Americans eager to sell to China should listen with an open mind to Robert Chua, the Singapore-born president and CEO of the new China Entertainment Television Broadcasting Ltd. satellite channel.
“If one wants to deal realistically with China, one has to work hard at building up relationships there,” he says. “That is the way the Chinese do business. They like to deal with friends. Good contacts and personal relations are everything here.”
And, adds Chua, it pays to look at the situation from the Chinese point of view. “Number one, they don’t have a lot of money to spend. Number two, and that’s probably more important, they have a plentiful supply of their own shows.
“They simply don’t need western programming, particularly when the shows are so expensive. They have limited programming time available anyway, and they have so much to choose from. After all, the accumulation of American and European shows is enormous.
“The blunt fact is that Asia, on the whole, can survive without the big boys from abroad, and if they want to wait until the financial situation improves, let them wait.”
How true this is was borne out quite dramatically at last December’s MIP Asia market, which saw most of the major U.S. companies in attendance, but few Chinese TV executives willing to shell out big bucks for the vast array of available shows.
“That wasn’t surprising,” says Chua. “The Chinese, and a lot of other Asian countries as well, tend to look for U.S. product simply to complement their regular – and often local – programming. Hollywood isn’t their end-all.”
At MIP Asia, Xu Xiongxiong of the China TV Program Agency, stated flatly that China has a sort of unofficial TV quota, which provides for a maximum of 20% of programming to come from abroad. He also acknowledged that Chinese stations rarely meet that quota, and Xiongxiong pointed to the heavy volume of local programming – including films – available to China’s some 700 TV stations.
“We practice strict self-censorship,” Chua emphasizes.
Chua reports the opening of a CETV sales office in the (China-owned) China Resources Building in Hong Kong.
“I am convinced we will reach the break-even point within two years,” says Chua.
To make his CETV service more attractive to Chinese viewers, Chua is importing Chinese performers to go before the cameras in his Hong Kong studios. At the same time, he is aware that the APSTAR I signal creates very wide footprints and covers a great many countries that have Chinese communities.
“They may not be the majority, and often they are quite small,” he says, “but they rate very high in buying power.”
Although the APSTAR II catastrophe – the Chinese rocket launching the satellite blew up on Jan. 26 – has delayed some of his competish, Chua has no immediate plans to expand the number of channels. ‘We are sticking with a strictly entertainment menu,” he says. “We are not interested in news or politics. And we have no intention of filling any hole that might have been left by the APSTAR II disaster.”
In fact, says Chua, “I feel very badly for them. They are friends of mine. This thing has been a terrible blow for them.”
Chua says it is his understanding that plans are progressing toward the launch of APSTAR III, now made more urgent by the destruction of the APSTAR II satellite. Space on APSTAR I is currently sold out.