11 November, 2011

China Dictates Entertainment

Melbourne Herald Sun, Friday November 11, 2011

There are certain advantages to dictatorship. Take China, where authorities have instructed TV stations to sharply cut back on shows that are "overly entertaining and of low taste," according to a spokesman with China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television last week.

When we look at the hit list and see dating shows, talent contests, talk shows and reality shows, we have to register some sympathy. There are a couple of quiz and reality shows here which would not be missed if dropped into the China Sea.

The statement said, “A number of entertainment programs are simple reproductions of other popular shows and some have tried to attract audiences through vulgar content such as gossip and exposure of privacy”. Well that does sound familiar.

I’ve found that many Australians still don’t understand how big and modern China is. Did you know the country has 34 satellite channels at the centre of a vast media network? The stations will be limited to broadcasting two “entertaining” programs each week, with a maximum of 90 minutes every day between 7:30 pm and 10:00 pm.

But one part of the statement spells problems for advertisers: "All broadcasting, TV and relevant organizations are not allowed to conduct ratings rankings.” So how do you evaluate a program without ratings?

Well for a start, commercials will increase in cost as marketers chase a smaller number of popular shows.

Just this week the bids were in for advertising on China Central Television, the country’s national broadcaster. The system is, you bid for ad spots for the coming 2012 year. In recent times, the prices have increased by double digit percentages each year. Last year advertisers pledged nearly two billion dollars.

The audiences are big, and so are the rates. A thirty second spot on a good show can cost $60,000. Come to think of it, on a per capita basis, that could be a lot cheaper than Australia.

In the bidding are multi-nationals like KFC and Kraft, and the big media buyers like Starcom MediaVest Group and Aegis Media’s Carat.

London-based Aegis is one of the world’s biggest media agencies, turning over $1.5 billion a year. Just last year Australia’s Harold Mitchell merged his Mitchell media group into the organisation making him their second-biggest shareholder and a member of the international board.

These days business success is so much harder if you don’t have solid ties to China, so all the big advertising agencies are there and many are flourishing.

The analysts do see some positives come out of the new regulations. For one thing, the stations may be forced to produce more quality programming rather than endless copies of copies of overseas shows.

The directive specifies scripted programmes, concerts, events and quiz shows that rely on knowledge rather than pure luck.

Of course in China the political cadres are never far away. A Chinese ‘Idol’ type of show was enormously popular with the singers attracting audiences of 400 million, when all of a sudden the plug was pulled and the mikes went dead.

It was found to be too entertaining, though speculation said the real reason was that the popular voting for winners was a bit too close to democracy for the Party’s liking.

There are difficult choices for Chinese authorities, if people watched less TV they might do more blogging or tweeting - much harder to control.
As an example of popular tastes, a year ago a Japanese porn star called Sora Aoi went to Shanghai and opened her microblogging account. Within a day she had 220,000 followers and now she is a celebrated personality - a sort of Kim Kardashian of the Middle Kingdom.

Is that what the authorities envisaged?


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