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JAMCO Online International Symposium

24th JAMCO Online International Symposium

January 2016 - August 2016

The Current State and Challenges of Television Broadcasters in Asia.

Television Broadcasting in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong Today

Kenichi Yamada
Head of Overseas Research, Media Research & Studies Division, NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute

China

Among terrestrial television operators in China, China Central Television (CCTV) is the sole television station at the national level. Including channels for cable television subscribers and overseas viewers, CCTV has more than 20 channels covering general programs, [news,] economics, sports, movies, TV shows, and so forth.

At the provincial level, there are radio and television networks formed from the merging of local television and radio stations, such as Beijing Radio and Television, Shanghai Radio and Television, Guangdong Radio and Television, and Hunan Radio and Television. Like CCTV, these major radio and television networks each have around 10 channels of general programs, business, news, TV shows, etc. Provincial television stations have a satellite channel airing nationwide, and the Hunan satellite channel, notably, focuses on entertainment-oriented programming and enjoys such popularity among young people throughout the country as to threaten CCTV in this genre.

In digital terrestrial broadcasting China uses a distinctive television standard called DTMB (digital terrestrial multimedia broadcast). CCTV launched a [free-to-air] HD (high definition) channel in January 2008. The termination of analog broadcasting was initially scheduled for 2015, but according to the latest plan, termination will begin in 2015 and be completed in 2020.

As for cable television, there are regional networks such as Beijing Gehua CATV Network and Oriental Cable Network companies, and they have dozens of channels offering a variety of services. The switch to digital cable has been completed in major cities.

Regarding radio, China National Radio (CNR) airs programs on 16 channels. But many provincial radio entities have been merged with television stations in their provinces over the last several years.

Television stations throughout the country have stepped up efforts to make use of the Internet. CCTV, for example, provides its broadcast programs to the national web-based television broadcaster China Network Television (CNTV). Many regional television stations, meanwhile, sell their content—such as TV shows they themselves have aired—to major video sites like iQIYI and Tencent Video as well One Group (the result of the merger of Chinese internet sites Youku and Tudou). Hunan Radio and Television, on the other hand, which is confident of its content, launched in 2014 the exclusive distribution of television programs to its online video site Mangguo TV instead of supplying them to a major video site.

Since the start of the Xi Jinping regime in 2013 China’s control over television and other media has been intensifying. In July 2014, CCTV star anchor Rui Chenggang, age 36, was placed under investigation by Chinese prosecution authorities immediately before the live broadcast of his night business program. His charges were not made public, but given that high-ranking officials had been detained one after another in a recent corruption crackdown, allegedly as part of a power struggle, and that Rui’s boss Guo Zhenxi, head of the CCTV financial channel, had been taken into custody the previous month of June on suspicion of taking bribes, their detention was seen as evidence that the crackdown on corruption had reached even to the country’s leading television broadcaster.

The authorities’ tighter control was reflected in the content of programs. In May 2014, prior to the 25th anniversary of the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, journalists and opinion leaders in quick succession came under investigation and later, on CCTV news programs, “confessed” to their alleged crimes. On May 8, Gao Yu, an outspoken 70-year-old woman journalist who had been missing till then, appeared in a CCTV program while still under investigation for criminal charges, and, in an interview with the image of her face obscured, “confessed” to the crime of leaking state secrets. Xiang Nanfu, a Beijing contributor to Boxun, a U.S.-based news website that is critical of the Chinese government, was detained and on May 13 confessed in a CCTV interview that he had posted false stories about the government authorities’ expropriation of land and the violence of the police. The suspicion has been raised, however, that Gao confessed under duress, the authorities having allegedly threatened to arrest his son as well. The series of news broadcasts about Gao, Xiang and others is seen as the authorities’ campaign to use CCTV to suppress media criticism of the government.

From October to December 2015, five men associated with Causeway Bay Books, a Hong Kong publisher known for publishing books critical of the Chinese government, disappeared one after another. In January 2016, Gui Minhai, the publisher’s large shareholder and the first to vanish, suddenly appeared on a CCTV news program, confessing in front of a TV camera that he had hit and killed a female college student in a car accident under the influence of alcohol in 2003. He reportedly said that he had been on the run for years after being convicted, but that, feeling guilty when thinking of the relatives of the student, he had voluntarily crossed over to China and turned himself into the authorities. However, when he disappeared from his resort home in Pattaya, Thailand in October 2015, there was no record of his departure from Thailand, which fueled the suspicion among people in the media that he might have been taken away by mainland security agents.

Among other examples, in February 2015, a documentary on an environmental issue produced by Chai Jing, a former CCTV female anchor, was entirely removed a week after it was released online. The documentary, which was entitled “Under the Dome,” was severely critical of the state of air pollution in China. Its release simultaneously on Youku, one of China’s largest streaming sites, and on the online version of the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship paper—soon afterward it was posted on other websites—created a great sensation, and 200 million visits were recorded in a three-day period. Later, it is reported, the Chinese government issued a ban on related news and ordered that the program itself be deleted. The minister of environmental protection had praised the documentary immediately following its online release, expressing thanks to Chai Jing for raising people’s awareness of environmental problems. It is presumed that the deletion of the program was the result of divided opinion within the government startled by the sensation it caused.

