CHINA / National

New forms of new media are in vogue
By Raymond Zhou and Wang Zhuoqiong (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-05-31 05:49

Guo Tianshu has worked as an entertainment editor for the past seven years, but has never stayed at one company for long.

Jiang Hong (R) and Lin Jiashu are best known for their podcast, but both of then gained their experience in print media. [China Daily]

Before 2000, she worked for Theatre and Cinema, a Beijing-based weekly newspaper. She then joined Netease and later Sina, two of the biggest portals in China, where she edited their movie channels.

Last year, she abruptly left her high-paying job for a little-known start-up whose website was unveiled last week: Mtime is a community website complete with blogs and digital magazines.

In other words, one of the best-placed entertainment editors in Beijing has segued from the print medium to the Internet, and then from old-fashioned portal sites to Web 2.0, the "new new media" in vogue today.

Guo's career path is shared by a group of upwardly mobile trail-blazers and reflects a trend in China's media industry.

"I didn't plan it this way, but maybe I have an antenna to pick up signals of the latest 'it' thing," Guo said.

Print is being overtaken by digital dreams: At the end of last year, the country had 110 million Internet users, with 64.3 million on broadband, and that number keeps growing.

Last year was also the first time revenue for the print medium dipped significantly for some companies.

The rise of new media is being driven by a whirlwind of capital., positioned as "a personal multimedia platform," raised more than US$100 million in venture capital in just 13 months after its founding.

"We are still searching for a business model that will enable us to turn a profit," said Chen Weijia, marketing director.

"The cost of handling multimedia content is much more expensive. For text, thousands of words may take up only a few kilobytes, but one second of a podcast will require a few megabytes. That's why we need to set up a stable platform for our users."

Old dogs learn new tricks

Old media gurus are not sitting idle either. They are taking action to defend their turf and more often than not jumping into the fray.

A podcasting website,, set up in July 2005, raised US$9 million from Softbank and US$1 million from WI Harper Group, leaving China National Radio with the controlling stake of 51 per cent.

In April, China Central Television (CCTV) launched its Internet protocol television (IPTV) service. "You can watch the hottest serial drama from the CCTV line-up, get the texts of their stories, behind-the-scenes snippets and interviews. You can also subscribe to a service and download photos and video segments from the shows to your mobile phone," said Cheng Hong, CCTV's deputy editor-in-chief.

In the traditional media of television, CCTV holds a monopoly as the only national network, with 15 satellite channels. Last year, it earned 12.4 billion yuan (US$1.55 billion), of which 8.6 billion (US$1.08 billion) was from advertising.

By contrast, Hunan Satellite Television, with its runaway hit "Super Girls," picked up only 600 million yuan (US$75 million) in advertising.

But in the realm of new media, CCTV does not enjoy such a privileged position, as it has to compete with a slew of operators. Shanghai Media Group (SMG) got an IPTV license one year earlier than CCTV. And as content providers, they all have to fight for the platforms, in this case the cable networks controlled by local television stations.

Since new media content will gobble up bandwidth, cable operators who build and operate the "thick pipes" are in a better bargaining position. "It is unlikely anyone can dominate the market as in traditional television," said Cheng.

"How CCTV can realize its dream of becoming the nation's biggest platform of content aggregation remains to be seen.

" will be an open platform. We can build our own channels or form partnerships with others."

As television broadcasting has never been subject to ownership reform, private programming production companies have always been left to fight on their own and with no recourse to a platform. As a result, they have the incentive to embrace new media.

Enlight Media Company established itself by producing a programme with up-to-date reporting on the nation's entertainment scene and syndicating it to hundreds of television stations.

"When the channel is not part of the free market, it is impractical to see content as the king," said Wang Changtian, president of Enlight. "Some opportunities simply don't belong to non-SOEs (State-owned enterprises) like us."

Always on a prowl for new opportunities, Enlight branched into new media last year in the hope that its strength in television programming would cross over to Internet television. Nowadays it refuses to be identified as a "television content provider."

In 1994, when most Chinese knew little about the Internet, China Daily entered the digital age, becoming the country's first national newspaper to go online.

Today, has about 6 million page views per day, is one of the top key media websites and its English forum has the largest number of registered users in the country.

And it aims to become a leading multi-media news, information and service provider.

Personal media

The eruption of blogs was a watershed event for 2005. Although the major blog hosting sites were injected with large doses of capital, bloggers and their readers were galvanized by a desire for self-expression, and in a few cases calculated moves of exhibitionism.

It is estimated that the total number of blogs in China will reach 15.2 million this year and almost double to 28.6 million in 2007. But will it drown out traditional media, their trained editors, reporters and all? Many people, including some of the best bloggers, doubt it.

