CCTV, 1.2 billion viewers strong | INA Global

CCTV, 1.2 billion viewers strong

Article  by  Norah TWIZELL  •  Published 07.01.2011  •  Updated 18.01.2011
With 19 public channels and more than 400 programmes, China Central Television (CCTV) is the country’s most important state broadcaster and news broadcasting company.

Summary

 With 19 public channels and more than 400 programmes, China Central Television (CCTV) is the country’s most important state broadcaster and news broadcasting company. Despite the existence of numerous other TV stations in the country (there are around 400 provincial and municipal – satellite and cable – stations in China), CCTV remains “the main news source for the Chinese people. It is also an important window for the Chinese to learn about the outside world”.  
 
CCTV (originally Beijing TV) was founded in 1958 and at the time broadcast on a single channel a few hours a week in the Beijing region. In 1978, it was rebranded CCTV. Since then, the state broadcaster's number of channels, programmes and viewers, as well as its profits, have increased exponentially. CCTV now has the world's largest audience: 1.2 billion people or 95.6% of China's total population. In recent years, CCTV has launched a certain number of pay channels, as well as an Internet Protocol Television (IPTV). Its programmes, shows and TV series are available in more than 120 countries and regions.
 
Between 1958 and 1978, CCTV was the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and entirely relied on state subsidies[+] NoteFrom 1978 on, China opened up and a series of economic reforms targeting a wide range of sectors in the economy were launched by China’s Premier Deng Xiaoping.X [1]. CCTV underwent a series of reforms: reorganization of its internal financial resources system, programmes and strategies. The state withdrew its subsidies to most media outlets and advertising became the main source of income for the state broadcaster. The outcome of the 1978 reforms is a dramatic increase in the marketization of CCTV. Medias thus engaged in a fierce competition for audience and revenues. However – and this is one of the specificities of the Chinese model – CCTV remained and still remains under the control of the state and the party. CCTV has thus developed between state control and market requirements. Advertising revenues now represent 90% of CCTV's total budget. In 2008, advertising revenues represented 2.5 billion dollars for CCTV.  CCTV thus generates more revenue from advertising than it receives in terms of state subsidies. CCTV fully accepts its status as a state-controlled company with a private management.
 
Since the reforms of the1980s, CCTV has embodied the inherent contradictions of China's economic and social system: between capitalist forces and state control. A second series of reforms took place in the mid-1990s with the aim of creating new quality programmes with new formats, better adapted to the public's needs. Despite many reforms and structural changes, CCTV remains the party’s propaganda tool, its priority being to put forth the CCP's political lines and guide public opinion according to the CCP's principles. Nowadays, CCTV must satisfy the demands of the CCP, the audience and the market.
 
CCTV is under direct control of the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), a department within the State Council, which supervises and censors the whole of China's TV industry, amongst others. Content-wise, SARFT receives its orders from the CCP's Propaganda Department and also controls provincial and municipal stations.

The Structure of China's Television System
 
 Source: Marianne Friese, Consulting, TV in China – An Overview of TV in China, 2007, p. 6.
 
Considering the important role that the CCTV plays in the Chinese social, media and political landscape, any transformation undergone by the state broadcaster reflects the changes at stake and taking place in the Chinese TV industry as a whole.
 
The interlocking of state control and competition for revenues is one of CCTV's biggest dilemmas: how to work “in a capitalistic-bureaucratic system between a dying prevailing ideology and flourishing market forces”[+] NoteC.C., Lee (éd.), Chinese Media, Global Contexts, Londres, Curzon Routledge, 2003, p.196.X [2]? Do market forces enable CCTV to free itself from the political pressure of the party-state? Is CCTV progressively becoming independent?

