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An Examination and Analysis of the Adaptation of the Chinese TV Documentary. Industry in a Commercialized Media Environment.

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An Examination and Analysis of the Adaptation of the Chinese TV Documentary Industry in a Commercialized Media Environment A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of Drexel University by Huanhuan Feng in partial
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An Examination and Analysis of the Adaptation of the Chinese TV Documentary Industry in a Commercialized Media Environment A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of Drexel University by Huanhuan Feng in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Television Management November 2013 Copyright 2013 Huanhuan Feng. All Rights Reserved. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT I would like to express my sincere gratitude to my thesis advisor Phillip W. Salas. This thesis would not have been possible without his guidance and encouragement. I also want to thank my academic advisor Albert Tedesco, who has guided me with knowledge and patience in my two years of study at Drexel University. Additionally, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to Neo for taking my interview for this thesis. As an international student, I am grateful to all the friends I have made in TV Management program for their trust and support that has accompanied me through hardship in a foreign country. This thesis would not have been possible without my parents, the rest of my family and all my friends in China, who offered help unconditionally whenever I needed it. It is with their love and trust that I have come so far. Last but not least, thank you to my best friend Nikolay Atanasov for the support, encouragement and love. ii Table of Contents LIST OF TABLES...v LIST OF FIGURES... vi ABSTRACT... vii 1. INTRODUCTION Introduction Statement of the Problem Background of China s TV Documentary and Overview of the current Market Expected Findings and Contribution Key Definition LITERATURE REVIEW The Origin and Transition of Chinese TV Documentary Chinese TV Channel Structure The Production of TV Documentary in China METHODOLOGY Hypothesis Research Questions Introduction Settings Sample/ Participants...21 iii 3.6 Measurement Instruments Data Collection/ Procedure RESULTS DISCUSSION Introduction Discussion Conclusion...37 LIST OF REFERENCES...39 APPENDIX A:...42 iv List of Tables Table 1: A List of TV Documentary Channels in China as of Table 2: Table 2: A Bite of China s Airing Record...33 v List of Figures Figure 1: Gross Revenue in China s Documentary Market Figure 2: The Constitution of TV Documentary Production on Chinese Market...15 Figure 3: Distribution of Local Channel TV Documentary Production...11 Figure 4: The Production Increase of LIC Group...18 vi ABSTRACT An Examination and Analysis of the Adaptation of the Chinese TV Documentary Industry in a Commercialized Media Environment Huanhuan Feng Phillip W. Salas, Supervisor This thesis examines change and innovation in the Chinese documentary television industry in an increasingly commercial China s media market. As the economic system in China has evolved from that of Planned Economy to Market Economy, media markets have become much more open than before and are till expanding at a rapid pace. TV documentaries are struggling to adapt to this environment by innovating themselves in various aspects. This thesis takes the recent TV documentary A Bite of China as an example, exploring how this series succeeded on a national scale under the current market situation. It reveals the challenges TV documentarian face in content design, narrative style, marketing and branding to fulfill their social responsibility as well as to meet market needs. vii CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION 1.1 Introduction From political weapon and propaganda tool to profitable commodity and popular topics among a mass population, the Chinese TV documentary has undergone a major transition in the past forty years, and is picking up speed in recent years. In 1958, the year of the first broadcast TV station of China, one third of the programs aired in the first four months were TV documentaries (He, 2005). In 2011, premiere documentaries airing on all channels nationwide amounted to 16,000 hours. The CCTV Documentary Channel alone accounted for 2,190 hours, and the channel was still demanding 1,460 hours more. (Zhang, 2011) Due to the State-owned-andoperated nature of Chinese TV networks, as well as censorship and control of TV content from government bureaus, documentary series have always been the safest and most favorable TV programs to air in various times in history. Owing to the same reality, for many years in the near past, producers and program managers had held very little sense and awareness of market demand (rather, they answer to the commands from upper level government bureaus, typically Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee and State Administration of Radio, Film and Television), not to mention