A few days ago I blogged about the news that Time Warner’s AOL, which has been very low-profile in China since the collapse of its joint venture with Legend a few years ago, had announced a deal to broadcast programming from Shanghai Media Group. Controlled by the Shanghai government, SMG is one of China’s most powerful entertainment companies, so it’s not hard to see why AOL wants it as a partner. And Time Warner isn’t the only U.S. media conglomerate that has been busy making friends in China lately. Earlier this month, CCTV, China’s state-owned television network, announced that it was revamping its English-language website “to better serve Internet surfers, and also to help boost viewing figures for CCTV International's TV programs.” According to CCTV, News Corp's Fox Cable worked with CCTV in the relaunch of the website. “The company says this is only the beginning of cooperation between Fox and CCTV International. Fox says the new webpage provides a source for the world to get to know about China.” (Thanks to Shanghai-based blogger Shanghai China/Snippets and Views for the link.)
Given how zealously the Chinese government protects the media industry from foreign infiltration, why are government-run media companies like SMG and CCTV so interested in doing such deals? Beijing officials believe that China has a “cultural gap” – i.e. the rest of the world is happy to buy up Chinese-made running shoes and notebook PCs, but for some strange reason the vast majority of Americans don’t really care about Chinese music or TV shows or even (“Crouching Tiger” not withstanding) Chinese movies. See this report from yesterday’s China Daily, the official English-language newspaper: “Ding Wei, assistant minister of culture, described China's deficit in international cultural trade as ‘huge’ at yesterday's press conference held by the State Council Information Office…Ding said traditional Chinese thinking is dragging the development of the country's cultural industry. ‘The concept of a cultural industry is new to most Chinese people, as traditionally culture and business are separate matters. We also lack well-received cultural products that can occupy international markets, especially the branded ones.”
It no doubt irks Chinese officials that, for all of China’s new economic might, its pop culture can’t even match South Korea’s, let alone America’s, in terms of overseas popularity. So Time Warner and News Corp. are happy to help them address that problem. And if that wins the American companies a few points with Chinese officialdom, all the better.