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JAMCO Online International Symposium

25th JAMCO Online International Symposium

December 2016 - June 2017

The Current State and Challenges of International Broadcasting in Key Countries

China’s International Television Broadcasting and Internal and External Challenges

Zhou Qian
Associate professor, Graduate School of International Media, Communication, and Tourism Studies, Hokkaido University

Enhancing the transmission of television broadcasting in other countries is directly linked to how a country can gain greater say, convey what it wants to say, increase its influence, and strengthen its soft power in the intensely competitive global media. It will also closely relate to a country’s international image and, more importantly, to its core interests in political, economic, and diplomatic affairs.

The internationalization of Chinese television can be traced back to the 1950s, and from the end of the 1970s onward, it was clearly accelerated with progress in the implementation of the economic reform and open door policy. There is no doubt that the state television network China Central Television (CCTV) is the pioneer in this development. In the 1960s–70s, CCTV formed a collaborative alliance with television broadcasters in 33 countries and territories and engaged in exchanges with them. In the 1980s, CCTV-produced programs such as Glimpses of China and English News began broadcasting in many countries, and in 1992, CCTV-4 was officially launched as an international channel featuring a mixture of English and Chinese programming. In 2000, the international English language channel CCTV-9 was launched, and in 2004 CCTV-E&F, a Spanish and French language channel. The Great Wall TV Platform, a multichannel package of programming for North America began that same year, for Asia in 2005, and for Europe in 2006. In 2007, CCTV-4 became the Mandarin channel targeting overseas Chinese audiences and was split into the three editions for the Asian, European, and American continents, respectively. CCTV-E&F was also divided into Spanish and French channels. That year, the Great Wall TV Platform for Canada was started. In 2008, CCTV-9 began separate broadcasts in Asia, Europe, and North America, and in 2009 CCTV launched its Arabic and Russian language channels. In 2011, with a view to increasing its voice in the world and becoming a first-rate world media organization, CCTV reorganized CCTV-9 (English) as its flagship channel for overseas broadcasting, and launched CCTV News, China’s first 24-hour English news channel and the first news channel in English for Chinese communities around the world. CCTV News aims at a closer relationship with the rest of Asia and its objectives are to express “China’s point of view, the Asian perspective, and aims in internationalization,” in order to influence Asian public opinion, on par with BBC and CNN. In this way, CCTV has sought to cement its place as a global media organization by providing many international channels and building a multi-language broadcasting network. Despite China’s global position as a great power today, however, its television industry still has but limited influence in international society. Lacking a media outlet to rival top world broadcasters like CNN and BBC, China has yet to resolve this imbalance.

Nevertheless, CCTV and other Chinese television broadcasters have produced fairly significant achievements in the area of international broadcasting over the last several years. These are the result of the development of the Chinese television industry to meet the challenges of information globalization. This report looks back on the progress of internationalization of Chinese television and shows how CCTV has taken the lead in that endeavor with regional television broadcasters playing a supporting role. It then analyzes the internal and external challenges China faces in television broadcasting abroad.


Chinese international television broadcasting has steadily expanded in the following four periods.

The Beginning Period (1958–1965)

Early initiatives by Chinese television to extend its voice internationally took the form mainly of movie films mailed to foreign broadcasters to report news about China. In 1958, Beijing Television was founded. (Its name was changed to CCTV in 1978; today’s Beijing Television is of different origin.) The programs mailed out in this early period dealt with major domestic news stories, reports about major construction projects, and views of daily life in China, accompanied by commentaries in Chinese, Russian, or English. The first program distributed abroad was a “special report on the First Session of the 2nd National People’s Congress” held on April 21, 1959. It was a 7-minute program. In 1960 Beijing Television began mailing abroad programs celebrating Chinese New Year’s—the so-called “New Year programs.” By 1965 it had distributed a total of 473 programs abroad.

The Turbulent Period (1966–1977)

On January 6, 1967 CCTV broadcasting was suspended and resumed on February 4 as the Rebel Faction, the most radical faction of the Red Guards in the Cultural Revolution, seized power. During this second period the Cultural Revolution imposed its ideological slant on the basic policy and actual management of the international broadcasting of Chinese television. International broadcasting continued to take the form of “export of films,” and these films were produced under the supervision of Jiang Qing and her group, in accordance with the erroneous policy of centering on “ourselves” and “on the leftist faction.” The export films were intended to propagate the ultra-leftist ideas of “making ourselves the core” and “down with all reactionary authorities!,” and these self-praising films were forced upon broadcasters abroad. The commentaries of the films tended to be dominated by political slogans and high-sounding words that were far from reality. Such propaganda films acclaiming the Cultural Revolution were sent out in great quantities, with little consideration of how they would be received or awareness of what conditions were like in the countries where they might be seen. Many countries, therefore, returned the films and some sent protests, refusing to be recipients.