In connection with entertainment programming, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of the People’s Republic of China (SAPPRFT), China’s media watchdog, announced at an April 2014 conference on TV shows that it would introduce a new rule on broadcasting of TV shows on satellite channels during prime time, starting in January 2015. Provincial television stations (Beijing Television, Hunan Television, Jiangsu Television, etc.) each have a nationwide satellite channel and there are a total of more than 50 such channels across the country, including CCTV. The competition among satellite channels is therefore intense. Many regional stations have very limited budgets and so several stations often jointly purchase a popular TV show and broadcast it simultaneously during prime time. Such ways of doing things have been strongly criticized as a waste of airwave resources. To offer more diverse programs for consumers, SAPPRFT adopted a new policy to ban broadcasters from airing the same television series on more than two channels during peak viewing hours and to limit each television series to airing of no more than two episodes per day during prime time. Implementation of this policy, however, would sharply increase the cost of TV shows. While it would work to the advantage of popular channels like the satellite channel of Hunan Radio and Television, for small regional stations it could be fatal.

In December 2014, the Hunan satellite channel suddenly announced that its popular TV show, The Empress of China, would be temporarily taken off air the following day. In this show, star actress Fan Bingbing plays the role of Wu Zetian (Empress Wu) and her low-cut dresses and cleavage created a flurry of chatter and excitement among viewers. The reason given by the Hunan satellite channel was a “technical” one, but when the series returned to TV screens in January 1, 2015 the shots of Fan Bingbing were cropped and viewers could only see her face. Some Internet users who viewed previously aired episodes of the show on the Internet found that, there too, Fan’s cleavage was no longer in sight. The online streaming show Go Princess Go, distributed by LeTV in December 2015, also created a great sensation, but in January 2016 SAPPRFT ordered it taken off the Web because of its sexual and violent content.

The tighter controls over the media exercised by the Xi Jinping regime have thus extended to TV shows. Its conservative policies also affect handling of imported content. In September 2014 SAPPRFT released a statement stating that online access to all foreign-made TV shows except for registered ones would be prohibited from April 2015 onward and that foreign-made content should not exceed 30 percent of the domestically produced content purchased. This has had a serious impact on tv.sohu and other Internet video sites that had offered large quantities of American and Korean TV shows because the regulations were less strict compared with television stations.


Taiwan

Taiwan has five free-to-air terrestrial television networks. Of the five, Public Television Service (PTS) and Chinese Television System (CTS) are public broadcasters and Taiwan Television (TTV), China Television (CTV), and Formosa Television (FTV) are commercial stations. There are no regional broadcasters. The revenue sources for PTS, one of the two public broadcasters, include an annual government subsidy of 900 million yuan (approx. 28 million dollars) and donations, while the other public station, CTS, formerly a commercial station, has no government subsidy and relies on advertising revenue. Taiwan terminated analog broadcasting in 2012, and among digital channels are the main channels of the analog era and two or three new channels including one broadcasting high definition television (HDTV). Besides these free-to-air channels, there are pay channels provided via cable, including SET-TV, TVBS, ETTV, Next TV, VTN, and GTV. There are also five big multiple-system operators (MSOs; operators of multiple cable television systems): CNS, KBRO, TBC, TEN, and TOP. Most of the channels on terrestrial and cable television are dedicated channels for news, entertainment, content for children, religion, and so on, and almost all of them broadcast 24 hours a day with rebroadcasts of some programs.

Taiwan has some 300 channels, pay channels included, serving its population of 23 million, and to meet the fierce competition they do all they can to cut costs in the production of programs. A notable number of them purchase TV shows from China and South Korea and broadcast them repeatedly. The three top competitive television broadcasters with stable management and self-produced programs are said to be SET-TV (Sanlih Entertainment Television; nationwide cable TV network), Formosa Television, and Taiwan Television. As for radio stations, Taiwan has a total of 171 radio stations, most of which are regional FM stations; only the Broadcasting Corporation of China (BCC) broadcasts throughout Taiwan.

Recently there has been a growing trend toward purchase of cable television operators by large corporations. In August 2014, it was revealed that the Ting Hsin Group, a major food and distribution company, had reached an agreement on the acquisition of a leading cable television operator, China Network Systems (CNS), for over 60 billion yuan (480 million dollars). CNS is Taiwan’s largest cable television and broadband multiple-systems operator (MSO) with a total of 1.18 million household subscribers. Earlier, the major industry firm Want Want Group, which had acquired the media company China Times Group in 2008, had agreed in 2010 to acquire CNS from the Korean private equity firm MBK Partners, the principal stockholder of CNS, as part of an effort to expand its media business. That acquisition attempt was deadlocked, however, due to strong opposition from journalists and citizen to prevent monopolization of the media by the Want Want Group. It was under these conditions that the Ting Hsin announced its acquisition agreement with CNS in August 2014. In October that year, however, it came to light that the Ting Hsin Group was allegedly mixing animal feed oil with cooking oil for the consumer market. Wei Ying-chung, former chairman of three subsidiaries within the Group was indicted for fraud and forgery and the prosecution demanded a 30-year terms in imprison for the accused. Later, in July 2015, the Far EasTone, a leading telecom operator, announced its plan to acquire CNS, but the Democratic Progressive Party, which won the presidential election and gained control of the Legislative Yuan in January 2016, expresses concern over this move by Far EasTone, which has close relations with Nationalist Party-owned companies.

