China TV biz broadens its outreach

Restrictions still tight but Web presence grows

China will be hitting Mip keen to show off its growing domestic muscle in what kind of programming it buys but also to push value-formoney Chinese skeins to markets in both the developing and the developed world.

The main changes in the past year in the Chinese TV market have been technological, as the focus moves to digital forms of production, especially after the Olympic Games in Beijing in August proved such a successful testing ground for new forms of distribution. State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) announced that it’s setting up a nationwide online TV station as part of its efforts to boost its Web activities, maintain state control of the media and compete with the growing popularity of YouTube-style video portals.

The government still keeps a very firm hand on content, as seen by the strong propaganda element to the proposed new online TV station. But generally in China, the TV biz is being given special treatment by the government because it’s less reliant on overseas business. One of the reasons the economy is slowing down is because the export market for traditional mainstays such as manufacturing goods has dried up, but the domestic business for TV remains exceptionally robust.

The slowdown has hit sudsers and some other genre skeins, but this may have as much to do with changing tastes as it does with the economic crisis.

Ad revenues remain strong. Late last year, well into the downturn, CCTV’s annual auction for primetime ad slots raked in 9.26 billion yuan ($1.35 billion), up 15%. Crucially, one-third of the bidders at the auction were new companies, which suggests a robust backdrop to the TV biz in China.

China has money to spend and will be looking to buy overseas programs, which are making ever bigger waves on local screens. “SpongeBob SquarePants” is the most popular toon among tykes, for example, and Chinese auds will always want some foreign content.

However, there are signs that years of investment in the domestic biz may be paying off — among the large group of more than 100 Chinese arriving in Mip will be Tian Jin, the vice minister of the hugely powerful State Administration of Radio, Film and TV (SARFT). He and the rest of the delegation will see what they can learn on the TV front as their audience and infrastructure continue to grow.

Meanwhile, the building of new production facilities has seen the number of domestically produced TV shows increase and become more diverse.

SARFT will have dozens of booths focused on selling Chinese skeins abroad to the overseas Chinese-language market, and to buy product, too. As part of this show of strength, Vice Minister Tian will address the event.

As part of March 31 Focus on China Day at Mip, “We’ll have dozens of booths and a marketing place for Chinese and foreigners to sell various kinds of Chinese TV dramas,” says Cao Yin, deputy director of international cooperation of SARFT.

China will also seek to leverage its growing importance in developing markets in Africa and the Middle East, and will be keeping an eye on Europe too, says Yuan Li, of the international sales department of China Intl. TV Corp.

“High-quality, big-budget costume dramas and documentaries will be our chief focus. Costume dramas are still the key point of our television programs. We will introduce a number of high-definition costume dramas, including ‘The Ancient Expressway of Qin Dynasty,’ ‘Lotus Lantern Prequel,’ ‘Mu Yi Tian Xia’ and the modern drama ‘The Legend of Bruce Lee,’ ” says Yuan.

The Bruce Lee project is also being promoted as a movie. Skein about the martial arts legend has been phenomenally successful in China.

As well as the chopsocky supremo, CITVC will be pushing a number of HD documentaries on prominent Chinese themes and has also produced skeins especially tailored to Western tastes.

Even companies that haven’t established a presence at Mip are going along to push Chinese products this time around.

“We don’t have a booth, but we will go there anyway,” says  Dai Yanyun of Wings Media, a wholly owned subsidiary of Shanghai Media Group. “At Mipdoc, we will promote three new documentaries about China that were made by Shanghai Media Group and have been broadcast on SMG’s doc channel.”

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