In China’s TV market, the state-owned China Central TV Station (CCTV) has enjoyed a virtual monopoly since its creation and boasts nearly 70 percent of the overall market. For smaller players, gaining a significant market share is a daunting task. Before 2005, Hunan (Satellite) TV was a no-name regional channel that few outside its territory had ever heard of. After two bold and successful program launches this past summer, though, Hunan TV has become the darling of the industry, a model of boldness that may spark a revolution in China’s TV world.
One of the breakout programs was a singing competition called Super Girls or Super Female Voices, in which the selection process was conducted by viewers voting through mobile phone short message services. The program garnered tremendous interest and drew unprecedented participation from Chinese TV viewers. As a result, it raked in record revenues for the local TV station, and set a new standard for viewing rate and advertising price previously held by CCTV.
Flush with the success of Super Girls, Hunan TV bought the broadcasting rights for a 70-episode South Korean drama series called Dae Jang Geum (Jewel in the Palace) for a hefty 10 million yuan (US$1.2 million) price tag. It was another blockbuster move. According to the Report of China’s TV Drama Market (2005~2006), China produces 40,000 episodes of TV drama series each year, with 7,000 eventually making it to living rooms across China. But none has come close to the success of Dae Jang Geum. As a matter of fact, many have criticized the industry for its predictability and lack of taste.
After Dae Jang Geum aired, it quickly drew tremendous interest across the nation and attracted audiences of all demographics. Commentators credited the series’ success to having traditional Chinese values at its core, presented in a package uniquely appealing to today’s audience. The drama highlights virtues such as honesty, love, dedication, compassion, and perseverance through a true historical story from the royal palace.
Although the programs’ success is indicative of what the Chinese people want, the airing of such programs is not going unnoticed, as both programs have irked some of the politically sensitive authorities. In the case of Super Girls, it reminds one of a democratic referendum, which is what the communist regime fears the most. As for the popular Korean drama, it poses the issue of "culture infiltration," another touchy subject in a Communist-governed society.
We are featuring an article about the phenomenon of a Korean craze brought on by Dae Jang Geum in this issue. We have also invited political analyst Dong Li to share his insights (page 22) on the Fifth Plenum of the 16th Chinese Communist Party Conference held on October 8 to11.
In the culture section, we have an article introducing one of the wonders of acupuncture-a needle to the ear that can relieve pain from any part of the body.