Written by Liao Ye/polished by Chris Zetlin
The total population of China is 1,314,480,000(2006). Among them, 1,264,930,000 people watch TV according to the data from the State Statistics Bureau of China. There are totally 380 provincial TV stations and 1,277 county level TV and radio stations with 1,144 TV channels. The Chinese TV indsutry had produced 2,550,000 hours TV programs in 2007. The total broadcasting time is 14,550,000 hour in the same year. The total income of Chinese TV industry is 109,900 million rmb in 2006 and 131600 million rmb in 2007.
All of this sounds like a huge, promising market given the data, which is accurate, but at the same time the Chinese documentary market is in its infancy and struggling. To understand China’s documentary market you need to keep in mind that all broadcasters and most filmmakers involved in documentary production are state run. Unlike the TV networks in North America, UK, Europe and elsewhere, all Chinese broadcasters control production from within, with their own production teams (more than often huge in comparison to the rest of the world).
China’s TV networks produce the majority of programs they each broadcast over a year. In comparison to other world models this could easily be considered inefficient. For many years, both China’s government and its TV stations have been trying to keep the China broadcasting model as a state run system, but at the same time allowing independent production companies to freely make programs for the China TV market.
For many reasons, results from China’s state-run TV model have slowed in recent years. It is believed that Chinese broadcasters producing programs only within their own networks have been the major reason for TV program markets, specifically documentary markets, to be both limited and challenged. So given this, China’s opportunity to develop a strong, cohesive independent documentary filmmaking community has been somewhat challenged.
Chinese TV stations broadcast dozens to hundreds of programs depending on station size. The programs range from daily to weekly timeslots according to budgets. These budgets overall may represent a major investment dollar wise, but are cut into very small investment bundles for each episode.
This means that the total yearly budget has to be divided by 52 if it’s a weekly show and by 365 if it’s a daily show. Probably sounds familiar, but in China let’s say you are a producer within the system, how do you deal with the low budget per episode dilemma? You probably think that you could rebroadcast 1/3 of the total episodes for a year so that you get 1/3 more money for the remaining episodes to produce “higher quality” documentary programs. Unfortunately, the reality here is that the money you “saved” will be deducted from your budget because you didn’t produce new episodes. So what do you do? You more often than not commit an entire budget and produce the full year’s slate and end up continually producing ‘limited budget’ docs.
Buying-in programs is one option but it doesn’t help the scenario. Many TV stations set a limit on documentary purchase internally and externally. It seems to China’s filmmakers that National Geo and Discovery re-broadcast much more than CCTV does, just as an example. What has been discussed previously however may also explain another weakness in the Chinese TV market – most TV stations in China can’t afford to buy documentary programs at world market prices, nor can they afford most other TV genres even if they are culturally appropriate for the China market.
Documentary programming in China therefore may seem to not have a ‘voice’. But as you can see with China International Conference of Science & History Producers 2009 it has a very willing voice, and at many levels of China’s TV system and within China’s independent filmmaking communities.
The Conference will work towards opening up China’s TV system and show how it is striving to engage with global systems, strategies and technologies. It will also attempt to heighten the profile of the independent filmmaking base throughout China, which is growing.
But a little pre-history of China’s TV system at this stage may help (if you take CCTV as an example). A producer of any program that rates in the bottom three in a quarter will be immediately ‘put off’, if the program falls in this rating level twice within a year. After a program has been “cut”, the producer is banned to work as a producer for at least two years. The remaining production team has to find employment without support within the TV system or independent industry system.
This occurs because most of CCTV's income comes from commercials, much like the rest of the world. Advertisers only want to invest in programs that audiences want to watch. Under such pressure, each Chinese TV station is eager to raise its ratings. Some of them might turn to the industry or other countries for help. China's TV industry imports documentaries from other countries each year, with CCTV as the major buyer. Other buyers include Beijing TV, Wuhan TV, Shanghai Documentary Channel, etc. Chinese TV stations have been broadcasting imported documentaries since early 80's. Nowadays, Chinese audiences watch more and more foreign documentaries. Documentary series imported from channels such as Discovery, National Geographic are very popular in China.
The government, motivated to improve the image of China over the world, encourages its TV industry to enter the international market. In terms of documentary, the industry is far from successful. Professionals here have not fully realized that the international market is not simply an export target and one of the key obstacles is cultural difference.
The best way for Chinese documentary makers is to overcome this obstacle and to co-operate with our foreign counterparts. CICSHP2009 will provide a platform for the beginnings of this co-operation to take place. CICSHP2009 will provide avenues for discussion and friendship and its hopes that from this will flow an exchange of ideas and collaboration that will benefit practitioners from both East and West.
HIREACHICAL DIRECTORY OF CHINESE TV INDUSTRY
CCTV (China National TV) is the largest broadcaster in China. It has 15 channels covering the entire country.
Each province has a provincial TV station that owns at least one satellite channel covering the China. On average each provincial TV station operates around 6-9 channels. No provincial TV station is part of CCTV.
Mainland China has 29 provinces each of which owns at least two provincial TV stations(one provincial and one capital of the province), in addition to Beijing TV, Shanghai TV, Tianjing TV, Chongqing TV. Film channel, Education channels, etc. Besides, in 2005, China started almost 60 paid channel which applied and has run by media but not limited in TV industry. These paid channel totally run in cable system. Viewers have to pay on each channel they watch and receive the TV programs through a signal routing box. So far, many paid channels have died because of shortage of fund and vital competition. There are a lot of problems in this paid channel system. The biggest one is that the local companies who works like cinema chains in film won't share the income fairly with the programers. However, the paid channels are still developing rapidly in recent year.
You must be dissapointed when you read these words. If your conclude that this is a difficult market, you are absolutely right. However, things in China are always subject to change. Now a days, the Chinese TV industry is subject to a major change which may happen within next few years. The effort both from the government and from inside the industry trying to cut off the productions from Chinese TV stations is being more and more powerful. The reason is very simple. The old system has made a very high cost to produce TV programs. Let's take CCTV as an example, it has more than 10 thousand employees. When a company is too large, it means low efficency, bureaucratism and everything bad in terms of survival. So Chinese TV industry is facing a reform which actually has already begun several years ago. We'll probably has a broadcaster vs indy system in the future years. China will has a documentary market if only a small part of the productions are allowed to be done by independent production companies. We have invited a researcher from the Radio, TV and Motion Picture Bureau of the State to give attendees a speech on the possible reform and the change in the industry.