Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

China Rips Reality TV. Docs on the Rise! / History Conference: Great Access & Savings

China is cracking down on Reality TV.

There’s an official culture war against subversive “vulgar tendencies” in the media.

But that looks like good news for the documentary sector!

Pendulum? Or Guillotine!

  • China’s audiences for edgy Reality series were skyrocketing.
  • Reality story lines and characters came to dominate the chatter amongst youthful viewers.
  • China’s Communist Party (CCP) leaders were dismayed to see the popular culture gripped by values that were outside their control.
  • The CCP slammed on the brakes. The party decreed a huge swing in the programming pendulum from “Entertainment-driven” and back to “Content-driven” television.
  • And the media regulator Sarft (State Administration of Radio, Film & Television) issued a cascade of rules that tightened censorship and cut back on the slots for popular entertainments.

Case Study: If You Are the One

In Sunday’s New York Times, reporter Edward Wong brilliantly reveals the story behind the hot dating format that may have been the final straw for party officials.

  • If You Are the One (IYATO) is a 90-minute show broadcast in prime time on Saturdays and Sundays.
  • The format pits a young male, marriage hopeful against a panel of 24 (!) future Tiger Moms.
  • The cast of “leftover girls” and “leftover boys” captures the popular fascination with rich, career-driven, young adults who defer establishing their own families until after they have ‘made it.’
  • More than 50 million viewers tuned in to IYATO, which recently earned more than 80% of satellite broadcaster Jiangsu’s $345 million total upfront earnings.

The Crackdown

  • The regulator severely limited the number and frequency of Entertainment shows for each broadcaster
  • And Sarft limited the total # of formatted shows that could be slotted across all Chinese networks.
  • Panels of censors now rate individual shows against benchmarks for “social morality.”
  • Meanwhile, broadcasters are racing to overhaul existing and proposed shows to meet the new rules.

“Tone Down. Or Be Cancelled!”

The Times’ Wong summarizes the edicts delivered to two regional broadcasters of dating shows:

  • “Do not humiliate and assault participants in the name of dating;
  • “Do not discuss vulgar topics involving sex;
  • “Do not hype materialism and other unhealthy, incorrect viewpoints on marriage;
  • “And do not air the show without censorship and editing.”

 Some Background

  • I had worked on the periphery of a CBS News/CCTV syndication deal back in the ‘Eighties.
  • And I later helped a handful of U.S. clients to plan media ventures in China.
  • Around that time, I ran workshops on Factual TV for Beijing TV execs and producers.
  • Back then, China’s Factual production infrastructure and talent were rudimentary, though the industry was taking baby steps.

Here They Come!

  • My Eureka! moment for the growing power of China’s doc sector was at last year’s excellent Sunnyside of the Doc Conference in La Rochelle.
  • A group of Chinese executives entered our waterfront restaurant, and everyone in the room leapt to their feet as if Ted Turner himself had come for the soupe de poisson.
  • “That’s RESPECT!” I thought. Something had changed.

What’s In It for Docs?

Six months and many conversations later, I’m beginning to understand that an array of forces is combining to transform the Chinese Factual sector in ways that will be felt worldwide.

1.Nature Abhors a Vacuum

  • There’s a flip side to the banishment of “unhealthy” entertainments from China’s TV schedules.
  • Docs are populating the schedules.
  • They are the safe choice in the cultural climate.

2.Don’t Under-estimate the Control Economy

  • The authorities are making huge investments in the production and distribution of Factual TV.
  • They aim to produce programs at all Cost and Quality levels, from Blue Chip Natural History and Adventure to Lifestyle and Instructional content.
  • In recent decades, CCP policymakers accomplished giant leaps forward in the movie production, animation and special effects sectors. Why not Factual?
  • On the Distribution side, CCTV’s Documentary Channel is thriving. Its executives are valued participants in markets and conferences worldwide. Western partners are lining up to surf China’s doc tide.
  • Regional broadcasters are also planning or have launched Factual blocks and channels dedicated to docs.

3.Think Local. Act Global

  • China’s documentary mission is in export mode.
  • The CCP policymakers were inspired by the success of Al Jazeera English in reframing how many Western opinion leaders look at Middle East culture and events.
  • Last year, CCTV took over the old Atlantic Video post-production facility in Washington, and launched a suite of channelsthat is closely modeled on AJE.
    • AJE acquires, commissions and coproduces hundreds of Factual programs on a broad range of topics.
    • It is a valuable potential partner for doc producers. (Read more on AJE in an upcoming

4.Scale Really Does Matter!

  • 370 +/- million TV households.
  • The world’s fastest-growing major economy, year after year.
  • That means upside galore for China’s own Factual producers as well as their international partners.

Postscript: What’s Left for the “Leftover” Boys & Girls

This just in from a friend who sells formats in China:

  • “We don’t bother with TV right now for certain formats.
  • “We go straight to Online.
  • “That’s where the young viewers moved, even more after last year’s crackdown.
  • “And the advertisers are following them!”




History Makers International
A Summit for Informative Media

January 25-27, 2012
Millennium Broadway Hotel, New York City

History Makers International is just around the corner!

Happening Jan. 25 -27, 2012, at the Millennium Broadway Hotel in New York City, this year’s summit for informative media boasts to be the best yet!

History Makers International brings together the world’s best program makers to share their insights on this year’s significant events affecting programming, while also looking forward to future trends in history, archives, and investigative and social issue programming.

This summit attracts the world’s leading producers, development executives, researchers, archive houses, broadcasters, and distributors from over 20 different countries in one place each year.

History Makers International 2012 is poised to be our biggest and best event to date!

Session highlights include:

·        Covering the Arab World: A Master Class With Al Jazeera

·        History Explosion: New Services and Opportunities

·        How Do You Find the Characters in that Character Driven Hit?

And a very special appearance by the production team behind director Martin Scorsese’s documentary George Harrison: Living in the Material World. Join us as they discuss how they combined incredible archive and home movies with remixes of demos and original recordings of George Harrison’s music, along with intimate and candid interviews, to make a powerful and moving account of the musical icon’s life.

Plus, use our exclusive online portal to book face-to-face with renowned development executives to pitch your ideas, and make deals.

Preferred Access

For a limited time, we are excited to extend a discounted rate to the community to register for History Makers International and save over $500 on your all-access pass. But, don’t delay – this offer expires Jan. 20, 2012.

Register by Jan. 9, 2012 and be the first in line to book your face-to-face time with internationally renowned development executives! Spaces for these exclusive meeting opportunities are first-come, first-served.

As a reader, attend History Makers International 2012 for a very special discounted price of $649 (expires January 8th, 2012) Register NOW and save!

Discounted reg link for $649: