China Central Television to revamp news

June 20 move prompted by falling ratings

BEIJING -- China's leading popular television news program will change its format to include more human-interest segments and critical reporting beginning June 20, official media reported Wednesday.

State-run broadcaster China Central Television will revamp its flagship nightly news program, "Xinwen Liangbo," prompted by a study that showed a waning interest in its dry and predictable reports on government announcements.

"It will be the biggest change for China Central Television in a decade," Yu Guoming, deputy dean of the school of journalism and communications at Renmin University, told the China Daily.

"People care more about human interest stories and critical reportage, rather than official announcements. It points to the future of news broadcasts," Yu said.

The announcement comes during the annual Shanghai International Television Festival when hundreds of foreign content owners and advertisers gather in China's financial hub to try to sell their wares over to China's 2,300 TV stations.

China's one-party government is in the midst of a new campaign to revamp its image through the media, hiring more English-speaking editors and reporters.

CCTV news faces steady competition from Hong Kong's Mandarin-language Phoenix TV, from pirated satellite news channels from overseas and from news increasingly accessed from the Internet.

Before 1998, the CCTV news program dominated daily ratings with 40% of the market. Today, that figure is less than 10%, Yu said, adding that the program needed to address changing media trends and the demands of its audience or face a further drop in popularity.

The "Xinwen Liangbo" show averaged an audience rating in 35 cities of  5.6% percent from January to May, according to data from CSM Media Research, a joint venture between CCTV and UK-based media tracking firm Taylor Nelson Sofres.

The CSM study suggests that more than 72.8 million people watch CCTV's nightly news program daily. That's roughly seven times the audience of NBC Nightly News, one of the highest-rated news programs in the U.S., China Daily said.

Some were skeptical of the plans for change. Cai Shangwei, director of the institute of radio and television at Sichuan University, told the China Daily that "Xinwen Liangbo" was an integral part of the country's politics.

"Due to its symbolic meaning and position, the program cannot really change very much," Cai said.

CCTV made the news itself earlier this year for having to fire several officials and contractors for their mishandling of a Lunar New Year fireworks display that torched a hotel building on its new Beijing headquarters campus.