Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Takeaways from MIPDoc & MIPTV: #1, China Makes a Really Big Statement – Croisette Resembles Bund

In four decades of attending MIP, I’ve never seen a coming out like the one organized by CCTV in Cannes earlier this month.

Luo Ming, CCTV’s VP for economic affairs captured China’s strategy when he was reported saying:

  • “Size is important at MIPTV.
  • “And the higher the profile of Chinese content in general, the more interest there is in all our shows.”

Contributing to China’s giant profile, we were treated to:

  • A splendid luncheon for MIPDoc attendees that was hosted by CCTV Documentary Channel
  • An ever-expanding China United Pavilion that showcased production companies, regional broadcasters, distributors and more
  • A  workshop on producing Chinese content for the international market that was presented by the State Administration of Radio, Film and TV (SARFT)
  • Numerous panels that featured Chinese participants, demonstrating how their industry is fluently integrated into the global content economy
  • And a team of crack martial arts performers who entertained delegates at events as well as on the grounds of the Palais.

What did we learn? And what were the Takeaways?

About CCTV

  • CCTV is a public television behemoth
  • It serves a market of 1 billion people
  • Operates 29 free-to-air and 17 pay channels
  • And recently launched a domestic 3D channel
  • CCTV offers international channels in Chinese, English, French, Spanish, Russian and Arabic


  • Produces 600-800 news packages daily
  • Has ‘capabilities’ in 31 provinces  / 70 countries
  • Washington (100+/- staff) and Kenya (70+) are the largest bureaux

China’s Documentary Policy

  • In December 2010, China’s media regulator (SARFT) demanded the reversal of the 1:15+ ratio of domestic to foreign broadcast docs
    • China’s doc production was reported at 5,094 hours in 2010
    • Of these, most were local and low quality, as indicated by the stat that only 155 shows were sold outside China in 2010
  • CCTV Documentary Channel is SARFT’s principal instrument to execute this strategy
  • In 2011, China’s senior-level leadership cracked down on an ‘out-of-control’ reality TV sector


  • Launched on 1/1/11
  • Dual Chinese- and English-language services
  • Fastest growing CCTV channel
  • ‘Has $100 million to spend on docs in 2012’


  • 660 million domestic viewers
  •  ‘Average daily audience is 63 million’
  • ‘Highest daily audience number exceeded 94 million’
  • Well-educated and influential viewers
  • Advertising income, 2011: $32 million


  • Mainly ‘traditional, classic’ docs.
    • The focus is on the untold stories of Chinese history
    • And Natural History and Destination-based programs that show China in a positive light
    • ‘Avoid Politics and Religion. And History is tricky.’
  • 2011: 169 titles and 579 hours were acquired from outside China
  • Suppliers are mainly global industry leaders from US and UK
    • They include: BBC, NGC, Discovery, ITV and Disney Nature
    • From other countries: France Televisions, ZDF, NHK, Arte, ABC Australia, ORF Austria, Channel 1 Russia and others.


  • Projects greenlit in 2012: 7
  • Partners include: Nat Geo Channel, BBC, ITV, Kwanza (France), NHK and KBS Korea
  • CCTV Investment ‘per project’:
    • Sweet Spot: $660,000
    • Signature: $1.25 – $2.5 million

Co-pro Partner Criteria

  • Doc Channel MD Liu Wen says that his team wants to work with companies that have:
    • ‘Abundant resources and rich experience in every field’
    • Or ‘who specialize in a particular field, such as underwater filming…’

China’s Domestic Factual Pipeline

  • Still dominated by in-house production from regional stations
  • Independent production companies are participating at the higher end


1. I was a guest speaker in what was billed as ‘China’s first documentary conference’ in Beijing around 1998. Beijing TV Networks may have been the host.

  • There were virtually no Chinese doc producers in attendance, and it was said that there were none outside Beijing.
  • The contrast today is staggering!

2. The remarkable growth of China’s vast economy is the driver behind CCTV’s ability to dominate MIPTV only a year after the launch of its Doc Channel.  For a reminder about the economic context, check out a chart that caught my eye in The American Conservative magazine.

3. Expect even higher profiles at future markets and congresses as China creates more wealth and more leisure time that will free up more consumers to enjoy media.

  • CCTV will inevitably expand its solo Doc Channel to a suite of Factual Entertainment channels. These networks will also commission and distribute programs that will find international markets.
  • In the short term, Western channels and producers can expect to participate in what is still a thin, partly-formed and politically-mandated market.
  • But based on decades of futile attempts by international media players to gain a lucrative foothold in China, they can forget about earning equity in large-scale Chinese prodco’s and channels.
  • As we reported from ASD Tokyo, producers who are setting up shop in China are prepared to be patient.
  • We continue to hear of profitable niches in brokering sponsorships, product placement and other spots along the value chain.

4. Ironically, China’s exploding demand for content-driven ‘classic’ docs comes at a time when US and many other Western channels are shifting towards factual entertainment.

  • China’s emergence as a copro partner may bolster the economics of the remaining Blue Chip doc slots in North America and Europe by replacing the evaporating contributions from those regions
  • But only for highly selective topics that fit China’s top-down documentary policy.

5. It is interesting that CCTV Documentary Channel’s ‘preferred vendor’ strategy is comparable to that of US channels, as we reported here and here.

6. CCTV Doc channel and Discovery/Oprah’s OWN both launched on the auspicious day, 1/1/11

(Useful China source: miptv’s ‘Focus on China’ April 2012)


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