This post was edited by 千寻.行 at 2012-10-5 14:34|
Producers have come a long way in making primetime reality shows for Chineseviewers, Han Bingbin reports.
The past three years have been the golden age for Chinese TV reality shows. They've grownin number and variety, and they dominate weekend primetime hours on almost every majorbroadcaster.
But it's not hard for viewers to notice the shows' resemblance to foreign small-screen hits.Growing along with the production scale of the singing contests, dating shows and game showsis a bad reputation among Chinese TV producers for unauthorized imitation of foreign programformats. But industry insiders say the copycatting is no longer common and many of the showsnowadays that are suspected of stealing ideas are in fact authorized reproductions."There's a new consensus for gaining authorization. That's the latest trend," said Zheng Xuan,director of the program research center at Hubei TV.
Hubei TV recently became the authorized broadcaster of the Chinese version of I Love MyCountry, originally a Dutch TV show, after the lackluster performance of its first season onSichuan TV in 2009.It's hard to trace which Chinese broadcaster was the first to buy the rights to a foreign show.But Hunan TV, one of the most-watched and leading entertainment broadcasters, took theinitiative by producing authorized Chinese versions of the UK-originated Strictly Come Dancingand Just the Two of Us in 2007."But later, Jiangsu TV was openlycriticized by Hunan TV for copyrightinfringement. I think it was this legaldispute that made Chinese broadcastersnationwide more aware of respectingcopyrights," Zheng said.
Since 2009, Chinese television has seenmore than 30 authorized reproductions offoreign reality shows - this year alone,there were at least 10. Nearly all of theseprograms originally came from Europe.The BBC, London-basedFremantleMedia, and the Dutchproduction companies Talpa andEndemol have so far been the mainsuppliers of these program formats. Halfof the shows are aired on Hunan TV,Shanghai's Dragon TV, Zhejiang TV andJiangsu TV, arguably China's four most-watched satellite channels.While provincial channels have played aleading role in the craze, at the end oflast year, China Central Television alsojoined the trend with its applaudedreproduction of Australia's improvisedcomedy program Thank God You'reHere.
The main reason for the nationwide crazefor foreign program formats, Zheng said,is that domestic broadcasters are still short of creative ideas.In a research trip to the UK in 2010, Zheng was surprised to find that some broadcasters invitednot only dramatists and other professionals, but also people from the general public for jointbrainstorming sessions.
In China, Zheng said, it's often the leaders who point the direction.Moreover, primetime entertainment shows, which draw the most advertisers, place heavyemphasis on high audience ratings and are often subject to format revisions.
Zhengcomplained that these revisions are so frequent that domestic broadcasters barely leave timeand room to create, experiment with and evaluate their own program ideas."Instead of letting their own people take a risk, decision-makers like to borrow successful ideasfrom abroad. It's quick and safe," Zheng said.Chinese producers used to duplicate a foreign show by copying its every detail in a newprogram. But it didn't work well because the producers got only superficial experience that way.By buying the right to use the format, Zheng said, they have a chance to gain a full measure ofproduction experience in addition to learning from the concept editing done by the originalchannels.
The producers are usually given a formula, which they call the "bible". This offersguidelines on production processes, some as detailed as where to place a camera and how toswitch a scene.But even with this imported technological support, many reproductions in China are far fromsuccessful. Most have had mediocre success, earning less than a rating of 1 - far fromsatisfactory, considering the reported millions of yuan Chinese broadcasters have thrown intothe purchase.Canxing Production Publicity Director Lu Wei thinks the reason is obvious.
The atmosphereand tempo of many programs are far from ideal, and it's definitely a problem with their technicalproduction."The program format itself is not omnipotent. If the local production team is not well trained, thefinal result won't be good. What the bible offers is simply a framework of ideas. You can onlyeffectively apply it after you think out why they are doing it so," Lu said."After all, it's a matter of how hard and quickly you can learn. You have to know what exactlyother people are good at before you create something new to overpower them."With such devotion to learning, Lu said Canxing has trained a high-level editing team whileproducing the Chinese version of Got Talent, which has become the first huge success in thereproduction genre. The show reached 600 million viewers and had a whopping 5.91 rating inits Sunday primetime slot on Dragon TV in July last year - in China, shows with as little as a 1.3rating are usually seen as hits.The team had two of their innovations included in the latest issue of the format's bible,according to Lu. One is adding a live voting session by media representatives across thecountry. The other is giving more importance to personalizing the contestants. Both havecontributed to the success of a talent competition in a Chinese cultural context.
The company brought its experience to the production of The Voice of China, which has beenaired on Zhejiang TV since mid-July. So far, the show has dominated Friday nights, with a 4.6rating at its peak. Though many reproductions have had dismal performances, the success ofGot Talent and The Voice of China seemed bright enough to build local producers' confidence."Since Got Talent, Chinese producers have seen the real value of format purchase.
After TheVoice, more TV stations and production companies started to buy foreign program formats,"said Xu Yang, general manager of Shanghai- and London-based program format broker IPCN."Everyone is looking for the next Voice and Got Talent."IPCN, set up by former ITV executive Mick Desmond, has so far licensed more than 10 foreignformats in China, including Got Talent, The Voice and Sony Pictures Television's The Sing-Off.Its business has expanded to online platforms since the launch of a local version of BanijayEntertainment's Date My Car on IQIYI.com.Rebecca Yang, CEO of IPCN, has said that nowadays you have a better chance of gettingaway with edgy formats in less mature markets like China than in the developed ones like theUK. But, like what used to happen in other fast-growing format markets such as Russia andMalaysia, the craze for foreign formats is only "a phase of blind worship," Xu added.Hu Zhengrong, vice-president of Communication University of China, remains optimistic aboutwhat he thinks is "an inevitable learning phase before China has a mature TV industry"."As in every other industry, buying technology is a way to quickly lessen the gap. If they startedbuying formats 10 years ago, when TV was still a more powerful platform than the Internet, theindustry could have been a lot more mature now," Hu said."But no hurry. There are so many program formats in the West, they still have a lot more tolearn."