The Early Growth Period (1978–1991)

After the 3rd Plenary Session of the 11th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, held in 1978, China’s international television broadcasting gradually got back on a more reasonable track. It can be said to have entered its early growth period, extending to 1991. There were two major developments during that period. 

Mail Distribution of Programs, Joint Channel Management, Channel Leasing

In 1978, CCTV entered into an agreement with a British news agency (Weixin Xinwenshe) to purchase each other’s newsfilms. In 1979, it signed a similar agreement with United Press International Television News (UPITN), an agency jointly managed by U.S. and British companies. At that time, these two agencies recorded CCTV’s news program Xinwen Lianbo (News Simulcast) in Hong Kong and distributed it to some organizations in the world. Starting in 1980, CCTV concluded a contract with U.S. media organizations separately for purchase of programs from them and at the same time began providing them with CCTV programs. It also commissioned a Hong Kong company (Dongming Qiye) to copy and sell tapes of programs on the theme of Chinese television. In June 1989, however, in the wake of the Tiananmen Incident, Chinese television broadcasting abroad suffered a setback. Television stations operated by Chinese in North America all stopped airing CCTV programs and also suspended CCTV English programming for a year. From the 1989 lesson the Chinese government learned the importance of external publicity and installed an Information Office in the State Council to be responsible for China’s overseas public operations. In 1990, a national conference on external public relations was held, adopting a resolution to increase the capability of Chinese television stations to provide information about China to the world. In July 1991, an external liaison center was established at CCTV. Around that time, CCTV formed a relationship for supply of programs with PANDA TV in Los Angeles and other television stations. It thus gradually restored a program supply relationship with Chinese-language television stations abroad, with special emphasis on distribution of news. The CCTV center for external affairs developed a new project for broadcasting English-language programs on television stations outside China. In addition, to introduce to audiences abroad what was actually happening with China’s economic reform and open-door policy, CCTV produced the news program Zhongguo Baodao (Chinese News) for external audiences, and aired the English version of the Jinri Zhongguo (China Today), a program centered on the Zhongguo Baodao, in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other cities at a fixed hour every week. A French version was also aired on the France 3 channel at fixed intervals. With subsequent advancements in satellite communications technology, advanced program transmission methods were adopted. In July 1991, a CCTV program was sent to a Russian geostationary satellite at 96 degrees 5 minutes east longitude for the first time. In January 1992, CCTV began transmitting its one-hour Chinese and English programs to the United States via satellite every day and a Chicago television station used Ku- and C-band satellite services that enabled audiences throughout North America same-day viewing of broadcasts on important news taking place in China via CCTV. Starting in the 1990s, regional television stations in China joined in the international broadcasting endeavor. In April 1991, Shanghai Television, together with a San Francisco company, founded the television station Huasheng Dianshitai and began broadcasting on Channel 66 in San Francisco. On this channel, in addition to a 10- to 15-minute news program, Zhongguo Xianwen, Shanghai Television presented daily such programs as the Shenzhou Fengcai describing the history, society, sentiments, and other aspects of Chinese life. China’s international broadcasting during this period, however, was mainly through distribution by mail of program recordings and short-term lease of channels, so external broadcasting was not very effective. Broadcasting time was short, coverage was small, and viewing rates were low. News tended to lose its freshness in the process of going through the mail.

Joint Production with Foreign Broadcasters

The second major development in the “early growth period” was the broadcasting abroad of television programs filmed and produced jointly with foreign broadcasters. Over more than a decade from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, CCTV produced over ten major television programs jointly with broadcasters in Japan, the United States, West Germany, and the United Kingdom. The joint production of programs with foreign broadcasters in those days was of two types, so-called “hepai” (joint) and “xiepai” (cooperative). With the former type, the foreign broadcaster provides the funds and, together with the Chinese side, hires the production crew, works out a joint plan, and films same material. For the production phase after that each side does the editing separately and creates its own program. With the “xiepai” type, the foreign side not only provides funds but makes requests at the time of filming while the Chinese side provides support such as serving as liaison, receiving foreign staff, and translating/interpreting. Many of the programs thus produced had a tremendous impact on foreign viewers. This was especially the case with programs made with the Japanese side. The Silk Road was a major documentary series CCTV co-produced with NHK for the first time. The filming of the series lasted from August 1979 to May 1981, traveling thousands of kilometers within China. The Silk Road was widely acclaimed in Japan, setting off a Silk Road boom (e.g., many Japanese visited China on Silk Road tours). Following the success of that series, CCTV co-produced a major documentary on the Yangtze River with Japan’s Sada Kikaku company in 1981–1983. It also co-produced the documentary Yellow River with NHK again in 1985–1988.