international markets and regulations. The intensive opening of the market and irresistible and irreversible trend of globalization has coerced Chinese TV products along with other commodities into an open market, involving them in fierce competition and challenges that they had been protected from under the once Planned Economy. (Fang, 2002) In 2012, the premiere of a seven-episode TV documentary series A Bite of China was a game changer. A Bite of China swept the whole nation in a documentary craze, hence revealing potentials both of the market and of the TV documentary series. For a long time, 1 habits inherited from the past such as monotonous topics, banal narrative and understatement of visual appeal hindered the Chinese TV documentary series from adapting to the highly commercialized market environment. This thesis explores the future path of the Chinese TV documentary series by studying the success of A Bite of China. 1.2 Statement of Problem The TV documentary genre, owing to its own narrative nature and China s particular centralized and controlled media environment, comprises a large part in China s television programming. In light of the economic boom and converging global market, there is a prosperous foreseeable future for this industry and for every professional in this industry, if they can recognize and solve a few significant problems. China is arguably the biggest producer of TV documentaries. In 2012, premiere TV documentaries on all channels amounted to 17,000 hours, among which only 100 hours of content is considered marketable. (Zhang, 2012) However, rooted from the long history of serving as propaganda means, TV documentaries still habitually take the top-down educational tone, with banal topics and dull narrative. Currently, TV documentary professionals in China are mainly comprised of content creators including writers, journalists, directors, photographers and so on, very few of which has a background in business management, finance or marketing, hence outstanding ideas and skills were rarely backed with solid business plans or imaginative marketing campaigns. The organizational system inherited from the Planned Economy era no longer suits current economic climate, the mismatch between talented personnel and the ossified structure of TV stations, quality product 2 and inefficient selecting mechanism hinders the growth of this industry and discourages practitioners. This thesis explores, by studying A Bite of China, through both quantitative and qualitative study, how Chinese TV documentary can succeed in a free market by reform and innovation in organizational structure and content creation to meet audience need and to fit current market context. 1.3 Background of China s TV Documentary and Overview of the Current Market The Unique Position of Documentary on China s Television In 1958, the first television station in China, Beijing TV Station was founded. May 1 st 1958, 7:00p.m., Beijing TV Station started test airing. At 7:15p.m., the first TV program in Chinese history was aired to the entire nation. This first program was called Into the Village, a 10-minute documentary produced locally in Beijing. In spite of the fact that in history, the birth of broadcast TV was result of advancement in economy, science and engineering, the birth of the first TV station in China, then a newly founded country led by the then young Chinese communist party, was a forced effort under premature technology and economic conditions as a symbolic demonstration of power to the outside world, and a propaganda machine to its people serving the sole purpose of consolidating the new regime. (He, 2005) Documentary, thanks to its narrative nature, had been endorsed by government and therefore favored, among all other TV formats, by TV stations in China since the first day broadcasting TV in this country. 3 Answering the Market s Call Times have changed. The time of Planned Economy has long gone. TV documentaries in China are now morphing from a state propaganda instrument into a mass product, political goods into consumer goods. They are also making the first tries in stepping into international market. Figure 1: Gross Revenue in China s Documentary Market Billions Gross Revenue of China's Documentary Market Gross Revenue of China's Documentary Market Year 2009 Year 2010 Year 2011 Year 2012 Source: Annual Report of Chinese Documentary, 2012 The market has tremendous potential. For example, the CCTV Documentary Chanel alone enjoys 782 million domestic subscribers and 40 million international subscribers, covering 60 countries and regions outside of China. (Zhang, 2012) November 2012, at the CCTV s upfront ad bidding for 2013, the CCTV Documentary Channel signed 450million RMB worth of contracts with advertisers. For the fiscal year, SMG Docu TV generated income of 150million, CETV Channel-3 100million, and Golden Eagle Documentary Channel 40.5million. (Zhang, 2012) Table 1: A List of TV Documentary Channels in China as of 2012 Channel Name Headquarter Coverage CCTV-9 (Documentary Channel) Beijing Asia-Pacific Region CCTV-10 (Education Channel) Beijing National SMG Docu TV Shanghai