'SpongeBob' returning to China's CCTV

Viacom adding 'never before seen' episodes for total of 30

SHANGHAI -- Nickelodeon's "SpongeBob SquarePants" will return to China Central Television in January.

The American animated children's series first aired on CCTV in 2006, and again from September-December 2007.

For its third showing in China, Viacom said Thursday that it will bring "all-new, never before seen" episodes to the territory next year. In all, there will be 30 new episodes.

Meanwhile, the company also has signed a three-year, multicategory licensing deal with Guangzhou Art-land Human Being Culture Communication Co. for the distribution of "SpongeBob SquarePants" toys, apparel and stationery in China.

Art-land has been the home video licensee of the brand in China for the past two years.

Since its debut on Nickelodeon's U.S. channel in 1999, "SpongeBob" has generated more than $7.5 billion in retail sales and has been distributed to more than 171 countries.

Last week, U.K.-based HIT Entertainment also reached an agreement with CCTV for four seasons of children's show "Thomas the Tank Engine," which will make its debut in China this year.

The producer also will release tie-in storybooks and toys sales in China beginning next year.