The Full Growth Period (1992 to the Present)

China’s international television broadcasting made great strides in the period from 1992 to the present. Until 1991 CCTV overseas broadcasting had been offered mainly by overseas distribution of program tapes free of charge. Since 1992 a number of sales networks for program tapes have been formed, in North America, Western Europe, Southeast Asia, and Australasia as well as Taiwan and Hong Kong. Major achievements during this period are as follows:

The Era of Multi-language, Multi-channel Transmission

In October 1992, CCTV officially launched its first satellite service for overseas audiences on CCTV-4. This was an important milestone in the history of Chinese international broadcasting. By then, CCTV-4 broadcasting reached more than 80 countries and territories, including those in Asia, Australasia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East, as well as Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau. In October 1997, K-band satellite transmission enabled broadcasts to North America, where viewers could directly view programs if they had a one-meter diameter dish antenna. The shift from mail distribution of program tapes to direct-to-home service via satellite enabled timely viewing of news programs and a large quantitative increase in broadcast information. In September 2002, CCTV-4 revised its programming under the themes of more news, spreading culture and selecting of the best, mainly targeting Taiwan. It made a further, major revision of programming in January 2006. The basic strategy of this revision was for external broadcasting to be founded on the idea of “getting closer to viewers’ reality, to their needs, and to their customs,” and improvements were made in channel composition, independent production of programs, selection of quality programs, color performance, and so forth, with a view to making CCTV-4 a more attractive channel for viewers in Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as well as for Chinese living in other parts of the world. In January 2007, as mentioned earlier, CCTV-4 was divided into three regional editions, CCTV-4 Asia, CCTV-4 Europe, and CCTV-4 America.

In the 1990s, meanwhile, province-level television stations began launching channels for overseas viewers or airing programs abroad via satellite. In January 1994 Zhejiang Television set out to broadcast in more than 40 neighboring countries and territories on its satellite channel. In 1997 Heilongjiang Television’s satellite channel provided its programs to over 50 countries and territories in the Asia-Pacific region using Asia-Sat 2, and today Heilongjiang Television programs can also be viewed in Los Angeles and 21 other cities in the United States as well as in major cities in Australia and New Zealand. In January 2002, Shanghai Oriental Television (formerly Shanghai Television) became the second Chinese broadcaster (after CCTV) to receive permission from the Japanese government to broadcast throughout Japan by signing an agreement with the Japanese satellite television company STV-Japan. In May 2009, Hunan Television launched an overseas channel and also entered the American, European, and Asian markets using channels offered by CCTV’s Great Wall TV Platform. In January 2010 Guangxi Television started to operate an overseas channel and on the same day CNC (China Xinhua News Network Corporation), run by the Xinhua News Agency, officially began airing via satellite in the Asia-Pacific region and some parts of Europe. Other overseas satellite channels from China include Beijing Satellite (short for Beijing Television Satellite Channel; similar abbreviations apply to the following), Shanghai Oriental, Guangdong Nanfang, Jiangsu, Xijiang, Amoy, Fujian Haixia, Hunan, Zhongguo Huanghe, Shenzhen, Chongqing, Anhui, and Heilongjiang satellite channels. Today, CCTV and more than dozen regional television broadcasters run overseas channels and over 20 Chinese channels are available abroad. Chinese-language television channels are going abroad one after another and China’s foreign-language channels have been appearing at a remarkable pace.

On June 27, 1997 CCTV’s English-language channel for overseas viewers began test broadcasting and on September 25, 2000 official service started. This channel underwent a major reform on May 8, 2004 with foreign personnel employed as newscasters. The reform at that time featured a major shift in broadcasting policy from “getting the world to understand China, making China world-oriented, and opening a window to the world for better knowledge of China” to “a global perspective, China’s point of view, and windows on the world.” The core of the reform was to have two “windows”: to the previous window, open for international society to understand China, one more window was added, though which China would better understand the world.

In October 2004, CCTV launched a Spanish- and French-language channel, as mentioned above. Adopting digital compression technology, CCTV covered the entire world using such satellites as PamAmSat 8, 9, and 10, Galaxy 3C, and Asia-Sat 3C. In October 2007 the Spanish-French channel was officially separated into CCTV-F (an overseas French-language channel) and CCTV-E (an overseas Spanish-language channel). In 2009 CCTV’s Arabic and Russian language channels for overseas viewers were launched in July and in September, respectively. In April 2010, its overseas English channel was reorganized into CCTV-News, China’s first foreign-language news channel. In July that year the China Xinhua News Network Corporation launched its English-language channel.