Revenues drawn from advertising

 From the 1990s onward, the government suppressed public subsidies for CCTV and other state media outlets. In 2006, CCTV's budget was 90% supported by advertising revenues, which represented 860 million euros – double the figure in 1996. Advertising, the state broadcaster's main source of revenues, has hastened CCTV's programmes toward increased marketization. One of the most immediate results of the reforms of the late 1970s on CCTV is the omnipresence of advertising on CCTV programmes. Weather forecasts and news journals are filled with advertisements. Advertising revenues keep on increasing – especially since the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games – as does the hourly volume of advertisements broadcast daily on CCTV channels, which is strictly regulated by the China Broadcast TV Bureau and cannot exceed 15% per hour.
 
Every year, CCTV auctions its prime time commercial slots. In 2004, CCTV earned 570 million euros through the annual auction, a 27.5% increase from the previous year, representing more than 50% of CCTV's total revenue[+] NoteYing Zhu and Chris Berry (dir.), TV China, Indiana University Press, 2009, p.45.X [3]. Many Chinese companies, and some international ones, took part in the auction.
 
The Chinese New Year Gala is CCTV's and China's (thus, the world's) most watched entertainment programme. It takes place every year on Chinese New Year's Eve and is one of the advertising companies’ preferred shows in terms of product placements. Every year, the gala is comprised of two countdowns: one up to eight o'clock, before the show; the other at midnight. Advertising slots are auctioned to place products during the two countdowns. In 2006, the auction for advertising slots during the two countdowns brought in 600,000 euros in revenue for the eight o'clock countdown, and one million euros for the midnight countdown – a 300,000 euro increase from 2005. Generally speaking, gross advertising revenue for the gala in 2006 amounted to 40 million euros – a 10% increase compared to the previous year.
 
In 2010, CCTV Chinese New Year Gala generated 70 million euros in advertising revenue, a new record. The price of advertising slots increased by 30% compared to 2009. Only a small portion of this revenue is spent on advertising slots, as there is not a single advertisement during the six-hour show. Advertising companies buy packages worth 350,000 to 700,000 euros, which include 15 second advertising slots before and after the show on CCTV's various channels.
 
From the Olympic Games onwards, CCTV has started making big profits on advertising revenues. In 2008, the state broadcaster's advertising revenues – as the sole TV station allowed to broadcast the Games – increased by 30% thanks to the “Olympic effect“.  Advertising revenues equaled 40 million euros for this event.
 
In November 2009, CCTV's annual prime time advertising slots auction brought in 1.2 billion euros to the state broadcaster in less than 13 hours. The prices were the highest in 16 years, and represented an 18.5% increase compared to the 2008 auction. Experts consider the 2010 CCTV Prime Advertising Resource Budding as an indicator of the general state of the Chinese economy. More than 50 foreign companies took part in the bidding session and spent 28% more than in 2008. The price of advertising on CCTV has increased by 20% on a yearly basis.
 
CCTV annual bidding generally takes place in November for the following year. However, because of the June 2010 South Africa Football World Cup, there were two bidding sessions for 2010, one held in November 2009, another in April 2010. Football has grown immensely popular in China in recent years. The State Broadcaster quickly realized that it could benefit from the World Cup in terms of advertising revenue. CCTV broadcast all 64 matches and sent a team of 74 correspondents to South Africa. During the World Cup, one second of advertising was valued at 13,000 euros. CCTV has been broadcasting World Cup Matches since 1978. During the Germany World Cup in 2006, more than 100 companies had bought advertising slots on CCTV. In 2002 and 1998, CCTV earned 500,000 euros and a little less than 110,000 euros respectively.
 
CCTV Advertising Revenue, 1990-2004


Data Obtained from the Television Committee of the China Broadcasting Association, 2005. 
Source: Ying Zhu and Chris Berry (ed.),
TV in China, p.44.
 
