MTV, CCTV launch joint video site

'SpongeBob' moves in first deal with statecaster

BEIJING -- MTV Networks China has moved its "SpongeBob SquarePants" streaming videos over to a co-branded China Central Television Web site in a bet that it's safest to work with a state-run broadcaster while regulators sort the ways of the Web.

Online video in China, where there are 380 million Web surfers, holds great potential for advertisers, but the space also is riddled with pirated content and overshadowed by a government that blocks sites such as Google's YouTube.

Mei Yan, MTV Networks China general manager, agreed that the launch Thursday of the new Chinese-language site -- nick.cctv.com -- to feature Nickelodeon content just seven months after the launch of an earlier, independent site, had a lot to do with the partner.

"You bet," she said, adding: "CCTV's strong on intellectual property protection and, in China, you have to partner with the right people."

The new site makes MTV Networks the first international broadcaster to provide online video content in China with the blessing of the one-party government.

Analysts say that's a good place to be as regulators crack down on Internet businesses of all stripes and keep a close eye on all media.

"When the dust settles, the big state broadcasters such as CCTV and the Shanghai Media Group will be left standing," said David Wolf, an independent Beijing-based media analyst. "This new site is an astute move on the part of MTV and Viacom.

On television, from Nov. 2009-Jan. 2010, "SpongeBob" was the No. 3 highest-rated program in its time slot on CCTV's flagship channel, CCTV1, according to CSM Media Research, CCTV's joint-venture media ratings firm with Taylor Nelson Sofres.

The show currently broadcasts daily to over 300 million homes on CCTV1 and the children’s channel, CCTV14.  These channels will promote the new web site, as will CCTV.com's cartoon channel, where 40,000 videos streamed by the end of 2009.

"CCTV and Nickelodeon have worked together to make 'SpongeBob SquarePants' a smash hit on television and now we're looking forward to building upon that success for Nickelodeon properties in the online environment," Mei said in a statement released on Friday.

The two companies said their new co-branded Web site will be advertiser supported. "MTV will bring its expertise to bring advertising into the partnership" with the state-run company, Mei said over the telephone.

Last June, MTVN China launched an earlier Chinese-language SpongeBob site -- Haimianbaobao.net -- drawing its name from its soggy hero's Mandarin moniker. That site was an "experiment," said one of Mei's colleagues. As such, MTVN did not sell advertising on the site and would not disclose the volume of its regular Web traffic.

MTVN's online partnership with CCTV is not exclusive and the U.S. company will continue to work with other Chinese partners, Mei said.

Wang Wenbin, CCTV.com's general manager, said the nick.cctv.com Web site "will become the online destination for Chinese children." Now active, the site features Nickelodeon online games, personal computer wallpapers and streaming "SpongeBob" episodes. Later this year, it will add Chinese streams of programs such as "Dora the Explorer" and "CatDog."
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