Steady Expansion of Overseas Broadcasting

With the cooperation of the governments and private sector of other countries China’s international broadcasting significantly expanded its coverage during the period from 1992 to the present. In November 1992, CCTV, with the cooperation of Dr. Tsui Tsin-tong, a Hong Kong entrepreneur, founded a satellite television station in London, with a broadcast area covering all of Europe and North Africa via a European satellite channel. In August 1993, with the U.S.-based 3C Group—consisting of Phillips, Sony, and Pioneer—CCTV founded a satellite television station (Meizhou Dongfang Satellite Broadcaster) in the United States with coverage extending to the United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean. This broke through the monopoly on broadcasting in North America held by a Taiwan-backed satellite television (Beimei Satellite Broadcaster) network since the 1970s. In 1995 CCTV signed a lease with PamNamSat, which enabled the Meizhou Dongfang Satellite Broadcaster to directly receive CCTV’s overseas channels. Subsequently Australia’s SBS channel (for aboriginal people) and Channel 9, Hong Kong’s i-Cable, and other television stations began broadcasting CCTV-4 (Chinese-language channel). In June 1995 CCTV signed an agreement of cooperation with ACTV in the United States and from the day of the signing, ACTV began airing CCTV English news, feature segments, and entertainment programs on 64 channels in San Francisco for one hour every day (for three hours from November 1997). In May 1997, a South African television station (Duoxuan Television) aired CCTV-4 programs via PamNamSat-4 and Hot Bird 3, and thereby CCTV programs were made available via digital satellite throughout Africa and Europe. In October, CCTV-4 covered North America using the American satellite Galaxy 4; viewers in North America could directly view CCTV-4 with a dish antenna of less than 1-meter diameter. That year CCTV covered Latin America, the last region remaining for it to cover. First, in November it expanded to TVA, one of Brazil’s largest direct-to-home satellite television networks, and then, in December Mexico’s Televisa broadcast CCTV-4 programs in the Spanish-speaking regions in the world via the SKY satellite television network.

In August 1998 CCTV and several Japanese broadcasters such as Fuji Television Network jointly established the pay-television channel CCTV Daifu, with the Japanese direct-to-home satellite broadcasting service SKY PerfecTV! providing Chinese programs to households in Japan. CCTV Daifu mainly relayed CCTV-4 programs and sometimes inserted original programs targeted at Japan. In 2000, in cooperation with a Norwegian communications company, CCTV began airing CCTV-9 programs through the direct-to-home service Canal Digital. That year CCTV-4 content was incorporated into the direct-to-home platforms named in Chinese Feicui Hudong and Zhonghua Dianshiwang, in Australia and New Zealand respectively, enabling viewing by Chinese communities in these countries. In 2001, under the cooperation of China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), CCTV signed an agreement with the American media companies Time Warner and News Corp, which incorporated CCTV-9 content into cable networks in some U.S. cities and direct-to-home platforms in the United States. At the same time, [Hong Kong-based] STAR and CETV (China Entertainment Television) began distributing their programs to cable networks in Guangdong Province, pioneering in forming reciprocal relationships with media organizations abroad. In early March 2003, CCTV-9 began broadcasting on the direct-to-home satellite service platforms Britain’s BSkyB and France’s TPS simultaneously, for a total coverage of nearly 10 million households in the two countries. In September, via NileSat it covered more than 3 million households in Egypt and the Middle East area.

Starting in 2004, China’s international television aimed to broadcast mainly on channels under the Great Wall TV Platform, which was set up in the same year. The Great Wall TV Platform is a satellite television platform established through collaboration of more than 10 Chinese television stations and overseas media companies, with CCTV’s subsidiary station (Guoji Dianshi) taking charge of channel packaging so as to promote Chinese media penetration into the world media market. In October 2004 the Great Wall TV package for the United States, operated on a business basis with households directly receiving channels via satellite, started. This was a major case of the successful overseas penetration of Chinese television channels. The Great Wall TV Platform consisted of 19 channels and 12 television stations. (The number of channels increased to 22 as of April 2010.) These channels, covering a total of 1.5 million households, were CCTV channels (CCTV-4, CCTV-9, Spanish-French channel, theater, entertainment and Chinese film channels), Beijing, Shanghai Oriental, Guangdong Nanfang, Jiangsu, Amoy, Fujian Haixia, Hunan, and Zhongguo Huanghe satellite channels, Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV US, Phoenix Information, ATV Home (U.S.), and Huaxia. As of April 4, 2008, 66,247 households were using the Great Wall TV Platform-America. In February 2005, the platform started in Asia, too, but was not operated on a business basis. The Great Wall TV Platform-Asia consisted of 11 channels, including not only CCTV channels (CCTV-4, CCTV-9, CCTV Theater) but regional satellite channels; it covered Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as well as Japan, Republic of Korea, Myanmar, Thailand, and other countries. In July 2005, CCTV-9 began broadcasting on Sky TV, New Zealand’s main pay-television operator, covering 700,000 households. In August 2006, the Great Wall TV Platform-Europe’s 14 channels began broadcasting in France using the Internet Protocol television (IPTV) service—for the first time the Great Wall platform became available to households through IPTV. The number of Platform-Europe viewers in France was 11,824 as of the end of February 2008. The Great Wall TV Platform-Canada, made up of nine channels including CCTV and Shanghai Oriental and Beijing satellite channels, got permission to broadcast in Canada in December 2006 and as of the end of February 2008 the number of household viewers was 7,663. In February 2007, CCTV and the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) signed an agreement for cooperation between them so that KBS would promote CCTV-9 by airing its content in Korea via cable television. In January 2008, the Great Wall TV Platform-Latin America officially started, a total of 13 channels including CCTV and regional television stations bundled into a package. In September 2009, the Great Wall TV Platform-Southeast Asia launched on IPTV platforms, its package including CCTV-4, CCTV-9, and CCTV’s theater, entertainment, and Chinese film channels as well as regional television satellite channels.

