Australian Broadcasting Corporation Signs Major Content Deal in China

Industry watchers believe the agreement with Shanghai Media Group gives Australian TV the greatest potential access to the Chinese TV market of any Western broadcaster.

ABC International, the international broadcasting arm of the Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC), has expanded its relationship with China's Shanghai Media Group, announcing a new deal on Thursday that gives ABC International new rights for broadcasting Australian content across China.

Under the deal, ABC International will establish an online portal through which ABC and other Australian media content and services can be offered and presented to other partner Chinese media organizations.

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Many industry watchers believe the deal gives Australian TV the biggest potential access to Chinese audiences of any Western broadcaster.

According to ABC International CEO Lynley Marshall, the agreement will "allow the ABC to put the full range of programming from its pan-Asian satellite channel, Australia Network, and content from other Australian media, into China -- and for China to connect more closely with our media."

The ABC will also establish a base in Shanghai with official Chinese approval to represent and sell media content across China, enter into international co-productions and generate international sponsorship and promotional opportunities.

The "international multiplatform media cooperation arrangement" is supported by the Shanghai Municipal Administration of Culture, Radio, Film and TV.

The deal, expected to be signed in Shanghai on May 4, follows an Australian government trade mission to China last week, led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, which saw the first ever live broadcast from Shanghai of ABCTV current affairs show Q&A, as well as a range of other Australia Network programming showcased on Shanghai's International Channel.

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The BBC World Service and CNN International are currently the only Western broadcasters available in China.

"This historic agreement opens up a whole new world of television and online cooperation between Australia and China," ABC managing director Mark Scott said. "It provides a truly unique window for all Australian media to build a friendly and mutually cooperative relationship with China."

"Q&A's live broadcast in China was the first open interactive public-comment-style program broadcast live from China to Australia. The success of last week and the future under this agreement will help build understanding between China and Australia," Scott added.

Sun Wei, the executive director of the Shanghai Media Group's International Channel Shanghai, said: "The Shanghai Media Group is China's second largest media organization and its recent restructure ensures we are looking to further build our international media partnerships.

"Ground breaking international broadcasts such as Q&A, which was produced as a collaboration between Australian and Chinese television crews, pave the way for bigger and better international media cooperation and cultural connections in the future," he added.

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However, the announcement of the deal comes just three weeks before the Australian federal government reveals its first budget, at which point cuts to the ABC are widely expected.

And in recent months, both the prime minister and Australia's foreign minister, Julie Bishop, have questioned the need for Australia Network as a tool for "soft diplomacy."

The ABC runs Australia Network under a $223 million 10-year contract from Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

The new ABC-SMG deal expands on an agreement signed in 2010 between the two companies, which allowed Australia Network programs to screen on International Channel Shanghai. Under the former deal, Shanghai Media Group had access to studio and production support in Australia. The agreement also allowed for longer term cooperation on TV program exchange, provided mutual news gathering support and content supply and explored international television program co-productions.