Pioneer Spirit

After 45 years in the business, TV visionary Robert Chua embarks on his boldest venture yet

He has been dubbed one of the pioneers of television in Asia, having worked as an executive producer at the startup of terrestrial station TVB in Hong Kong in the 1960s. A mere 45 years later Robert Chua, 62, shows no signs of slowing down.

The Singapore-born media entrepreneur, most notable for his bold -- and ultimately successful -- tilt at entering the mainland Chinese TV market as an outsider in 1995, learned the ropes of the business as a cameraman and floor manager at Australian TV station HSV-7 after graduating from college Down Under.

Fast forward 45 years and Chua is now doing the rounds in Beijing, seeking investment partners to join the Shanghai Media Group for his new cross platform venture, the Health and Lifestyle Channel, that will be carried concurrently on cable and satellite and terrestrial TV platforms, the Internet and 3G mobile phone services throughout China.

The channel teaches both eastern and western preventative medicine in breezy entertainment and infotainment style programs, with the aim of being "socially responsible" at time when the Chinese government has invested 850 billion yuan ($16.8 billion) on heath care initiatives.

Says Chua about the technology and the programming behind the channel: "There's nothing like it in China."

Certainly the tenacious, insistent but extremely polite Chua's content choices over the years are an indicator that he would rather push the boundaries of technology and business in China.

As a result, Chua's first major foray beyond the TV studio was launching China Entertainment Television, which became the first external channel to be broadcast in mainland China, with the now famous motto, "No sex, no violence, no news."

While CETV's rocky start forced Chua to pour his own money into the business to keep it afloat several times, his vision was rewarded when Time Warner became a partner in the channel and eventually bought him out.

Now he says he's extremely grateful to the Chinese government for allowing CETV to be carried and headquartered in Guangzhou, but while the evolution of the channel was the most challenging point in his career, HLC, he says, is his most rewarding.

"With TVB and CETV we made people happy and gave them a good life, but now we are helping people stay healthy and letting them know things that will help save lives," he says.

Its also has the potential to be a much bigger business than CETV was, he says. The mobile version of the service will access China's estimated 300 million 3G mobile phone users, while the TV service, which already reaches 100 million Chinese through SMG's systems, and its Internet streams will include additional revenue points like a home shopping services and access to HLC-branded heath events and seminars.

Chua knows, however, that it's not a particularly great time to be in "passive television" since the Chinese market is now overly competitive, with more than 100 channels in the main cities, and ad revenue falling.

But like many a pioneer, Chua laments the lack of vision he sees on the small screen these days.

"TV is now getting worse," he says. "Entertainment television is disgusting. You now have game shows showing who can suck noodles the fastest. It's ridiculous."
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