Shanghai TV Fest winds up after record attendance

Chinese channels seek content, producers look for exports

SHANGHAI -- The 16th Shanghai Television Festival wound down Thursday after four days of meetings that brought 150 Chinese and international companies together to try to bridge the broadcast gap between East and West.

In sharp competition with the Internet, China's highly-regulated and largely state-run television landscape is developing into one window onto the largest collection of viewers and potential consumers, with nearly 95% TV penetration in a population of 1.3 billion.

Focusing hopes on supporting Beijing's push to promote China's media and culture overseas, STVF marketing director Mickey Zhang Ming, boasted that more international companies were present at STVF 2010 and that the overall number of companies was up 15% from about 130 companies in 2009. "This is a great place to introduce Chinese TV to the world," Zhang said.

Both local companies (mostly buyers) and overseas companies (mostly sellers) were housed at the festival under the roof of the ornate Soviet-era Shanghai Exhibition Center. About 3,000 guests registered over four days, officials said, not a bad turnout when compared with the roughly 1,400 guests that regularly attend MIPTV in Cannes, the world's most active television market.

"There was a strong showing this year," said Kristian Kender, research director of Beijing-based media consultancy China Media Monitor Intelligence, a co-organizer of the STVF's international pavilion. "Our clients are happy. They've had lots of good meetings," said Kender, whose CMMI has just partnered with Wings Media, a unit of festival organizer Shanghai Media Group to help bring more international projects into China and help Wings take Chinese programming overseas.

International pavilion booths included those from Warner Brothers International TV, Japanese statecaster NHK, Deutsche Welle and Telemundo, a unit of NBC Universal.

A separate wing of the exhibition center focused on selling equipment from Sony, Panasonic and other global manufacturers to a growing number of Chinese buyers.

In the STVF's Chinese content pavilion, Tina Tian, founder and president of the 20-year-old Beijing-based production and distribution company Paravision, said the festival had matured to showcase the new opportunities in China.

"For foreigners, the Chinese language is tough, but by choosing the right partner, by learning the culture and the people, it's possible to get educational and entertainment programming into China," said Tian, who has worked with Discovery, National Geographic and The History Channel in China.

Starting in 1993 with the popular current affairs show "Global," hosted by Yang Lan (later a Beijing Olympics spokeswoman), Paravision worked with U.S. consumer goods giant Proctor & Gamble to convince China Central Television of the value of its timeslots.

"There's been a lot of progress since those early days. Now lots of regional channels are figuring out that with the right stories they, too, can make money selling ads against programming," Tian said.

Paravision's in-house ad company manages the sales in time slots it secures from Chinese broadcasters. "It's tough to get channels to pay for programming, so it's important to have a Chinese partner that can help sell the ad time," Tian said.

Paravision is one of a handful of Chinese companies at the STVF trying to work both to help overseas firms bring format television into China and looking at potential drama co-productions with overseas partners.

Paravision's 60 full-time employees are divided between Beijing, Shanghai and -- with the hope of overseas sales of the TV it produces -- a Manhattan office. The company now is producing "Two Generations War," a 30-episode drama about conflict in a modern-day Beijing family due to wrap in October.

"The challenge for taking Chinese made TV outside China is that is has to has to have elements that appeal to American tastes," said Tian, who divides her time between Beijing and New York.

Despite outbound ambitions, Tian allows that most of her meetings at the STVF are with the Chinese broadcasters she usually deals with over the phone. "Here we meet and I show them the latest foreign programming I've managed to bring in. There's a huge demand for more content."

Selling that content into China can prove frustrating for some overseas companies. Foreigners get flustered when it sometimes takes six months to pass through official censorship, Tian said.

 "We know the rules that can help content companies and sponsors figure out the timing to give Chinese viewers what they want," she added. Tian's team spends a lot of time trying to interpret broadcast rules that used to state a clear 8% quota on imported content but now often are gray. "Before there's rain, we Chinese like to say, there's thunder. We can hear it coming," Tian said.

On Friday, STVF organizers SMG will host the Magnolia television awards to bring the event to an official close.