Local Greater Shanghai Area Golden Eagle Documentary Channel Hunan Local Provincial Level CETV Channel-3 (China Education Television) Beijing Local Greater Beijing Area Chongqing Channel-3 Chongqing Local Greater Chongqing Area BTV Docu Channel Beijing Local Greater Beijing Area Source: Annual Report of Chinese Documentary, Expected Findings and Contribution The market is changing quickly in China. Commercialization in media is a significant change for media personnel. It is very important for TV documentary producers and practitioners to adapt to this changing market. A Bite of China, which is a fairly new documentary series premiered in 2012, achieving significant success both in content and in commercializing. It is therefore necessary to break down and analyze the factors that enabled its success under the backdrop of current market/ audience need in a timely manner. This research is intended to determine both from a market perspective and managerial perspective the elements that enabled this series success, providing 5 suggestion and inspiration for future TV documentary practitioners in the Chinese market. 1.5 Key Definitions TV Documentary: TV documentary is a genre of TV programming that broadcasts documentary. A documentary TV series are made up of episodes. TV documentary genre discussed in this paper refers specifically to documentary and documentary series designed and made primarily for television broadcasting, or whose primary target media includes television. Documentary films and documentary made primarily for medium other than television, that are aired on television are excluded. A Bite of China: A 2012 Chinese documentary television series on the history of food, eating, and cooking in China directed by Chen Xiaoqing. It first appeared on China Central Television Channel 9 (CCTV-9) in May 14th, 2012, and quickly gained popularity. Having started filming in March 2011, this seven-episode documentary series introduces the history and story behind foods of various kinds in more than 60 locations all around China. The viewing of this documentary has also been actively encouraged as a means of introducing Chinese food culture to those unfamiliar with local cuisine. CCTV: China Central Television, commonly abbreviated as CCTV, is the predominant state television broadcaster in Mainland China. CCTV has a network of 22 channels broadcasting different programs and is accessible to 6 more than one billion viewers. CCTV has 45 TV channels, and it has the largest number of television TV channels in the world. Publicity Department of the CPC Central Committee: An internal division of the Communist Party of China in charge of ideologyrelated work, as well as its propaganda system. It is not formally considered to be part of the Government of the People's Republic of China, but enforces media censorship and control in China. It was founded in May It is an important organ in China's propaganda system. State Administration of Radio, Film and Television: An executive branch under the State Council of China. Its main task is the administration and supervision of state-owned enterprises engaged in the television, radio, and film industries. It directly controls state-owned enterprises at the national level such as China Central Television, China National Radio, China Radio International, as well as other movie and television studios and others non-business organizations. It is also responsible for censoring any materials that offend the sensibilities of the Chinese government or Chinese cultural standards. Planned Economy period: A planned economy is an economic system in which decisions regarding production and investment are embodied in a plan formulated by a central authority, usually by a public body such as a government agency. There is debate on the end date of Planned Economy period in China, as well as on whether China has ever entered the Market Economy. The researcher makes no attempt to define this matter or end the debate, but would like to 7 highlight the key years in the transition from Planned Economy to Market Economy. A planned economy was utilized in China from the establishment of the People s Republic of China in 1949, under Mao Zedong s administration. In 1978, after the launching of Reform and Opening-up Policy under Deng Xiaoping s administration, private ownership started to exist legally, and economic system started to transition to market driven. In 1992, after the 14 th National Congress under Jiang Zemin s government, it is widely regarded that a Market Economy was established. These key years also correspond with the change of TV documentary themes and content along history. Cutback on TV Entertainment: A statement issued in October 2011, by State Administration of Radio, Film and Television to cap the amount of entertainment programs, including reality TV shows, that satellite channels could broadcast from the start of Each of the country's 34 satellite channels will be limited to two such programs each week. A channel can also broadcast a maximum of 90 minutes of content defined as entertainment each day during prime time 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. This