Chinese TV getting fitted for Olympics gold

Olympics yields big boost for pubcaster's yearly auction

BEIJING -- The Olympics are still nine months away, but Chinese television is already being fitted for a gold medal.

Pubcaster China Central Television drew 80 billion yuan ($10.7 billion) in 2008 primetime advertising bids at its annual auction Sunday, local media reported, up 20% from this year's figure thanks to strong interest in reaching Olympics viewers.

The Beijing News said 30% more companies than last year showed up to the headquarters of CCTV, China's only national broadcaster and the rights holder for the 16-day Games that kick off Aug. 8.

"When you take into account that August 2008 is the Olympic month, it turns the whole year into a bumper year for advertising," CCTV advertising chief Xia Hongbo told the state-controlled daily.

In October, CCTV forecast an ad revenue increase of 15% in 2008, a rise in keeping with PricewaterhouseCoopers' recent Global Entertainment and Media Outlook report, which said that ad spending in China across six major media groups would increase to $22.5 billion by 2011, up from $13 billion.

Actual spending on 2008 primetime advertising resulting from Sunday's bids has yet to be reported. At last year's auction for primetime spots, CCTV sold 6.7 billion yuan in advertising ($84.9 million), up nearly 16% from 2006's 5.8 billion yuan.

Early in the all-day event Sunday, energy drink-manufacturer Red Bull bid 1.59 billion yuan ($214 million) for the right to place its name on the popular show "Today Star," CCTV said on its Web site. In the afternoon, Chinese soap and toothpaste maker Nice Group, put up 2.29 billion yuan ($308 million) to couple its name with another popular TV series.

While much of the 2008 commercial airtime was previously allocated to official Olympic sponsors, non-sponsors vied for remaining slots, including special packages that featured ads in state run newspapers, online and via mobile phone text messages.

U.S. corporate giants like Kentucky Fried Chicken and Procter & Gamble -- the auction's top bidder for the last three years -- bid actively alongside official sponsor Johnson & Johnson.

"We are very confident about the Chinese market, and we think that buying ad time in CCTV is in line with our company's market strategy of increasing investment in China," Li Feng of Johnson & Johnson Shanghai told CCTV.

One of the top primetime slots next August went to Air China, the nation's flagship carrier, which bid more than $5 million dollars for a spot after flagship CCTV1's evening news bulletin.

CCTV and other state-controlled media promote the yearly auction as a bellwether for China's economy, which has grown at a clip of more than 10% for more than a decade.

Yao Jingyuan, economist for the National Bureau of Statistics, on Sunday told CCTV that the auction's bidding "suggests that enterprises are confident in the state of the economy in the coming year."