 
Revenues generated by advertising have enabled an increase in the number of programmes and broadcasting hours. In 1990, CCTV broadcast a total number of 11310 hours (30 hours of daily broadcast on three channels) whereas in 2005, the state company broadcast a total of 163303 hours (440 daily hours). In terms of programmes, CCTV was broadcast 25 hours in 1990 and 400 in 2005.
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Audience and programs

 
CCTV offers a range of 400 daily programmes on a panel of 20 channels – five of which offer programmes in foreign languages (English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic), alongside a general channel, a 24/7 information channel, an international affairs channel, a financial channel, several entertainment channels (Chinese opera, childrens’, series, sports, music, cinema), an education and science channel, a military channel, and a legal channel. CCTV recently launched an internet channel: China Network Television (CNTV). Most of CCTV's programmes – news journals, entertainment shows, etc – have an educational purpose.
 
CCTV's network covers 95.6% of Chinese population, or 1.3 billion people. On a daily basis, CCTV's various programmes are seen by 72.8 million viewers. On average, a viewer spends 45 minutes per day watching a CCTV programme, and CCTV represents 30% of time spent in front of TV. Moreover, two of CCTV's channels are available in 120 countries and regions thanks to satellite and cable transmission.
 
 
Audience shares for the Chinese New Year Gala broadcast on CCTV's various channels, 2007-2010 (in %)
 

Source: CCTV website
 
 
Considering the massive number of TV viewers in China, audience has become the key word for CCTV's broadcast programmes. In the past, little to no importance was given to audience ratings in China; nowadays, it has become a decisive factor with regards to TV programming. The audience ratings for primetime shows and programmes are regularly reviewed and those that do not score well are rescheduled later on in the evening. The frenzied rush for audience ratings has not put an end to state control over CCTV's programming. The public broadcaster caught between two demands: satisfying the audience and performing well in terms of ratings; and responding to the political pressure imposed by the Party.  
 
The Chinese New Year Gala, regarded as a national institution in mainland China, is a prime case study to analyze the way the party-state continues to exert a monopoly over CCTV's programming and content, despite market competition. It also illustrates the way programmes broadcast by CCTV are necessarily linked to political and ideological messages. The Lunar New Year is China's most celebrated holiday. Since 1983, CCTV has organized and held the monopoly over the broadcasting of the six-hour long Gala. The Gala programming is carefully controlled on four levels and by three different administrations: the heads of CCTV's Art and Culture Centre, those of SARFT and of the CCP Central Committee's Communication Department.
 
The show consists of a series of acrobatic stints, dances, songs, magic tricks, comic dialogues and more, all of which represent China's diversity, its heroes and historical sites, as well as some of its millenary traditions. All these elements are part of the elaboration of a discourse giving the impression that China as a whole is celebrating the event (Chinese New Year) in a unified way and is worshipping the past and present glory of the Chinese nation. They contribute, year after year, to the construction of a unified Chinese national state and to the propagation of a static Chinese patriotism. Despite the popularity of the Gala, every year after its broadcast, heavy criticism of the programme can be found on the web. Many complain about the lack of imagination of the show and the boredom it provokes, and criticize the omnipresence of advertising and product placements – discussed in the previous section, and linked to show’s strong draw in terms of audience. 

This year, CCTV's Chinese New Year Gala gathered a record number of 730 million viewers in front of their TV sets, for an audience share of 81.74%. Such an audience share on Chinese New Year's Eve can be explained by the fact that the Gala is one of the only shows broadcast on that time slot on December 31. The show is broadcast live on several channels of the CCTV network as well as on the 23 provincial channels (satellite and terrestrial) and CNTV. This year, 8.21 million people watched the gala on CNTV along with 3.87 million viewers based abroad who watched the show “live”.

 
Video: Martial art demonstration during the 2010 CCTV Lunar New Year Gala

Considering the massive number of TV viewers in China, audience has become the key word for CCTV's broadcast programmes. In the past, little to no importance was given to audience ratings in China; nowadays, it has become a decisive factor with regards to TV programming. The audience ratings for primetime shows and programmes are regularly reviewed and those that do not score well are rescheduled later on in the evening. The frenzied rush for audience ratings has not put an end to state control over CCTV's programming. The public broadcaster caught between two demands: satisfying the audience and performing well in terms of ratings; and responding to the political pressure imposed by the Party.  
 