move is to curb TV shows of excessive entertainment and low taste , according to the statement. Within these regulations are matchmaking reality shows, talent shows, talk shows and various other reality shows. Weibo: Sina Weibo is a Chinese microblogging (weibo) website. A kin to a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook, it is one of the most popular sites in China, in use by well over 30% of Internet users, with a market penetration similar to what 8 Twitter has established in the USA. (Rapoza, 2011) It was launched by SINA Corporation on 14 August 2009, and has 503 million registered users as of Dec About 100 million messages are posted each day on Sina Weibo. (Ong, 2013) CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW 2.1 The Origin and Transition of Chinese TV Documentary The word documentary was coined by Scottish documentarian John Grierson. (Ann Curthoys, Marilyn Lake, 2004 p.151) Grierson's principles of documentary were that materials thus taken from the raw can be more real than the acted article. In this regard, Grierson's definition of documentary as creative treatment of actuality has gained some acceptance, with this position at variance with Soviet film-maker Dziga Vertov's provocation to present life as it is and life caught unawares . (Peter Morris, 1987 p20-30) Others further state that a documentary stands out from the other types of non-fiction films for providing an opinion, and a specific message, along with the facts it presents. (Larry Ward, 2008 p.4) TV Documentary in China came into being in 1958, at the then Beijing TV Station, which later evolved into China Central Television (CCTV). In its over forty years of history, TV documentaries served the first half as a political propaganda tool.(fang, 2008) Therefore Peng and Huang argue that China has invented a sub genre in documentary, Themed Documentary (Zhuan Ti Pian). (Peng and Huang, 2005) In international general studies, there is no such term as Themed Documentary, not to mention a separate definition. 9 Cai summarized the major aspects in the debates on the relationship between Themed Documentary and Documentary.(Cai, 2010) There are four major of arguments: 1. Themed documentary equates to documentary. All documentaries are themed. 2. Themed documentary is the sub category under documentary genre. 3. Themed documentary is deformed documentary, which should not have been created in the first place and should be abandoned, as it is not a natural product desired by the market. 4. The two are separate genres and should not be intermingled. Cai argued that the Chinese characteristic themed documentary is a sub genre derived from documentary, which shares the basic element in documentary practice such as non-fiction and taken from the raw. However, it distinguishes itself by announcing strong and clear-cut themes before every piece of material is presented, and also by its top-down collective consciousness penetrated through out the show. Often, these themed documentaries focus on political, social and historical topics more than natural science, individual s story, pop culture and so on. (Cai, 2010) He (He, 2005) drew up a time line for China s TV documentary. As everything else, the content in TV documentary changes with time from monotonous to diverse. According to He, : The political period. Example: Tennant Farmer, He analyzed features that the documentary series carried in different historical periods by studying their topics. Tennant Farmer presents the life of a poor tenant farmer s family in rural China. The narration condemns the extravagant life of the landlords and expresses sympathy with the lower working class, encouraging the latter to stand 10 up and fight. He concludes the documentaries made and shown in his period are political weapons encouraging people to involve in class struggle to overthrow capitalism : The cultural period. Example: The Yangzi River In the 1980s, under the immediate influence of the Reform and Opening-up Policy launched in 1978, the economy began to recover, the political and class struggle had gradually faded out from people s daily life. The Yangzi River in 1983 depicts the natural and cultural scenery along the Yangzi River. This series is heavy with geographic, historical, cultural and tradition knowledge. The Yangzi River was praised at the time as exciting and patriotism arousing. (He, 2005) : The individual period. Example: Sand and Sea In He s study Sand and Sea was considered to represent the individual period. The different lives of two individual are examined by this series. One lives in a village at the border of China s second largest desert, one lives in a rich and populous fishing town on the coast. He argues that in this period, the grand narration on politic, history, culture, and national heroes started to give way to narration on common people s struggle, although individuals in this period were still generally considered as representations of different social classes. (He, 2005, p99) : The commercial period. Example: The imported series from
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