CCTV has 'Win' win proposition

New York firm taking China reality show format int'l

BEIJING -- In an interesting reversal of the usual trend in China, a market in which broadcasters routinely imitate or, more infrequently, license hits from the West, the territory's first homegrown reality TV show is now going for sale overseas.

Michael Speissbach, a New York-based investment banker, said he is in talks with "the usual suspects" among the big international TV format distributors as well as "a few TV networks" in a bid to sell global rights to "Win in China," now in its second season on China Central Television.

"This will make history as the first format that will come out of China instead of going in," Speissbach, chairman of Media Financial Services International, said in an interview.

In January, Speissbach secured the rights to the show and the format outside China from China Digital TV, a wholly owned subsidiary of government-run CCTV.

"Win in China," which airs weekly on CCTV-2 and averages 4 million viewers, features aspiring moguls touting actual business plans as they vie for the votes of the audience and a panel of judges comprised of successful Chinese executives.

First-season final round judges included Yuan Yuanqing, CEO of computer manufacturer Lenovo, and Zhang Ruimin, CEO of Haier, one of the largest makers of mini-bar refrigerators sold in the U.S.

Winners on the show earn both venture capital as well as professional guidance in implementing their business plans. In exchange, 50% of each newly created business goes to the venture capital firms and 15% goes to audience members who have won a lottery entered by mobile phone text message.

"The show was specifically made so it's not celebrity-centric. It was made so the winner will take off on a trajectory of his own and not just disappear into a job," Speissbach said, referring to the typical outcome on U.S. hit "The Apprentice," whose winners are hired into one of many companies owned by New York real estate mogul Donald Trump.

"In China, you've got so many bright young people out there who just don't know how to monetize their great ideas," Speissbach said. "In the 'Win' format, there's an upside for everybody involved which is not present in other TV formats."

At the end of Season 1, Song Wenming won 10 million yuan ($1.23 million) to launch a training business targeting job seekers from rural China. Song became an overnight star and has since secured contracts from China Mobile and the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee.

"When I created this show, my big purpose was to sell it overseas," the show's producer, Wang Lifen, said in a phone interview.

Apart from Lenovo, Haier and Tsingtao beer, perhaps China's most recognizable brand, such companies as carmaker Great Wall Motors could benefit from overseas versions of "Win," Wang said. Great Wall is planning to make and sell inexpensive sedans in Russia.

"I'd love to see Chinese products advertising on a 'Win in Russia,' show," Wang said.

Speissbach hopes to land a global sponsor for the "Win" format. Given his background as both one of the architects of Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing's AsiaSat and vice chairman of Sun Television, a Hong Kong-listed media production and distribution company, he thinks he will.

"Win in China" began its second season March 20.