China lifts lid off airwaves, plans 1,000 new TV channels

MUMBAI: The Bamboo Curtain is finally parting. Having realised the vast potential its media industry holds, China has loosened some of the tightest fetters that shackled the sector for decades.

While the wide ranging reforms touch a vast range from newspapers to films, the biggest advantage in the liberalisation process belongs to the television industry. 2004 marks the beginning of a big restructuring of the state owned China Central Television, and Beijing has decided to scrap its ban on overseas investment in local production companies, as part of a broad set of reforms aimed at attracting private and international capital and talent needed to fill the proposed 1,000 odd new television channels with quality content.

Tightly controlled television in China thus far has spelt poor production values and curtailed creativity in programming. The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) has already approved of a batch of local production companies who will make programmes without an authority overseeing their work at every stage. Under a new policy drawn up by the Sarft, qualified foreign companies will be able to apply to take minority stakes in the companies spun off from CCTV.

In the longer term, officials and executives hope the new companies will be able to issue shares abroad.

Health and weather bureaus will also be allowed to set up their own fee paying channels, but demand for programming will outpace supply by a large margin. This is where overseas production companies can make a killing. Officials are pushing for a big expansion of pay TV, essential to China's ambitious plan to switch completely to digital TV by 2015. But the hundreds of new channels planned will need huge amounts of content that viewers think is worth paying for. "We are very short of programmes," acknowledges Zhu Hong of Sarft, according to media reports. Under the new policy, "strong and influential" foreign companies will be able to hold minority stakes in Chinese production companies.

However, new media channels and the more open production industry do not spell an end of the era of government control. Zhu has been quoted as saying that liberalisation does not free broadcasters from the requirement to reflect faithfully the views of the Communist party. "We must uphold party control of the media and persist in correctly guiding public opinion," he says.

The opportunities for foreign opportunities in actual broadcasting are likely to be limited, though.

CCTV's sports channel could be an early target of the restructuring at CCTV, because of the popularity of its content and the fact that it is a straightforward business. According to media reports, Cheng Hong, director of the chief editor's office at CCTV, said the broadcaster hoped to spin off the sports production operations as a new company that would sell programmes to its parent on a contract basis.

The new strategy extends beyond television. The state is also scrapping state funding and compulsory subscription schemes for party and state newspapers, in an attempt to create more commercial print media. In the film industry, censors no longer have to approve each stage of a movie's development, restricting themselves to looking at an initial proposal and the final product. And Sarft has also recently moved to raise the foreign investment allowed in cinema ventures in big cities to 75 per cent from 49 per cent.

While most overseas companies will now begin to scramble for a piece of the pie, the first move advantage will clearly rest with Rupert Murdoch, who has worked painstakingly on getting in a toehold China for the last decade, although a major portion of Star TV's revenues currently come out of India. With the realisation of the tremendous promise that the Chinese media market holds, Murdoch got in permission to beam Xingkong Weishi, its Mandarin language entertainment channel, to all hotels above three stars and into residential compounds where foreigners and overseas Chinese live, in January 2003.

Star TV thus became the first foreign television company to win the rights to broadcast into China, along with AOL Time Warner, which had also gained permission to launch a channel in a limited area in Guangdong. Moving with dogged patience in a regime that has so far gone excruciatingly slow in opening up its airwaes, Murdoch was also willing to drop a BBC news channel's satellite delivery into China. He also vetoed News Corp's plans to publish a book by Chris Patten, the last colonial governor of Hong Kong, who irked China's top officials in the run-up of the handover of Hong Kong to China with his strong espousal of democratic principles.

Will the new SARFT reforms now spell a shift into top gear for Star's plans for the country? Murdoch has not gone wrong on any of his long-term gambles thus far and the China payback may already be well within his sights.

Latest Reads
Formula 1 launches OTT platform with two subscription models

Formula 1 (F1), one of the world's most prized sporting properties, launched its over the top (OTT) service F1 TV last month. The platform comes with two service models - F1 TV Pro (Live) and F1 TV Access (non-live) - at different price points.

Television TV Channels Sports
LIVE Coverage of Tour De France on DSPORT this year

LIVE Coverage of Tour De France on DSPORT this year

Television TV Channels Sports
Business news most benefited genre in Chrome DM week 24

With a growth of 1.24 per cent as compared to last week (23), the business news genre marked the highest opportunity to see (OTS) among all categories in week 24. Zee Business gained the highest OTS with 84.3 per cent in six metros, according to the data compiled by Chrome Data Analytics and Media...

Television TV Channels Viewership
Zee TV to launch the third season of 'India's Best Dramebaaz'

MUMBAI: Locked in a see-saw battle with Colors for top billing in the Hindi GEC space, Zee TV has made its latest move. The Puneet Goenka-led channel's latest offering to the Indian audiences is season three of 'India's Best Dramebaaz'. Having enjoyed a successful run during the first two seasons...

Television TV Channels GECs
Sony to soon launch Indian Idol season 10

MUMBAI: Indian Idol, one of Sony’s most acclaimed reality shows, is all set to come back on small screen with its tenth installment. Considering that all its previous seasons have done exceedingly well, there are great expectations this year as well. Sony has released its first promo, captioned #...

Television TV Channels GECs
VIVO IPL: VIVO IPL on Star Sports register highest ever engagement

Revolutionizing the way, the world experiences VIVO IPL, Star India reimagined VIVO IPL in to a six-month fiesta instead of just a two-month tournament. Keeping fans at the heart of the experience, Star India used the confluence of technology, consumer insight, and experience in cricket coverage,...

Television TV Channels Sports
Abhishek Upadhyay joins &TV as marketing head

Abhishek Upadhyay, who headed marketing for OLX, has been appointed marketing head of &TV, the Hindi language GEC channel of Zee Entertainment Enterprise Limited (ZEEL).

Television TV Channels People
Saral Jeevan adds three new programs to its prime time offering

Saral Jeevan, a Kannada infotainment channel, is launching three shows today. While one of them is season two of Jnanapada (based on folk songs), the other two programs are based on factual content. With a focus on non- fiction programming like history, mythology, travel and insights from Indian...

Television TV Channels News Broadcasting
Discovery joins hands with BYJU’S for quiz show

Discovery Communications India and BYJU’S, the Learning App, has joined hands to launch a school quiz show called the Discovery School Super League.

Television TV Channels Factual & Documentary

Latest News

Load More

Sign up for our Newsletter

subscribe for latest stories