Gehua expands Beijing cable

CCTV pay channels land in capital

SHANGHAI -- Beijing residents are at last able to see the pay TV channels of China Central Television as the result of a deal the state broadcaster's cable unit cut with competitor Gehua CATV Network.

Gehua, a unit of the Beijing All Media and Culture Group (BAMC), said Wednesday that it will unveil 27 new channels on Thursday, a national holiday. These include distribution of CCTV's 13 pay channels, where programs are produced independently and are not the main focus of censors who more closely monitor free-to-air fare.

CCTV's pay channels air U.S. and European programming, include an extremely popular drama channel and feature music and women's fashion shows. Previously, they were available only via the statecaster's cable subsidiary China DTV Media (CDM).

CDM started its cable operation four years ago. By the end of 2007, it had 4 million subscribers across China, but none in its home city of Beijing, said Zhang Xiaoya, assistant to the CEO. Zhang refused to provide the financial details of the deal with Gehua, which already carries English Premier League soccer.

Doubts remain if the spread of CCTV's pay programming to Gehua's platform will significantly boost Chinese cable subscriptions.

The State Administration of Radio, Film and Television began pushing pay TV in 2003, but it has gained little traction among China's 1.3 billion people, said Kristian Kender, research director of China Media Monitor Intelligence in Beijing.

"Cable has been bypassed to some extent by the Internet and digital media," Kender said. "Where so much is available for free, the digital pay TV companies are not differentiating themselves enough."

China's four licensed pay TV operators are CCTV, BAMC, the Shanghai Media Group and movie channel CCTV-6.