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CCTV’s commercial arm targets Chinese diaspora

China’s state broadcaster CCTV, better known as a conduit for Beijing’s propaganda efforts, is growing an international network beaming soap operas and news to audiences as far afield as Africa, the Middle East and the US.

China International Communications Co (CICC), the commercial arm of China Central TV, streams Chinese content from CCTV and provincial broadcasters to overseas Chinese audiences — and is now setting its sights at non-Chinese audiences too.

“I want to make that content of CCTV localised, and want people to watch it for 5-10 minutes a week],” said Lu Chunguang, president of CICC. “Just 15 minutes of watching each means hundreds of millions [of viewer watching time].”

To that end CICC has already set up a studio in Washington, hired 20 local news readers and begun broadcasting bulletins, initially focused on stock market information.

That builds on a business anchored in the overseas Chinese community. “Chinese like dramas, and we have more than 100,000 TV dramas produced every year,” said Mr Lu, speaking on the sidelines of last month’s Casbaa convention in Macau.

While Beijing has been ramping up its propaganda efforts overseas in recent years — including broadcasting videos on the South China Sea in New York’s Times Square over summer — analysts saw the move as a more subtle change of communication strategy.

“I think they are downplaying the ideological stuff when it comes to external publicity, they are putting more culture cards on the table,” said Qiao Mu, professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University.

“They are hoping overseas viewers can recognise and accept China, adding the economic co-operation and aids, to obtain other countries’ political recognition of China. One can say this is progress compared to their ideological preaching in the past.”

Last year, CICC started digitising its library of archived TV dramas in order to send more entertainment down the tubes.

While many multinationals, from rice cooker manufacturers to luxury brands like LVMH, have been targeting Chinese tourists overseas for several years, immigrant populations have attracted less commercial attention.

But Mr Lu says these groups — there are about 1m Chinese in Africa and 500,000 in the Middle East, and Chinese people comprise about 2 per cent of the US population and 2 to 3 per cent in Europe — represent a sizeable business.

“I bring over 30 networks to Los Angeles and people pay $15 a month to watch 30 TV channels, including some video-on-demand content. It’s very cost-effective: we send our oldest channels to an LA hub, and local system operators pick up our signal.”

Additional reporting by Wan Li

Via FT