A click through the blogosphere will reveal that the majority of blogs are personal journal types in the style of high school girls' notepads. A typical blog has total clicks in a few hundreds, and if comments are any indication, the readers are young people with nothing better to do but "grab the sofa," an online euphemism for leaving the first comment for a posting.

However, there are a few blogs that have built up reputations to rival that of mainstream media brands. Besides Xu Jinglei, the actress with the most-read blog, Wang Xiaofeng's "Massage Milk" comments on cultural and social news; Hong Bo's Keso deals with what's happening in the technology field; Roland Soong's ESWN aggregates and translates China-related news and offers observations with cross-cultural acumen.

These are some of the best blogs, and they are mostly run by media professionals. However, the bloggers tend to differentiate their day jobs from their blogging hobby. "The information presented on my blog is partial, selective and idiosyncratic," Soong explained. "A blog is the effort of a single individual and may excel in some small niche subject area or in reporting a suddenly breaking incident."

Brave new world

When blogging was extended to include audio-visual content, podcasts, digital magazines, video streaming and a slew of other new media platforms were born. Digital magazines are a popular feature on Web2.0 community sites, and since they are freely downloaded and are close in appearance to print publications, it is often predicted that they will eclipse their print brethren in the near future.

According to iResearch, a consulting firm, 2005 was the year digital magazines caught the public's attention. It estimated that there were 20 million readers last year, and that number will grow to 32 million this year and 82 million by 2010.

The market size in terms of revenue was a paltry 20 million yuan (US$2.5 million) for 2005, the same study indicated. But it will snowball to 100 million yuan (US$12.5 million) by the end of this year and 1.25 billion yuan (US$156 million) by 2010.

The top platforms where digital mags are distributed include Xplus, ZCOM, Magbox and VIKA. Lan, by television celebrity and businesswoman Yang Lan, is the equivalent of O magazine by US television mogul Oprah Winfrey. After its debut last December, it got 2.1 million downloads in four months, about 10 times the circulation of a successful print magazine that targets adult women.

Although Internet-related statistics are famously unreliable, it is imaginable that a digital magazine with all the bells and whistles of sound effects, music, flash and links can reach an audience inaccessible to print titles.

"If a digital mag can have half a million subscribers, it can survive for the time being," said Li Xiguang, a media expert at Tsinghua University.

Yao Hong, chief executive officer of POCO, an online platform for digital magazines flush with venture capital from International Data Group, highlighted the strength of a digital music magazine: "For example, the current issue features a pop singer who has a new album coming out. Our readers can sample the tracks, read the lyrics and watch accompanying cartoons. They can even peek behind the scenes to see how the album was put together."

For all the hoopla, the billion-dollar question remains: Will readers be willing to pay for their subscriptions in an environment where a free lunch is the norm, or will advertising be able to sustain continuous free downloading?

One new media platform that has resolved this problem is the mobile phone. China had 380 million mobile phone users by the end of last year, and they all pay for their services, whether basic connection or additional content.

In the "messaging and personal entertainment" category, ubiquitous text messaging accounted for 80 per cent of total revenue, racking up 30 billion yuan in 2005. Jokes have been the pillar of palm entertainment, which is able to add sound and video capabilities. Therefore, mobile-phone radio, television and films are all new forms of entertainment that are being explored as the potential "next big thing."

For the time being, mobile phone newspapers are zapping through the airwaves one by one from print media organizations, ever since China Women's Newspaper launched its edition in 2004. In the current business model, content providers get 60 per cent of the revenue, and mobile network operators take the rest.

So, what will be the "killer application" for Web2.0? Will new media complement old media or threaten its survival? Will it capture the imagination of the young generation, who will then see print as if it were the media equivalent of the silent movie?

One thing is definite: News, views or entertainment will require the handling of media professionals no matter whether in print or online.

A good example of this comes in the case of Pingke and Flypig, who run a podcast,, out of their Beijing apartment. It has gathered a cult following and won an international prize by offering a mix of audio programming, ranging from news analysis and humour to dissections of mainstream magazines.

But in the real world, Jiang Hong (Pingke) works for a weekly news magazine and Lin Jiashu (Flypig) for a business newspaper. With their day jobs in the print medium, they have their feet firmly planted in the ground of journalistic discipline, while aspiring for something that showcases their individuality.

It also helps that for 19 years Jiang was a popular radio show host in Tianjin and has top-notch recording and mixing equipment to boot.

"You cannot take off with new media," he said, "without building yourself up in the old."

(China Daily 05/31/2006 page1)


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