As of March 2010, the number of households of Great Wall TV platforms outside China exceeded 100,000. By comparison, EchoStar, an American satellite services provider—among its users being CCTV-9 and CCTV’s Spanish channel—had 14 million households and the French IPTV operator, used by CCTV’s French channel, had 5.5 million households. As of the end of January 2010, CCTV, with the cooperation of 258 companies in the world in exporting the content of its six overseas channels, carried out 336 projects including broadcasting on a channel basis and broadcasting specific programs. By so doing, CCTV was broadcast in 140 countries and territories. The total number of households viewing CCTV on a channel basis outside China was 132.48 million.

Of this penetration of the overseas media, there were 85 cases by CCTV-4 on a channel basis, and it was viewed in 95 countries and territories, with 15 million households with access to the channel. Similarly, with CCTV-9 the figures were 129 cases, 96 countries and territories, and 84.39 million households; with CCTV-French 20 cases, 36 countries and territories, 10.16 million households; the Spanish channel 17 cases, 13 countries and territories, 15.82 million households; the Arabic channel 2 cases, 6 million households; and the Russian channel 8 cases and 1.11 million households.

Internal Woes and External Challenges

As discussed above, China has made great leaps forward in its international broadcasting, but it nevertheless has considerable internal and external problems to overcome. Externally, circumstances are not very favorable, with many impediments to overseas penetration. Internally, Chinese television itself does not necessarily satisfy its domestic audiences.

External Problems

Today more than 90 percent of news broadcasting in the world is conducted by the media in seven major Western countries, and 70 percent of it is controlled by multinational corporations. The United States makes up 75 percent of television program production in the world. In this regard, there is a vast gap in terms of information transmission between the United States and China. There are gaps in cultural and ideological terms, too, between China’s broadcasting industry and that of the United States and other major countries. China has been sending out news information mainly through foreign media agencies with branches in China and Chinese media news organizations with branches overseas. For Chinese news organizations abroad, there is a need to overcome ideological and cultural gaps in providing information across national boundaries. This requires not only improvements in infrastructure but in the “soft power” that can make up for difficulties stemming from differences in culture and political systems.

Internal Problems

Among all countries in the world China has the largest number of foreign-language television channels for overseas audiences, but those channels do not exercise much influence abroad, mainly for two reasons. One is the predominance of Western media in international information distribution. Even when information is transmitted by Chinese media, it does not easily reach audiences. The other reason is that even if the information reaches the audience it is not easily accepted because of its subjective and conservative nature. Specifically, there are six main problems, as follows.

Confusion of “Broadcasting” and “Propaganda”

Some of those who lead and work in Chinese television broadcasting confuse the ideas of “broadcasting” and “propaganda.” In Chinese culture today “propaganda” holds positive meaning. In Western culture, whereas “broadcasting” means transmitting abroad the content aired at home, “propaganda” has strong political connotations and is so negative in meaning that it is almost tantamount to “fabrication” or “deception.”

With increasing exchange with the West, China has grown more cautious about the use of “propaganda.” But the positive uses of propaganda are deeply entrenched in its thinking. The propagandistic approaches expressed domestically are more or less reflected in external broadcasting. For example, CCTV-News still is not free of the constraints of propaganda despite the many years it has been broadcasting abroad. For one thing, the main theme of news aired abroad by CCTV-News almost always centers around “China” and is shaped by the preconceived notion that its viewers are ordinary people of the West who do not understand China well. As a result, its news tends to be shallow and insufficient in detail. For another thing, when reporting abroad about important news abroad, CCTV-News always says “China” frequently in its introduction. Chinese broadcasting abroad retains such ideas as “reporting only good news” and “not allowing mention abroad of bad information about home,” and these practices are detrimental to the long-term, overseas expansion of CCTV-News.

