A private TV project touting itself as a "grassroots" alternative to State broadcaster China Central Television's (CCTV) annual Spring Festival variety show - a mainstay for families celebrating the Lunar New Year - is fast gaining popularity, organizers have said.
The program is scheduled to stream online for free for three hours, and may be broadcast live by Guizhou Television, on Jan 25 - the eve of Lunar New Year - the same time as CCTV's gala, program director Shi Mengqi told China Daily.
Response for his "China Countryside Television" (CCSTV) project has been "overwhelming" and beyond his expectations, with 700 individuals and groups applying to perform, he said.
"I never thought my idea would get such huge support across the country and online," the 36-year-old Beijing cameraman for a wedding planning agency said.
"The Spring Festival stage should not only belong to celebrities, but also to those at the grassroots," Shi said.
The gala already has more than 30 segments of "comedy and acts performed by ordinary folk" lined up, he said.
Shi said he launched the www.ccstv.cn website for his program and rented an office for it last month, with broadcasting equipment and computers sponsored by friends, individuals and organizations interested in his idea.
Guizhou TV has decided to provide venues and support for CCSTV, but it has not said for sure whether it would broadcast the performance nationwide.
"We just want to provide an alternative for people who cannot go home during Spring Festival," Xinhua quoted Guizhou TV director Hu Shu as saying.
At least three programs for the CCSTV show are being rehearsed, its website showed.
Six performers dressed in black and carrying red fans are slated to imitate a popular thousand-armed Goddess of Mercy act. Li Hu, a middle-aged man, will imitate celebrities. Wang Yifei, 6, will play the drums to his favorite tunes.
Wang Kuiliang, a 54-year-old driver from Shougang Group in Beijing, who has played the Chinese flute for 45 years, hoped his solo act has a chance of reaching the CCSTV stage.
"It is a real gala for the grassroots. We can participate in a big show and have fun at the same time," Wang said.
CCTV is reportedly unfazed by Shi's project, because no other program can "surpass" its gala, said Yao Lin, general manager of media consultancy CTR Market Research.
Still, the 25-year-old CCTV Spring Festival gala is said to be gradually losing popularity among the younger generation.
"Even I feel that CCTV's gala show is boring. My family will watch Shi's version this year," Du Enhu, chief reporter at West China Metropolis Daily, who has reported CCTV's gala for 16 years, told China Daily.
An online survey conducted by major Chinese portal Tianya showed that 73 percent of its 12,350 respondents were looking forward to the CCSTV show. Almost half of those polled said they were tired of the CCTV version.
Cai Shangwei, a professor at the institute of radio and television of Sichuan University, told China Daily yesterday he supported Shi's idea, because "it provided a platform for people at the grassroots".
Shi is not ruling out the possibility of his gala becoming an annual event.
"If it succeeds, we believe we will be able to do better next year," he said.