The Chinese New Year Gala, regarded as a national institution in mainland China, is a prime case study to analyze the way the party-state continues to exert a monopoly over CCTV's programming and content, despite market competition. It also illustrates the way programmes broadcast by CCTV are necessarily linked to political and ideological messages. The Lunar New Year is China's most celebrated holiday. Since 1983, CCTV has organized and held the monopoly over the broadcasting of the six-hour long Gala. The Gala programming is carefully controlled on four levels and by three different administrations: the heads of CCTV's Art and Culture Centre, those of SARFT and of the CCP Central Committee's Communication Department.
 
The show consists of a series of acrobatic stints, dances, songs, magic tricks, comic dialogues and more, all of which represent China's diversity, its heroes and historical sites, as well as some of its millenary traditions. All these elements are part of the elaboration of a discourse giving the impression that China as a whole is celebrating the event (Chinese New Year) in a unified way and is worshipping the past and present glory of the Chinese nation. They contribute, year after year, to the construction of a unified Chinese national state and to the propagation of a static Chinese patriotism. Despite the popularity of the Gala, every year after its broadcast, heavy criticism of the programme can be found on the web. Many complain about the lack of imagination of the show and the boredom it provokes, and criticize the omnipresence of advertising and product placements – discussed in the previous section, and linked to show’s strong draw in terms of audience. 

This year, CCTV's Chinese New Year Gala gathered a record number of 730 million viewers in front of their TV sets, for an audience share of 81.74%. Such an audience share on Chinese New Year's Eve can be explained by the fact that the Gala is one of the only shows broadcast on that time slot on December 31. The show is broadcast live on several channels of the CCTV network as well as on the 23 provincial channels (satellite and terrestrial) and CNTV. This year, 8.21 million people watched the gala on CNTV along with 3.87 million viewers based abroad who watched the show “live”.
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Increasing competition

 In the mid-1990s, the increase in the number of domestic and international channels (satellite, cable, terrestrial) forced CCTV to launch a new series of reforms. These new channels were targeting an audience ignored by the public broadcaster and creating a new type of programme, thus undermining CCTV’s loyal audience and its market shares. In 2003, the SARFT authorised a little more than two dozen broadcasting companies to operate in China under certain conditions. In 2004, an even greater number of provincial satellite companies were allowed to broadcast on a nationwide scale. In 2006, more than 50 satellite stations were accessible nationwide.
 
From the mid-1990s, Phoenix Satellite TV became CCTV's main competitor. This Hong Kong-based broadcasting station based in HK has forced CCTV to rethink its programmes and commercial approach. From the mid-2000s onward, some serious competition to CCTV programmes came from programmes broadcast by provincial satellite TV and even the web. This is the case of “Super Girl” and the China Countryside TV “New Year Gala”.
 
In 2004-05, the reality show “Super Girl”, broadcast on provincial satellite channel Hunan TV, challenged CCTV's monopoly for the first time. This show – a singing competition on the model of American Idol – was open to any young girl and established new records in terms of audience ratings. This programme enabled young girls from all over China to go on stage, and for some of them to become famous nationwide. This “democratization” of access to stardom was in complete opposition with the orchestration of a show such as CCTV's Chinese New Year Gala – which only allows media stars to perform. “Super Girl” – a reflection of the reality of millions of Chinese viewers  – provoked a craze in the Chinese media landscape:  400 million viewers watched the show's finale in August 2005, outnumbering the 2010 CCTV Chinese New Year Gala audience. “Super Girl”'s advertising revenue (advertisements and SMS) reached 11 million euros in 2005, and the indirect impact of the competition brought in several million euros in revenue. The success of this reality show in 2004-05 was such a challenge to CTTV's much politicized New Year Gala in terms of audience ratings, advertising revenues and content that SARFT ended up banning the show.

