China Wants More Media Giants

China’s media regulator Monday called for the country to accelerate the growth of competitive media conglomerates.

The State Administration of Press Publication, Radio, Film and Television said that the integration of different media “falls short of central authorities’ requirement and public expectation,” and set a target of 2020 for improvement, reported state news agency Xinhua.

Specifically, media organizations should integrate systems across different media and make greater use of cloud computing and ‘big data.’

This is not the first call for the development of more powerful media conglomerates. Similar calls went out in 2009 and again in 2014.

In 2009 the State Council announced guidelines for companies that have more market orientation. One result of that was the listing of shares by Shanghai Media Group, the recent merger of two of SMG’s divisions and, before that, the spin-off of China Media Capital which is headed by then SMG chairman Li Ruigang.

The notion of achieving ‘soft power’ that matches China’s economic might is highly appealing to the one-party government. And China has regularly hinted at the building of global champions which can rival the planet-wide impact of CNN, the BBC, Disney and latterly non-news organizations such as Facebook and Google.

China’s state-owned media companies have largely failed to make much impact overseas, a situation partly made worse by China’s lack of reciprocity. Many foreign media are unwelcome in China or operate with restrictions.

The lack of overseas success by state champions may, however, mean there is more government support for private-sector companies forays. Companies such as Wanda and CMC are aggressively expanding abroad through acquisition.

At home the central government’s propaganda department maintains a tight grip on the news agenda and giant CCTV remains effectively the only nationwide TV broadcaster. Much media innovation has been driven by regional media groups or by new, often tech-driven, private sector companies.

However, on many occasions, government regulations have subsequently sought to curb anything that becomes too popular. Everything from talent contests, to foreign TV formats, Chinese TV dramas with racy themes — or simply too much cleavage — and imported streamed series have all fallen foul of regulators in the past couple of years.

It is a difficult conundrum to set Chinese media the simultaneous tasks of innovating, self-regulating and expanding.

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