SMG's Dragon claws come out

Channel moves to revamp programming and rebrand

SMG readies launch of Enjoyoung

SHANGHAI -- Responding to a slowdown in advertising and sponsorship in China's newly crowded satellite television space, Shanghai Media Group's Dragon TV is moving to rebrand itself and expand its offerings to include more news and homemade entertainment.

Founded in 1998, Dragon blossomed after state media reforms in 2003, shunning typical dry Chinese period dramas and pushing more contemporary fare.

By 2008, Dragon had gathered annual ad revenue of 550 million yuan ($81 million) and an audience of about 50 million viewers in China around popular programming like the reality show "Let's Dance."

Tian Ming, Dragon's new managing director, hired in May, in turn hired veteran filmmaker Chen Kaige to do a promotional spot for the channel's new identity. Called "Magic City," the promo tries to set Shanghai off from its provincial competitors.

Focusing on Shanghai's blend of old culture and new, Chinese and Western, Chen's spot is meant to help Dragon fight the likes of China's leading satellite broadcaster by revenue, Hunan Satellite TV, which earned about 1.6 billion yuan in ad revenue in 2008, industry estimates show.

With SMG chairman Li Ruigang, Tian also got pop singers Vitas and Wei Wei to perform the channel's new theme songs and brought young blood straight to the head of the programming department, moving 33-year-old Zhou Jie over from SMG's E-Entertainment channel with a mandate to hold on to younger viewers who are fleeing TV in droves for the Internet.

"China's competition is very fierce, so we have to do something about it," Zhou, Dragon's new director of programming, said on the sidelines of the 15th Shanghai Television festival, an event owned by SMG, China's No. 2 media company after China Central Television.

Dragon's rebranding comes amidst other moves by SMG and China Central Television to step up their competitiveness in the face of more attractive programming from the satellite channels from Hunan, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Beijing and Anhui.

On Saturday, SMG launched its new Enjoyoung multimedia brand to appeal to China's growing younger, affluent demographic, and on June 10, CCTV said it planned to revamp the nightly news due to a drop in viewership.

One pillar of Dragon's new strategy is to position itself as the key media platform for news about and entertainment linked to the Shanghai Expo in 2010, a massive multinational trade show and the biggest event in China since last year's Beijing Olympics.

Zhou said Dragon soon will add one hour of general news coverage daily and has already begun -- two weeks ago -- to shoot a series of weekly three-hour documentaries in 10 Chinese cities on the theme of the progress of China's urbanization.

Also linked to the Shanghai Expo next year is the planned launch of Dragon's homemade reality show called "Let's Compete" (similar to the Chinese version of "Britain's Got Talent"), which will showcase local Shanghai talent at first but then expand to other cities.

Making its own shows -- as opposed to rebroadcasting those bought for it by SMG from other media groups -- could save Dragon money, Zhou said.

Whereas Dragon made only about 10% of its own entertainment content in the past, it plans to produce 55% of that content in house from now on.

"We've reallocated money to production, because we know best what our audience wants," Zhou said.

Saving money is a key goal in this tight economy, but Zhou remains largely optimistic despite a drop in advertising revenue at the start of 2009. "Confidence is coming back and advertisers are keen to invest in media," he said.

Zhou said Dragon is on track to reach 1 billion yuan in ad revenue during the next three years.