 
Video: An episode of "Super Girl", 2005 edition

 In 2009, for the passage to the year of the Ox, Chinese netizens were almost able to watch a counter New Year Gala, a cheap alternative to CCTV's traditional gala. This counterfeit New Year’s Gala, created by a group of amateur producers from Beijing who called themselves the China Countryside Television (the same acronym as China Central Television), was supposed to be broadcast at the same as CCTV's, with the motto: “The New Year’s Gala for the People by the People”. The producers managed to be sponsored by some big Chinese internet companies who were to help them broadcast the show live and stream it online. However, under SARFT's impulsion, the show was cancelled, and all references to its existence disappeared from the web. The CCP's Propaganda Department most likely saw this counter gala as a menace to CCTV's monopoly. The problems encountered by this independent production show the difficulty for independent productions to set up programmes in state-controlled production circles.
 
From the mid-1990s onward, CCTV's monopoly, audience and market shares have slowly been challenged by the growing number of satellite and cable channels. Despite a certain amount of necessary reforms that have enabled CCTV to become competitive in a market-oriented economy, the state broadcaster remains tightly linked to government control and policies.
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A tight link to politics

 In 2009, for the passage to the year of the Ox, Chinese netizens were almost able to watch a counter New Year Gala, a cheap alternative to CCTV's traditional gala. This counterfeit New Year’s Gala, created by a group of amateur producers from Beijing who called themselves the China Countryside Television (the same acronym as China Central Television), was supposed to be broadcast at the same as CCTV's, with the motto: “The New Year’s Gala for the People by the People”. The producers managed to be sponsored by some big Chinese internet companies who were to help them broadcast the show live and stream it online. However, under SARFT's impulsion, the show was cancelled, and all references to its existence disappeared from the web. The CCP's Propaganda Department most likely saw this counter gala as a menace to CCTV's monopoly. The problems encountered by this independent production show the difficulty for independent productions to set up programmes in state-controlled production circles.
 
From the mid-1990s onward, CCTV's monopoly, audience and market shares have slowly been challenged by the growing number of satellite and cable channels. Despite a certain amount of necessary reforms that have enabled CCTV to become competitive in a market-oriented economy, the state broadcaster remains tightly linked to government control and policies.
 
 

Video: CCTV French News Program
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The new face of CCTV

 “The influence of the marketization of media content is now a fact”[+] NoteDominique Colomb, Médias et communication en Chine – Au delà des paradoxes, Collection Logiques sociales, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2008 p.46.X [4], and this has enabled the emergence of a new type of TV journalist, the likes of which include Rui Chenggang. In his early 30s, Rui Chenggang, the new face of Chinese media, embodies to perfection the new face of Chinese capitalism: “young, smart and, to the dismay of some, deeply nationalistic”. Rui presents a daily financial show on CCTV, which is followed by more than 13 million viewers. He often interviews Wall Street financiers as well as many Chinese and foreign politicians. He says he wants to use his fame to change the negative opinion the west has about China and change the image his country has abroad, which precisely mirrors the Chinese government's aims of using state media to improve the image of China abroad. Beijing is increasingly pushing for CCTV's programmes to be broadcast abroad.
 
The international audience targeted by CCTV, which aims to have its voice heard around the globe, is not only limited to overseas Chinese – who represent large audience and market shares thanks to CCTV and CNTV. CCTV has launched three channels, in English, French and Spanish. Nowadays, Russians and the inhabitants of 22 Arabic-speaking countries can watch CCTV in their own language – which adds an additional 600 million viewers. CCTV-Portuguese is currently in the process of being formed. The aim is to create the greatest number of international channels in various foreign languages in order to broadcast a “positive image” of China abroad. However, a great many voices have highlighted the fact that CCTV’s international credibility is limited due to the nature of the control exerted by the Party, and because of the fact that CCTV is a public channel.
 

