There is an absolutely fantastic article that came out today from Danwei.org entitled
“Reality TV woes and the 2008 China Media Yearbook”. Click here to read the whole thing. The article is a wonderful synopsis and chronicle of the Reality TV format’s rise in China broadcast over the past three years.
The article, an authorized excerpt from Beijing-based media consultancy CMMI’s 2008 China Media Yearbook and Directory, goes on to describe in detail what China’s State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television (SARFT) has done and is doing to guide, shape and control the creative freedoms taken by these user-generated ‘Talent’ shows.
In short, here are some of the recent revised policies enforced by SARFT:
1) All broadcasters’ receive SARFT permission for talent shows and limiting satellite channels to just one series per year
2) No series can run for more than two months
3) Programs are limited to a maximum of 10 episodes, with each episode no longer than 90 minutes in length
4) Talent shows are also banned from asking audiences to vote for participants, including voting via cell phones, telephones and the internet
5) Only the final show in a series can be broadcast on satellite channels, which is a sure way to limit the national audience as nobody will know the contestants involved.
6) 75% of songs come from mainland China and that the participants do not “deviate from the aesthetic ideas of the masses,” as determined by SARFT itself.
7) Shows even have to submit their choice of judges for approval
8 ) Special permission is now required for foreigners to be involved in talent shows in any way.
After reading this article a few thoughts and questions came to my mind:
1) What an interesting time it must be to be a policy maker working at SARFT. You would have to be the most creative person in the world, or the most determined, to constantly think about ways of limiting the scope, depth and spontaneousness of reality-format shows. I can only imagine what SARFT’s internal meetings must be like, discussing policies that will effectively retool the reality format into a non-reality, SARFT-induced, propaganda show.
But really, SARFT is so interesting now, just because every day they have to deal with the most relevant issues such as new content formats in broadcast; internet and it’s crowd-sourcing opportunities and risks; uncontrolled/free flowing content like internet video, etc. How would it be to discuss these issues everyday and get paid for it.
2) This article clearly shows the differences in power level between the China government’s Cultural Ministry versus Western governments’ Cultural Ministries. I count all 8 SARFT policy points being unacceptable in Western broadcast industries. Broadcast companies, media companies, content providers, and the general populace would all line up to protest if these policies were even considered in the West. Ah China. These unpredictable, artificial systemic shifts will have an important impact on China’s popular culture as the Chinese’s engagement of Reality format shows differs from their Western counterparts. Similarly the government’s unilateral actions create very interesting business competition and business development opportunities for sharp-sighted media entreprenuers.
3) What does this mean for User-gen and User-voted content in China? In North America, the most successful user-voted experience (in entertainment, excluding political voting) is American Idol, a broadcast experience. No other voter experience comes close in reach. With these SARFT regulations, how will Chinese user-voting experiences adapt? Will it even survive? Without broadcast’s support, user-voting experiences will have to move ever-bolder online. Will China produce a new and successful online model that utilizes user-voting? Will it supercede broadcast voting? Maybe someday soon we will see super-short-form content on mobile phones, and cast votes from millions of Chinese mobile viewers propell it to a broadcast mini-series, or, a movie release? Only a dream, but, such things can arise given the present regulatory environment.
I actually think this will push branded-content developers to do more innovative work that is more heavily dependant on online components. While maybe advertisers are still slow to adopt and embrace the move because of the lack of historical numbers, there is very few other alternatives. SARFT continues to make a branded-content developer’s job more complex and challenging.
4) It never ceases to amaze me the Chinese psyche in wanting to become famous. And I’m not talking about professional acting. Just the amateur stunts Chinese are willing to do to become over-night stars at all costs, and through any media channel available to them… I won’t go into this thought now… I’ll save it for a separate blog post. But it really amazes me… and there are legitimate reasons why they are motivated so.
5) This article is yet another affirmation in the continued and accelerating development of a new ‘middle market’ of content providers. Below high-budget content developers like broadcast and movies, and above amateur User-Gen. There is a serious opportunity growing in the middle segment, and I know it to be extremely lucrative. But again, I have been planning on writing a separate blog post about this topic too for some time. I will refrain until next time to thoroughly hash it out.
I definitely don’t think Reality & Talent shows are dead in China. They are here to stay, in some form or another. The report concluded saying that likely China will see a slight resurgence in TV Dramas on China channels. I agree. But now that the Chinese have had such a deep bite of reality talent & drama, it’ll be hard to satisfy that public craving with scripted drama. (btw, I would love to see a user-voted, scripted drama experience).