Reality bites: talent shows fight for China survival 




Reality Bites: 

 Talent Shows

Fight for China Survival



By Cao Bing, Liang Saiyu, Ming Xing, Li Dan and Duan Jingjing 



Chris Lee  (2005) 


Hua Chenyu  (2013)



TV industry observers have made much of the hug that Chris Lee, China’s first grassroots singer to make the cover of Time Magazine Asia, gave Hua Chenyu, the freshly crowned champion of Super Boy, as the show came to a bittersweet close on Friday night of September 27.

As Hua’s win comes in an era when dozens of similar TV talent contests are vying for attention amid tighter regulation and increasingly picky audiences, analysts say the 24-year-old will find it harder to sing his way to professional success than Lee did a decade ago.

When the latter rose to fame overnight by winning Super Girl, produced by a satellite station in central China’s Hunan Province in 2004, Chinese people were dazzled to find that the girl next door could achieve stardom.

Following the success of Super Girl, a clone of American Idol, Chinese TV producers have competed with one another to stage more than 20 similar programs, including The X-Factor, Chinese Idol, I’m A Singer, Let’s Sing, Super Star China, Copycat Singers, Chinese Dream and China’s Got Talent.

Public excitement has abated as a result.

“There are so many reality shows today, but they are all similar and unattractive,” said Dai Guangxiu, 49, who feverishly followed the second season of Super Girl in 2005.

“A show that is much-hyped but with mediocre contestants only makes me want to turn off the TV,” Dai said.

The growing audience fatigue has worried both TV producers and China’s media authorities.

Wang Tongyuan, president of Zhejiang Radio and TV Group, said that reality shows in China have gone from one extreme to another in recent years.

“Some programs spend a meager 10 million yuan (about 1.63 million U.S. dollars) on production but another 30 million on promotion,” he said.

Professor Wang Handong with the School of Journalism and Communication of Wuhan University attributed the homogeneity of these programs to increasingly scarce talent and the over-exploitation of foreign originals.

The State Administration of Press Publication, Radio, Film and Television imposed new restrictions on the number of such programs in July so as to rein in what it saw as vulgarity among continuing talent show production.

In order to survive the reshuffle, some of China’s TV stations are actively buying copyrights to shake off the “copycat” label and localizing imported programs to break the ratings pessimism.

During the negotiation of the X-Factor copyright purchase, for instance, producers from Hunan Satellite TV insisted on full autonomy for the program, including the modification of the competition system and the criteria for selecting mentors.

“The original X-Factor requires that all the four mentors are musicians, but we invited Zhang Ziyi, a world-renowned actress whose non-musician identity can represent a broad national audience,” according to Xia Qing, executive producer of the show.

Another more successful show is the Voice of China. Airing on Zhejiang Satellite TV (ZJTV), it has topped the ratings for two consecutive years, according to a survey by CSM Media Research showing record-breaking viewing numbers every week.

Such popularity has elevated the naming right fee to the program from 60 million yuan last year to 200 million yuan this season, not to mention the show’s surging advertising revenues.

“We believe the recipe for success always lies with professional expertise and the details invisible to ordinary viewers,” said Xia Chen’an, channel director of ZJTV.

“For us, copyright purchase is not just about intellectual property rights but learning the expertise from our overseas peers,” he added.

Xia said his team studied almost all the advanced technologies and strengths that the original show aired in the Netherlands could offer, even the settings of camera aperture.

“The significance of copyright importing is not to close a deal, but to learn thoroughly and practice locally,” the TV exec believes.

Meng Jian, vice president of the Communication Association of China, said that a truly successful show should meet three criteria: good production, good taste and originality.

“The Voice of China fulfills the first two, but still needs to work hard on innovation,” according to Meng.

Looking forward, industry analysts warn that the life cycle for talent shows in China normally lasts four to five years — even some of the most successful examples could not escape this fate.

“Several years from now, people will forget about The Voice of China,” said Lu Wei, promotion director of the show, “and that is why we have dispatched a team to Europe to look for new ideas.”








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