Blurry Distinction between Internal and External Reporting

Most of China’s television news broadcasts abroad follow the standardized patterns of domestic reporting and pay little attention to differences in overseas viewers’ linguistic ability, customs, and cultural traditions. The greatest difference between external and internal broadcasting lies in the viewers. Viewers outside China, including overseas Chinese, differ vastly from domestic viewers in many regards—language, manners and customs, way of living, values, religious beliefs, and political situation. This should require the Chinese media to make a clear distinction between external and domestic reporting. The conditions of the countries and territories covered by China’s broadcasting vary, so the content of broadcasting should not be the same.

Domestic-Broadcast Personnel Prioritized

A problem across the board in external broadcasting is the unsatisfactory distribution and ability of personnel, resulting in lack of stability in broadcasting teams. CCTV and other Chinese major media organizations clearly suffer a lack of personnel qualified for external news broadcasting. The staff of the CCTV-Arabic channel as of March 2010 was less than 100. The level of staff ability, especially for foreign-language channels, is also low. Compared with the staff for domestic-broadcast television stations, the level of qualifications required of external-broadcast personnel is much higher.

External-broadcast staff are required to have not only foreign language ability but familiarity with television operations and, even more importantly, with the rules, features, and technology of external broadcasts. They should be knowledgeable about the peculiarities of overseas viewers with different social and cultural background from themselves and their information needs. Most personnel lack such abilities, however, most being graduates of foreign language programs, but without any systematic study of television-related matters or systematic training in external broadcasting practice. Besides, there is a high turnover in staff at external broadcast channels, especially foreign-language channels, compared to domestic channels, further undermining broadcast team stability abroad. The main reason is poor working conditions for external broadcasting staff. Within the dual structure of Chinese television as both public institution and enterprise, there are gaps in status, job conditions, and future prospects between broadcast personnel at home and abroad.

Inadequate Research on Viewers and Broadcast Impact

As far as external broadcasting is concerned, while domestic viewers are generally known based on the findings of sample surveys and statistical analysis conducted at home, little has been known about overseas viewers, for it is extremely difficult to measure them in quantitative terms. At this stage in time at least, Chinese television media capabilities in this regard are far from sufficient. Complicating matters further, with the rapid spread of Internet media many overseas viewers view television programs via the Internet. It is difficult for television media to incorporate Internet viewers into rating and other viewer-related surveys. 

Surveys and research on viewers and study of the effects of broadcasting are essential in order to promote international television broadcasting. China’s overseas channels may be well informed about “sender(broadcaster),” “information,” and “media,” but know little about their viewers and the impact of their programming. Herein lie the major reasons for inadequate external broadcasts. China’s overseas—especially foreign-language—channels cannot produce effective results for lack of study and understanding of the varied conditions of the countries and territories of their viewers, differences of local people, political, economic, and social diversity, as well as values, religions, thinking, and lifestyles different from Chinese. Broadcasting is largely based on imagination and speculation, and the content and means of broadcasting do not take into account the characteristics of viewers. Such broadcasting cannot be effective and, worse, can offend viewers.

Chinese television has almost no grasp of broadcast impact. Every year, state-related entities and media organizations pour massive human resources and money into overseas penetration of foreign-language channels, but they have not conducted long-term, periodic surveys concerning broadcast impact. This makes it difficult to expect any improvement in the content and means of broadcasting. The fundamental reason for all this is that China’s external broadcast systems are still weak. For instance, for several years after the launch of its first overseas channel in 1992 CCTV had no office to conduct surveys and research concerning “viewers” and “impact”; finally in 1997 a viewer liaison office was set up within the CCTV’s Overseas Program Center to which the CCTV overseas channels belonged. From then up to the present, the office has kept in contact with viewers abroad, collected and organized their responses, and conducted relevant surveys. With a staff of only four, however, its performance, systemization, and credibility is limited.

Insufficient Market Differentiation and Handling of Viewer Needs

Viewers of television abroad are ordinarily people of different countries and different cultural backgrounds. Even viewers who are Chinese may be working or off work at different times of day from the home country. External broadcasting requires a differentiation strategy considering differences by country, by culture, and by time zone. For example, for its overseas channels CNN has four types of programming, differentiated according to region of service. The European edition is organized around Berlin time, the Latin American edition is keyed to Buenos Aires time, and the American edition follows Atlanta time, i.e., U.S. Eastern standard time. The Asian edition is further divided into 13 countries and territories including Japan, Australia, Thailand, and Taiwan, using the local time in each case. CCTV-4 has three editions world wide—American, European, and Asian—and its other external channels have just started efforts toward “differentiation.”

