of his Hollywood counterparts.

“We’re the only ones to have our own brand on our programming there,” he told Daily Variety, referring to the MTV-designated channel feed that has been syndicated via cable to some 135 million homes across China.

“We will for the first time make a profit from our Chinese operations this year, and we’ll soon make much more,” Redstone said.

The Viacom topper said he believed the growth prospects for Chinese media were decidedly rosy, and that advertising in particular was set to explode.

“The population is so enormous and the ad potential is overwhelming. Right now China is ranked the sixth largest advertising market, but in two or three years I expect it will be number two or three,” he said.

Redstone emphasized that the current breakthroughs have taken years of painstaking protocol and numerous business relationships built up with central and regional government officials, the state-run broadcaster CCTV and regulatory org the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. (Redstone is an official advisor to the watchdog.)

Despite reports over the last 12 months that the Chinese government has been backtracking on its plans for media liberalization, Redstone insisted that his company has not felt any pullback.

Viacom’s joint venture with Shanghai Media and music co-production agreement with Beijing TV are working out well; there are talks with CCTV about a joint consumer products division; a deal with China Mobile means MTV material is on 200 million cell phones — and Redstone said he’s considering a theme park somewhere in the country but would not be more specific.

Asked if he thought that the quota for Hollywood pics in China would be raised from the current 20 a year, Redstone was not so sanguine. “Some progress,” is being made, he said, mostly via the Motion Picture Assn.

In any case, greater inroads into Guangdong could be a significant boost to Viacom’s overall China strategy: Home to 100 million, the province reps 1/9th of the country’s entire gross domestic product.

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