In November 2015, it came to light that an American subsidiary of a Chinese corporation had bought up the U.S.-based global private equity firm Carlyle Group’s 61 percent stake in Eastern Broadcasting Corp (EBC), a major Taiwan broadcaster, for 370 million dollars. This has created apprehension in the media and among concerned citizens that China might try to exert influence on Taiwan’s media. The stake was purchased in the name of Dan Mintz, CEO of DMG Entertainment, a U.S.-based subsidiary of DMG, a holding company and China’s largest entertainment and media group. The current chairman of DMG is a son of a high-ranking official in the People’s Liberation Army, and some observers suspect that the recent move was meant to make the acquisition prior to the likely regime change given that it had been predicted that the candidate of the Democratic Progressive Party, which favored formal independence from the mainland, would win the January 2016 presidential election.


Hong Kong

Terrestrial television in Hong Kong had two commercial broadcasters as of this writing, Television Broadcasts (TVB) and Asia Television (ATV), and this two-pronged system has been in place for several decades. They each had two analog channels, one in Cantonese and the other in English, and TVB had five digital channels and ATV six. In 2014, however, ATV faced severe financial difficulties. It suffered a business slump in the 1990s, and after businesspeople and corporations from the mainland joined its shareholders to keep it afloat, ATV’s television programs had become increasingly pro-Chinese, incurring displeasure among residents of Hong Kong. Its credibility was severely damaged in 2011 after a false report of former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin’s death. From September 2014 onward, the payment of wages was frequently delayed and its employees resigned one after another. These and other factors affected its television programming, and its news time considerably reduced. Owner of ATV Wang Zheng was reluctant to sell ATV cheaply, however, making it very difficult to find a buyer. Impatient, the Hong Kong government finally announced on April 1, 2015 that ATV’s broadcast license would not be renewed and ordered ATV to cease broadcasting after 1 April, 2016. This will end its 40-some-year history as one of Hong Kong’s major over-the-air broadcasters. ATV’s frequency band for airborne signals and facilities will be used by Viu TV, a subsidiary of NOW Broadband TV, which is to launch its over-the-air broadcasting in April 2016.

Hong Kong’s public broadcaster, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), does not have its own channels and broadcasts the programs it produces through TVB and ATV during part of their evening prime time. These are free-to-air broadcasts. There is also a multichannel pay service, which is operated by i-Cable and Now Broadband TV (Internet Protocol television). As for audio broadcatsing, RTHK has 7 analog channels and Commercial Radio and Metro Broadcast - both being commercial stations – each has 3 analog channels, while DBC and Metro Broadcast, both commercial stations, broadcast on 7 and 3 digital channels respectively. RTHK also broadcasts programs on 5 digital channels, but most of them are the same programs that are aired on its analog channels.

In recent years, due to the expanding influence of the Beijing government, freedom of the press has been declining. In July 2014, the Hong Kong Journalists Association published its annual report titled “Press Freedom Under Siege,” which states that the previous year was “the darkest for press freedom for several decades.” According to this report, press freedom has been continually on the decline since the election of Leung Chun-ying as Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2012. Especially over the previous year, it says, a series of problems that could affect freedom of the media has occurred, including the sacking of Commercial Radio talk-show host Li Wei-ling, who was known for her biting commentaries of the Hong Kong government, and the Hong Kong government’s decision, without giving any particular reasons, not to issue a free-to-air television license to Hong Kong Television Network. To deal with the situation, the Hong Kong Journalists Association has announced its plan to establish a “self-censorship commission” to investigate complaints about the self-censorship of media organizations and make the results of investigation available to the public as part of the effort to protect press freedom.

While Hong Kong’s established media organizations are said to show a stronger tendency to exercise voluntary restraint out of consideration for the mainland government, Internet media companies have been proliferating in Hong Kong. Notably, there are already estimated to be more than 50 Internet radio stations. MyRadio and D100, in particular, said to belong politically to the radical democratic camp, presumably had a great influence on the “umbrella democracy movement” in September 2014. It can be said that Internet radio stations, which need no license from the government to operate, make some contribution to securing freedom of speech and preserving diversity in Hong Kong.

Kenichi Yamada

Head of Overseas Research, Media Research & Studies Division, NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute

Graduated from Hitotsubashi University
Bachelor of Economics
Started to work at NHK in 1984 as a correspondent
Turned to become a media analyst in 2002
Covering mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan

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