Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

CCTV9-China Doc Channel Exec Arrest. My Takeaways: ‘Flies’ vs ‘Tigers’ or ‘Elephants vs the Grass’

The detention under suspicion of corruption of CCTV-9 Documentary Channel director Liu Wen last week is still causing aftershocks. Here are my initial Takeaways:

That’s Respect!

  • I first met Liu Wen at a quayside café in La Rochelle just before Sunnyside of the Doc 2011.
  • He entered the café with his team, and all the patrons stood up and applauded.
  • That’s respect!
  • The moment captured for me China’s sudden arrival on the world television stage.
  • And looking back, I can see that the applause was mixed with wishful thinking: he had just launched a doc channel in the largest and fastest-growing market at a time of cutbacks in slots for classic docs in many territories.


  • Since then, I applauded Liu Wen for successfully delivering on his mandate from the media regulator SARFT to create China’s first dedicated documentary channel.
  • The scale of the audience proved to be mind-boggling.
  • He also blasted CCTV-9 onto the world stage, establishing copro partnerships with players in all major territories.
  • A short list includes Nat Geo Channel, BBC, ITV, Discovery, WGBH Boston, NHK and KBS Korea.
  • And the path he blazed for CCTV-9 has been followed by CCTV-10 Science + Education Channel, and numerous regional nonfiction channels.
  • In short, he played a key role in organizing a market where before there was mainly chaos.
  • And for that accomplishment, Liu Wen deserves the strong support from those of us who keenly signed up to be his vendors, partners and consultants.

Why?  ‘When Elephants Fight, the Grass Gets Trampled’

  • We have no idea what’s driving this sad situation.
  • Maybe Liu Wen is caught up in a larger struggle within the Communist Party for control of the state broadcaster?

 ‘Flies versus Tigers’

  • China is experiencing a popular backlash against corruption and luxury living.
  • The families of senior Communist Party members have been exposed by Western reporters as corrupt plutocrats. I often heard this resentment expressed during my April visit to Chengdu for Asian Side of the Doc.
  • Liu Wen may be a sacrificial offering to public discontent: his fate determined not by his level in the hierarchy, or his excesses if any, but by his position in a prominent national channel.
  • Although it is true that many Chinese television execs seem to be living above their pay scale, with children attending private universities and boarding schools in the US and Britain.


CCTV Tower – ‘the trousers’ – under construction.

Questionable System

  • China’s program acquisition practices have long seemed to be suspect.
  • The media value of the audience, which may be in the tens of millions of viewers, has not been expressed in the prices paid for acquisitions.
  • These are often in the low thousands, and falling.
  • Many qualified Western sellers have been put off by both the under-pricing and the system of intermediaries set up between the sellers and the network buyers.
  • Several major factual distributors have abandoned the market.
  • International copro’s have been properly budgeted and are not subject to this questionable system.

No Rule of Law

  • CCTV-9 is a soft propaganda arm of a one-party dictatorship that relies on heavy censorship.
  • There is no rule of law in China: rule is by relationships.
  • Contracts are barely enforceable.
  • I know nothing about how Chinese law applies to Liu Wen’s situation:  I haven’t read that suspects who are ‘taken away by prosecutors’ are protected by a constitutional right to a dependable legal defense team.


  • Friends have asked if CCTV-9 will stand by its commitments to copro’s, the upcoming Science Congress and the like.
  • I made a lot of call. I’m almost certain that it will be business as usual.

More Reading: Fact + Fiction


My Upcoming Markets

  • TV France International’s Le Rendez-Vous to celebrate its 20th edition in Biarritz, September 7-11, 2014
  • MIPCOM, Cannes, October 12-15