Officials look to raise content of TV programs

By He Dan and Cao Yin (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-05-03 08:15
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BEIJING - In an attempt at improving the offerings on television, authorities plan to restrict TV stations' ability to run shows aimed at nothing but entertainment and revise the system used to measure the success of programs.

Cai Fuchao, minister of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, discussed those intentions at a national meeting on cultural reforms on Sunday.

He encouraged TV channels to not set their sights solely on attracting viewers and called for the establishment of a system that can gauge the merits of TV programs scientifically.

Industry observers said the country's TV industry is dominated by various kinds of entertainment shows.

According to a rating report released by CSM Media Research, 10.1 people out of every 100 TV viewers in 2010 watched entertainment programs on average, up from 7.4 out of 100 in 2005.

Lei Jianjun, associate professor at the School of Journalism and Communication in Tsinghua University, said TV channels rush to produce shows offering little beyond entertainment because their advertisement revenue is directly tied to the number of people who tune in. Such shows, he explained, tend to attract the largest audiences.

In addition, some local TV stations have found that popularity and large profits can result from just a few well-watched entertainment shows. A dating show called If You Are the One, for instance, prompted many people last year to switch to Jiangsu satellite TV, one of the most watched TV channels in China.

That show joined Happy Camp, a 14-year-old weekly variety show on Hunan satellite TV, and the 2010 Spring Festival Gala, broadcast by China Central Television, to become the most watched entertainment programs in 2010, according to the report by CSM Media Research.

If You Are the One was popular enough last year to prompt various other TV channels to air their own dating shows in an attempt at attracting larger audiences and more advertisers.

Despite their success, the matchmaking programs have become the subject of much debate in China.

Some contestants were heavily criticized for what certain viewers perceived to be blatant materialism and money worship. Ma Nuo, a woman contestant on If You Are the One, became a household name last year after she had turned downed a jobless bachelor in the show and explained her refusal by saying she "would rather cry in a BMW (than smile on a bike)".

"I change the channels all the time, since I cannot find any interesting programs on TV," said Li Chenguang, a 23-year-old employee at China Telecom in Beijing.

"It's boring to watch so many entertainment TV programs. Most of them just imitate a successful show without offering new ideas."

Industry observers believe some TV channels have compromised their standards by airing so many lowbrow entertainment shows.

"A current problem is that almost all of the television channels in China are commercial and need advertising revenue to stay in business," Lei said. "It's time to change this situation and establish public channels, which can meet different audiences' needs instead of existing to make profits."

Hu Shoujun, a sociology professor at Fudan University, said the quality of Chinese television programs should be improved, which would go far to answer the complaints of ordinary television watchers.