8 PM, Beijing Time. Xin Wen Lian Bo blares across every local and national TV station in China. For years, China has had one centralized new source for everything – Xinhua in print and CCTV on TV. While local stations are mostly allowed freedom, at 8:00pm everyday, all channels are required to show CCTV’s daily news report. But perhaps not for long. Last year, Hunan TV appealed to SARFT, China’s governmental media agency, to be allowed to broadcast its own news report rather than that of CCTV’s. Or so it was rumored. Despite the falsehood of this rumor, the fact that people believed it showed how much Hunan TV’s prestige has risen. This is only one sign of the recent decentralization of Chinese media sources, especially in the rise of local channels in popularity as interest in the state media declined.
These local channels, spearheaded by Hunan TV, although still mostly state-owned stations, lack the formalities of CCTV and are allowed to be more creative.
Hunan TV’s signature brands- variety show Happy Camp, host He Jiong and singer Li Yuchun
Like most local channels, Hunan TV is named after the province where it originated, but unlike most, Hunan TV’s influence has extended far beyond its provincial boundaries. Stating with Happy Camp, mainland China’s most highly rated entertainment show, to the immensely popular Super Girls series, a spin-off of the British Pop Idol series, Hunan TV has rose to the number two place in Chinese television, and number one among those under the age of 27. The TV station is also in charge of one of China’s premier entertainment companies – EE Media, which produces its own TV series and manages an array of popular young idols like Li Yuchun, Super Girl winner of 2005, and Guo Jingming, China’s richest author in the past three years according to Forbes China.
Hunan TV has became so much of a threat to CCTV that CCTV informally banned the appearance of Hunan TV-born stars on it major channels. When CCTV broadcast the 100-Day Countdown to the 2008 Beijing Olympics live, the camera moved to a far-shot of what often ended up being the tree outside the palace while Jane Zhang and Zhou Bichang, the 3rd and 2nd place singers of Super Girls 2005 respectively, sang their parts of the Olympic songs. Such instances, along with many others, have caused netizens to dub CCTV “chaotingtai,” or the “emperor’s court channel” due to its dictatorship (and the promotion of Manchu culture over that of the Han majority). Even CCTV’s signature Spring Festival Gala has been losing in ratings as younger viewers complain that the show’s lost touch with the new generation.
CCTV promotes environmentalism by filming trees instead of people
Globally, CCTV might also lose its strong hold on overseas Chinese soon. Both Shanghai Media Group (SMG)’s Dragon TV and Hunan TV plans to add global channels. Hunan TV’s global channel will begin to air in Hong Kong on May the 20th. And in March, Hunan TV became the first Chinese station to sell one of its show formats to foreign TV stations when Thailand brought the rights to remake Beat the Mic, a KTV show. Plans are under arrangements for the show to be sold to BBC and other stations.
But even Hunan TV is losing ground. Shanghai SMG’s East/Dragon TV, one of the few privately-owned television stations in China, has been Hunan TV’s biggest rival in entertainment. They came up with their own version of Super Boys in 2007, named My Hero, and was a huge success among the younger audience, though it only received one tenth of the votes that Super Boys did. Both SMG and Jiangsu TV have also recently began to work with H.Y. Brothers, one of the biggest mainland-based entertainment companies in China.
Although the new and rising TV stations tend to be more entertaining in nature, they nevertheless threaten CCTV’s central hold. As the local channels grow in size and influence, this could mean even further diversification of opinions, news, entertainment. It also equals greater competition, which means the TV stations will have to come up with increasingly creative ways to attract viewers. The government, too, will have to find other ways to control the opinons.