China's CCTV Recruiting U.S. Talent for New Year's Show Watched by 800 Million

A scene from last year's New Year Gala on CCTV

The state broadcaster is launching talent show "I Want to Perform in China's New Year Gala" in cities across the U.S. to promote the TV special, which is watched by 700 million more people than the Super Bowl.

By now most people accept that everything in China is bigger, but the audience numbers for CCTV's Lunar New Year's Gala, a four-hour variety show extravaganza, are mind-bogglingly large. Televised on variable dates in January and February, and known locally as 'Chun wan,' an estimated 800 million people watched this year's show — that's almost 700 million more than the number of people who tuned into the Super Bowl, America's ratings king.

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Even with huge viewing figures, the producers behind the Lunar New Year's Gala are exploring ways to retain their position. In 2010, CCTV launched I Want to Perform in Chinese New Year Gala, a talent contest held during the lead up to the holiday to tap the world's most populous nation's amateur talent pool, including its many ethnic minority groups, for new performers. For the 2015 edition of the show, the producers at CCTV are set to launch a U.S. version with auditions in cities such as New York, Houston, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington, reports the Wall Street Journal. The American winners of the talent contest will get the chance to perform in the Gala in front of hundreds of millions of Chinese.

Featuring song, dance, comedy skits and more traditional Chinese entertainment, the Gala is event television on a grand scale, and for many Chinese families it anchors their Lunar New Year holiday viewing. Every year rival broadcasters and Internet services like Tianya are putting on alternative broadcasts featuring left-field stars like Shaquille O'Neal and more obvious ones such as Psy in increasingly successful attempts to slice away viewers, particularly younger Chinese, looking for something edgier than the 30-year-old Gala.

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Longtime Gala producer Wei Dangsheng told the Journal that it was important to look for fresh ideas to keep the show, which was first shown in 1983, relevant. Wei also said the prize for potential entrants to the American talent show was unmissable; "It's a huge market and a big opportunity."

Despite hunting specifically for American talent for the 2015 Gala, the televisual spectacular isn't a stranger to international talent. Canadian Celine Dion, a huge star in China thanks to the Titanic soundtrack, performed at the event last year.