Another notable difference between external and internal broadcasting is the rules of market competition. When Chinese channels enter an overseas market they have to follow its rules and, on the other hand, they have to tailor their “products” to suit overseas consumers. There are two effective paths for acceptance of Chinese television programs among foreign viewers. One is to market programs that proved successful domestically. The other is to produce programs tailored to the characteristics of viewers abroad. It is necessary to understand overseas viewers’ tastes and the range of acceptable values and find out what elements of Chinese culture appeal to foreign viewers. Chinese channels also have to identify the intersections of Chinese culture and foreign culture and where they agree and overlap. Dividing the television market into domestic, international, global, overseas Chinese, European/American, Japanese, Korean, Southeast Asian, Arab, and other markets, they have to develop different content for the different markets.

Lack of Horizontal Ties

On the state level, China’s international television broadcasting lacks coordination with other media industries. In Britain, for example, the BBC conducts both international radio and television broadcasting. Major American global media organizations simultaneously operate television, radio, movies, magazines, newspapers, and Internet services. In China, there is as yet no systematic coordination even among media organizations offering international channels. They separately distribute Chinese content overseas, with little sharing or coordination of “people, goods, and money” and news information resources. Sometimes there is grueling competition among Chinese media organizations themselves. These features weaken the effect of China’s globalization of television. Compared with the advanced countries of the West, China has many problems in terms of the operational management of television. Individual organizations often fail to utilize the potential of their human and other resources or to take full advantage of their strong points; this prevents the government from providing fully effective strategic guidance. They suffer from high management costs, low efficiency, and lack of functions for achieving long-term effect. For example, there are no horizontal ties among the Xinhua News Agency, CCTV, China Radio International (CRI), People’s Daily Overseas Edition, China News Service, China Daily, China International Publishing Group, and other state-level media organizations. For lack of lateral communication they cannot take concerted action or work together in broadcasting overseas. Similar problems prevail with the overseas channels. Major provinces and municipalities, for example, have overseas television channels, but there are no horizontal ties among them, making it difficult to make concerted efforts by drawing on each other’s strengths. The Chinese government does not have a system for supervising international broadcasts or building a cooperative and reciprocal relationship among the overseas channels. There should be some coordination among these channels so that they can cultivate separate, distinctive roles in serving their respective target viewers, coverage areas, and languages.

Some channels aspire to go global and seek to increase their share in the world market, focusing on a brand strategy and endeavoring to follow neutral and independent editorial policies. Others follow the government line, transmitting state policy information and conveying China’s position in the attempt to influence members of the elite in other countries. Still others seek to compete with high quality broadcasts, making their mark by professionalism, targeting highly professional people, and providing them with expert knowledge and analysis and a distinctive point of view.

Content needs to be differentiated. Not all overseas television channels can become big and all-inclusive like CNN or the BBC, and so each channel should exhibit its own strengths and distinctive character. With regard to the objectives of news broadcasting overseas, there ought to be a unified criteria for planning and assignment of resources. By establishing a new overall structure and operational mechanism Chinese overseas channels can join forces, and, further joined by the overseas public relations divisions of the central and regional governments and Chinese embassies in other countries, China can break new ground in international broadcasting. By bringing together the resources for overseas broadcasting from throughout the country and effectively combining local news from various parts of the country, overseas public relations information issued by the government, and cultural resources, China should more effectively boost the internationalization of its television media.


China’s international broadcasting has made great strides, to be sure, but it still faces many challenges. There is a very long way to go before it can fulfill its mission. While speeding up the process of internationalization, it is necessary for individual broadcasters to improve their own organizational structures, present distinctive features of their broadcasting, enhance their international competitiveness, and increase their say and influence.

China’s leading broadcaster, CCTV, in particular should make further efforts to produce original programs, enhance its ability to gather and edit overseas news, build a global news reporting network, and hone its capability for investigative new. It should also bolster cooperative relations with major media organizations in the world and strive for effective sharing of resources with them. CCTV should promote relations with television stations in Asia and developing countries in other regions; by sharing news resources with them it can expand the scope of its overseas broadcasting. Such cooperation should bring win-win outcomes for both sides, bringing the voices of China and other parts of Asia to world attention. An enhanced level of openness in overseas broadcasting will also be necessary for the greater internationalization of Chinese television.

