CCTV faces viewer challenges

Sports, new formats key, observer says

HONG KONG -- Two months after the Beijing Olympic Games, China's leading broadcaster will have to fight to keep its viewers, a Beijing-based media consultant said here Monday.

"CCTV is scared. The base of their audience is shifting to the Internet, games and mobile content," said David Wolf, president and CEO of Wolf Group Asia.

Speaking at a pre-CASBAA Convention panel titled "Gold/Silver/Bronze: Strategies for post-Olympic China," Wolf said that "one way to get people away from their interactive media is to give them something that you can't experience on a computer screen, such as live sports."

Wolf cited the 20-year deal China Central Television inked last summer with global sports entertainment conglomerate IMG as the beginning of a sea change in the Chinese broadcaster's attitude.

Apart from sports, he believes that CCTV should rethink their programming habits, particularly when it comes to big-budget dramas such as the new 50 million yuan ($7.3 million) television adaptation of Chinese literary classic "Dream of the Red Chamber."

The previous 36-episode CCTV adaptation of the story -- which debuted in 1987 -- has been rerun an astounding 800 times over the past 20 years. However, success is not guaranteed for the new one, Wolf said.

"How are they going to run it? They are going to run it for two weeks, night after night, and then it's done," he said. "What that means is, people will watch it and they will go away again. What they don't recognize is that the value of the program is not the program itself, but the stickiness it gives TV."

Unlike the U.S., where a television drama will appear once a week for 13-22 weeks, CCTV and other China broadcasters play their shows every night for as many episodes as they produce.

"The way dramas are being used now does not create a habit for viewers. The networks need to create a habit for viewers, that's their opportunity. Watching it for two weeks is not going to change their lives," Wolf said.

A veteran of the media and technology industries for over a decade, Wolf founded China's first home shopping network in Guangdong province in the 1990s.
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