Video: CCTV show in English
 
In December 2009, CCTV launched China's first internet TV channel, China Network Television. The channel broadcasts numerous programmes: news service, sports and entertainment, in addition to a social media network and a pay-TV programme. The government has invested around twenty million euros in the project, which should put competition at bay for a while.
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 CCTV’s greatest strengths lie in the fact that it is the biggest state broadcaster in China[+] NoteChina Education TV is also a state broadcaster, but is nothing compared to CCTV.X [5] and benefits from government and party support. Thus, a great number of CCTV’s shows, programmes and news journals are seen as institutions in the Chinese media landscape. CCTV is the only TV station of such a caliber in China, and CCTV’s number of number of employees is only equaled by the large audience it reaches. A popular station, it aims at presenting itself as a forum for the people, particularly through its New Year’s Gala.
 
The broadcaster’s greatest strengths are also its biggest weaknesses. The TV station is very much dependent on state control and cannot operate in an independent manner. Because of this strong link to the government, the station only broadcasts positive and political news. Its top-down management means that CCTV will never become the Fourth Estate that some state media can be in other countries.
 
The Internet, which is developing at a rapid rate, offers new spaces for the Chinese people to express and communicate their opinion. It is slowly eroding CCTV and the central government of their monopoly – through propaganda – over the formation of public opinion. Satellite TV channels are yet another threat CCTV has to face.  
 
“The significance of the changes that have occurred within CCTV goes far beyond CCTV itself. CCTV is often viewed as a window on China’s politics, economy, and society, and changes in CCTV demonstrate that the country has been moving toward a society of mass consumption with a public-oriented civic culture, even while it is sternly maintaining a communist ideology”[+] NoteYing Zhu and Chris Berry (dir.), TV China, Indiana University Press, p.40.X [6]. CCTV remains a highly filtered public TV station that faces strong and contradictory constraints due to the policies put forth by the CCP and competition for financing. The encouragement of consumption through media is no less ideological than the promotion of class struggle during the Mao period. Political propaganda has been replaced by the ideology of individual and national development through market forces. However, mass communication is at the heart of the national unification process in China.

Key Facts

CCTV President: Jiao Li 
Budget: No Data
Employees: around 10000
Date of Creation: 1958
Number of channels: 20

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References

Dominique Colomb, Médias et communication en Chine – Au delà des paradoxes, Collection Logiques sociales, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2008, 271 p.

David French and Michael Richards (dir.), Television in Contemporary Asia, Sage Publications, 2000.

C.C. Lee (ed.), Power, Money and Media: Communication Patterns and Bureaucratic control in Cultural China. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2000.

Albert Moran and Michael Keane (dir.), Television Across Asia: Television Industries, Programme Formats and Globalization, Routledge Curzon, 2003.

Daphné Richet-Cooper, “La Télévision chinoise, entre contrôle de l’Etat et forces de marché”, Le Temps des médias, n°13, Winter 2009-2010.

Ying Zhu and Chris Berry (dir.), TV China, Indiana University Press, 2009.


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Photo credit: Jim Gourley / Flickr
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  • 1. From 1978 on, China opened up and a series of economic reforms targeting a wide range of sectors in the economy were launched by China’s Premier Deng Xiaoping.
  • 2. C.C., Lee (éd.), Chinese Media, Global Contexts, Londres, Curzon Routledge, 2003, p.196.
  • 3. Ying Zhu and Chris Berry (dir.), TV China, Indiana University Press, 2009, p.45.
  • 4. Dominique Colomb, Médias et communication en Chine – Au delà des paradoxes, Collection Logiques sociales, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2008 p.46.
  • 5. China Education TV is also a state broadcaster, but is nothing compared to CCTV.
  • 6. Ying Zhu and Chris Berry (dir.), TV China, Indiana University Press, p.40.
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