Even at the present time, political propaganda and bureaucratic red tape continue to hinder efforts by Chinese television to open up new territory in the overseas market. They are a great disadvantage to Chinese television in attempting to compete in the international media market. CCTV comes under the guidance of both the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Propaganda Department and SARFT (State Administration of Radio, Film and Television). When it comes to specific problems it may also be guided by the State Council Information Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Under such a system, it is inevitable that CCTV programs will be branded as part of the political propaganda of the Chinese government. Subject to restrictions on its activities from various quarters, CCTV cannot act independently. Given the cult of “freedom of the press” and “independence of the media” in the West, therefore, it is difficult, to win the trust of many overseas viewers. What needs to be done above anything else is to make China’s international broadcasting system much more open, thereby enabling Chinese television to explore new ground overseas for itself and build a media industry suitable for China’s current status in international society.


  • Bi Renke, “Zhongyang Dianshitai xinwen pindao guoji xinwen baodao yanjiu” [A Study of International News Reporting of CCTV News Channel], M.A. thesis, Hunan University, October 15, 2013.
  • Shu Shi, “Guojihua jincheng shi ru pozhu” [A Remarkable Process of Internationalization], Guanggao daobao, 2007, pp. 16–18.
  • Sun Baoguo, Zhongguo dianshi duiwai chuanbo yanjiu [A Study of China’s Overseas Television Broadcasting], Zhongguo Guangbo Dianshi Chubanshe (China Radio and Television Publishing House), 2014.
  • Wang Honglei, “Cong meiti daguo dao meiti qiangguo: Qianlun Zhongyang Dianshitai de guojihua zhanlue” [From a Media Power to a Media Giant: qianlun CCTV’s Internationalization Strategy], Xinwen aihaozhe 23 (2009), pp. 11–12.
  • Wei Yi, “Duoyu chuanbo yu guoji ronghe: Cong Zhongyang Dianshitai duoyu pindao tantao woguo meiti de duiwai chuanbo” [Multi-language Broadcasting and International Harmony: Chinese Media’s Overseas Penetration As Seen from CCTV’s Multi-language Broadcasting], M.A. thesis, Sichuan University, April 8, 2007.
  • Yang Shiwang, “Shiwang 7 Shi guoji baodao yu duiwai xuanchuan wushi nian” [Shiwang 7: Fifty Years of International Broadcasting and Overseas Publicizing], Accessed July 30, 2009.

*Links are for posted items. It is possible that some items are not currently available or are being edited.

Zhou Qian

Associate professor, Graduate School of International Media, Communication, and Tourism Studies, Hokkaido University

She holds a doctoral degree in Interdisciplinary Information Studies, University of Tokyo. She was a visiting professor, University of British Columbia Department of Sociology 2015.9-2015.10.

Her areas of specialization are media sociology and China-Japan comparative sociology.

Among her major publications (in Japanese) are:

Bokko suru Higashi Ajia no chusan kaikyu [The Rise of the Middle Class in East Asia], co-editor/co-author, Keiso Shobo, 2012
Higashi Ajia Kankougaku: Manazashi, Basho, Shuudan[Tourism in East Asia: Gaze, Splace and group], co-editor/co-author, Aki Shobo, forthcoming (March 2017)
Soki to bokyaku no katachi: Kioku no media bunka kenkyu [Forms of Recollection and Oblivion: A Study of Media Culture in Memory], co-editor/co-author, Sangensha, forthcoming (March 2017).

She is also author of many articles including:

“Konnichi no Chugoku shakai ni okeru ‘chusan kaiso dorama’ no juyo” [Acceptance of “Middle Class [Television] Dramas” in Chinese Society Today], Masu komyunikeshon kenkyu[Studies of Mass Communication], 2009
“Chugoku no ‘chusan kaiso’ to sono media imeji: Gurobaru na shiten kara no kento” [The Chinese “Middle Class” and Its Image in the Media: A Global Perspective], Nenpo shakaigaku ronshu [Annual Review of Sociology], 2010
“‘Midoru kurasu’ no saiko: Shakai-kochiku-shugi to mediagaku no shiten kara rikai mokei o teiji suru” [Reconsideration of the “Middle Class”: Proposing a New Model from the Viewpoint of Social Constructivism], Johogaku kenkyu [Journal of Information Studies], 2013
“The Social Stratification of Residential Space As Represented by the Media: A Comparative Study of Chinese and Japanese Real Estate TV Commercials,” Social Implications of the City Space, Tongji University, 2015
“Jutaku kokoku ni okeru kaiso imeji: Gendai Chugoku no jirei o chushin ni” [The Social Stratification of Residential Space As Created by Real Estate Ads], Chugoku kenkyu geppo [Monthly Journal of Chinese Affairs], 2016
“Foreign Travels of Members of the Chinese Middle Class and Self Construction in Social Media,” Asia Review, vol.7, no.2, 2016.

Past Symposiums

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