TV News Ratings Plunge…In China

By Tom Johnson

Jun 10, 2009 12:11pm

ABC's Chito Romana reports from Beijing:

The daily evening newscast in China is rapidly losing viewers.  We're talking about the state-owned China Central Television or CCTV, the only game in town.  

According to a report in the official China Daily, the main news show of CCTV — a broadcast seen all over the country at 7 pm and runs for 30 minutes — no longer has a dominant hold on the TV ratings.

Before 1998, its share of the audience was 40 percent but that figure has now declined to less than 10 percent. A survey done in 35 cities from January to May this year showed that the audience rating for the CCTV primetime newscast averaged only 5.6 percent.

The study was done by CSM Media Research, a joint venture between the media tracking firm Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS) and CCTV.

Nevertheless, the report said the CCTV nightly news program had an average of more than 72.8 million viewers, low in a country with 1.3 billion people but still almost ten times more than any US network newscast.

The ratings decline is due to changing audience taste and competition from other channels and the internet. As journalism professor Yu Guoming told the China Daily, “People care more about human interest stories and critical reportage rather than official announcements.”

The content of the CCTV newscast has to be approved first by top Communist Party propaganda officials and focuses heavily on the activities of Chinese President Hu Jintao and other top leaders, along with reports on economic progress. As an axiom in Chinese journalism goes, stress the positive and avoid the negative.

A Chinese columnist wrote about a common joke among intellectuals about the staid formula followed by the CCTV news program – the first ten minutes show Chinese leaders busy with state affairs, either giving speeches or meeting foreign dignitaries; the next ten minutes show stories about how the economy is prospering in a stable society and how the people are living happy lives; and the last ten minutes show international news about wars, disasters and political chaos, all happening outside China.

For variety, Chinese viewers can now turn to other channels that show entertainment and sports programs and if they want to find out about the news they can turn to internet news sites frequented by Chinese viewers, like Sohu.com and Sina.com.

CCTV is reported to be considering a major revamp of its news program — supposedly the first change in a decade — but it remains to be seem how viewers will respond to the new format to be unveiled later this month.

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